writing the new rules

In my ongoing struggle for self-awareness, I found and read a semi-helpful book about codependency. I learned a few things from reading it, namely that I’m a recovering codependent, and I needed to rewrite the rules of my life. While the book was ultimately pretty disappointing and preachy, I found rewriting the rules to be a valuable exercise.

The best thing about my toxic relationship ending last year has been a reclamation of myself. It tore me open to reveal a deeper understanding of my past choices and patterns and fears, new truths to be faced and integrated into my story, insight into what’s really important to me, an opportunity to face and accept things I’ve been afraid to see. The new rules have been a critical part of this process.

The exercise asks you to write down all the old rules you’ve been living by, cross them out, and write new rules, as I did below. I found it surprisingly easy once I got started—I already knew the old rules, and knew exactly how to rewrite them. I stuck my new rules on my fridge where I can see them every day, and find that more than any other self-help practice, they have affected the way I live my life and approach trigger situations.

The OLD rules:

  • I’m not allowed to express my feelings.
  • I’m not worth hearing, so I should keep quiet and not win anyone’s disapproval.
  • People who are mad at me will punish me.
  • If I mess up, people may not love me or will think I’m not enough/wrong.
  • I’m not lovable as I am, I need to work hard to earn people’s love.
  • I can’t say no.
  • I’m not allowed to have boundaries—I need to share everything without limits and always say “yes” to requests.
  • If I screw up I’ll hate myself, so I should be really careful not to say the wrong thing.
  • I need to punish myself (self-flagellation/criticism/SHAME) if I misspeak or make a mistake.
  • I can only create relationships with people who are unhealthy and not good for me.
  • My needs aren’t important.

The NEW rules:

  • The rules can be changed.
  • I get to feel every emotion I have, and express my emotions in appropriate ways.
  • I am lovable, worth loving just as I am, and worth listening to even when I’m wrong.
  • My needs, wants, opinions and feelings are important.
  • I’m allowed to say no.
  • My inner guide is my copilot—not guilt, “shoulds” or the way it’s always been.
  • I set clear boundaries with the people I love, work with and engage with.
  • I create only healthy, authentic partnerships with responsible, caring adults.
  • Those who I trust have earned it, and treat me with respect and integrity.
  • I don’t have to feel shame after I express myself, socialize or speak out. I get to feel good and self-affirming instead.
  • I am enough just as I am. Even if I screw up or make mistakes, I’m enough.
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