What Are Your Invisible Rules?

People make meaning out of things to help them make sense of the world. We all construct reality different. Our brains take in information and use whatever else is in our memory banks to decide what the information means. This process results in invisible rules. These invisible rules can either help us or hurt us. When you are involved in a conflict, it’s almost always because we believe an invisible rule has been violated.

Let me give you a couple of examples to help you understand what I am saying.

“Sheila” is out on a date with “Guy.” Guy is having a fabulous time and would like to see her again. Sheila, on the other hand, can’t wait for the evening to be over so that she never has to see him again. Why? Because Guy keeps checking his cell phone for messages. Sheila’s invisible rule is, “If a guy can’t stay present with me, he’s disrespecting me and is not worthy of my company.” Meanwhile Guy has a child at home. He’s checking his phone to make sure that there are no messages so that he can stay as long as he possibly can with Sheila. They have different rules for interpreting the same event.

Invisible rules can also come into play when there is no other person involved. Here’s what I mean.

Sheila is having a dinner party. Everything is going well when she notices that there are dishes in both sides of the sink. Suddenly, she becomes agitated and can’t settle back down until the dishes are done. What happened? Sheila has an invisible rule that says, “When there are dishes on both sides of the sink, the house is out of control and must be addressed immediately.” In reality, nothing “bad” would have happened if dishes were piled to the ceiling, but the feeling that things were out of control kicked off irritation that had to be resolved right then in Sheila’s mind. If the invisible rule had just been “Dishes on both sides of the sink mean that everyone’s having a good time,” there would have been no reason for her to get upset. On the contrary, she may have felt happy. So, it’s not the circumstance that made Sheila unhappy. It was her interpretation of it.

Here are some other examples of invisible rules and how they might affect your life.

“No man worth having would want me.” – You could end up passing up decent men and only staying with men who are not ready for a healthy relationship.

“Wealthy people are greedy.” – You could program yourself to miss out on opportunities that increase your income or lose out on meeting nice people who have lots of money.

“Only poor people shop there.” – You could miss out on saving lots of money on high quality goods.

“(Insert a race or culture of people) do (insert a behavior).” – You could miss out on learning how to do something that enhances productivity, happiness, or income because you don’t want to be associated with a certain group of people.

“When people walk by without speaking, it’s because they are racist.” – You could be isolating yourself from people who are in a hurry, are shy, or preoccupied.

“If you can’t anticipate my needs, you don’t love me.” – You could walk away from a really good relationship because of your desire to find a mind reader.

“Being jealous shows that you love me.” – You could throw away a perfectly healthy relationship because your partner isn’t the jealous type. You may also provoke jealousy that results in your partner leaving you.

“Being late means you are inconsiderate and don’t respect my time.” – You could take offense because someone had an emergency or has a different cultural perception of time.

“If I apologize and you don’t accept, I am the worst person in the world.” – You have no control over what other people think or do, so this rule is probably going to get you a lot of (optional) misery.

When you get upset, it pays to be mindful of your thoughts. Use this formula and say it out loud: “This” means “that.” When you say it out loud, does it really make sense? We all have a lot of nonsensical ideas that trigger us. When you find yourself irritated, angry, sad, or feeling judgmental, slow down. Ask yourself if there is a hidden rule at play. If there is and it doesn’t make sense, change it. Sometimes it’s really easy to redirect yourself and reframe your thoughts so that they are more beneficial and less judgmental. Doesn’t it make sense to adopt rules that are more effective?

Sometimes you will find that you know your invisible rules don’t make sense, but they are deeply engrained and hard to get rid of. When this is the case and you’d like some help getting rid of stuck programming, call me. That’s my specialty. It’s often really quick and easy to do.

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