According to my thesaurus,
are orders, commands, mandates, demands, dictates, prohibitions,
instructions, guidelines, prescriptions. Although
probably not thought about it very much, if at all, much of our
feeling, thinking, and doing is based directly upon the myriad
we’ve heard, mostly while we were growing up. We’ve learned the
"rules of the road" regarding, among other things, what we should be
feeling, appreciating, believing, thinking, and doing, who we should be
associating with, and how we should be dealing with our pain and
A small sample of these
These constitute just the
tip of the
iceberg. We have thousands more well-known, oft-repeated, rarely
injunctions which we’ve learned from everyone: parents, grandparents,
and other relatives, as well as neighbors, playmates, teachers and
And, just as significantly, we’ve learned them from songs, movies,
magazines, radio and television. (I’ve long believed that one of the
that so many people watch soap operas is to learn what’s "permissible."
Unfortunately, the soap operas are for the most part simply "carriers"
Sometimes, the injunctions
directed towards us (Don’t talk with your mouth full!).
they’ve been directed towards someone else–such as a sibling or a
we got the message. Sometimes they’ve been direct, but often
delivered, for instance, via a disgusted look or a critical tone of
Sometimes they’ve been concrete (Say thank you.),
(Act like a lady!), and sometimes
metaphorical (Let sleeping
dogs lie! Don’t cry over spilt milk!).
Many of them warn us not
certain things (Don’t say anything hurtful. Don’t talk with your
full.) Still others required that we do certain things (Cheer
up! Always look on the bright side. Be thankful for what you have. Be
Be nice! Be strong! Put your best foot forward. Get a grip on yourself!
Many injunctions are useful (Measure
twice, cut once), and may even be life-saving (Always wear your
seatbelt!). But it seems that more often they are disturbing. They
present "distorted maps" (A grown man shouldn‘t cry!)
make impossible demands (Don’t be afraid! Don’t be so
and/or give disturbing advice (Control yourself! Turn
the other cheek)–which make our individual and collective journeys
considerably more difficult. For instance, obeying the injunction, "Don’t
wash your dirty linen in public" keeps me from reaching out to
for empathy, reassurance, and direction in dealing with what’s
Injunctions given as though
it was more
important to obey them than to feel good about who we were, and those
as absolutes–as having no exceptions, were and are particularly
disturbing. (For most of us, for example, it’s probably not pleasant to
look at someone who’s talking with his or her mouth full. But is that
being obedient--that is, doing what I want--really more
than his or her comfort and self-esteem? And aren’t there exceptions?
instance, would I want my kid to swallow everything before warning me
something was on fire or that someone was about to attack me?)
The problem with absolute
beyond the fact that they can’t be appropriate for every situation, is
that I can never rest. The threat that love will be removed is ever
and I must always be on the alert, lest I fail to obey the injunction
be found to be unworthy of love.
Also disturbing are
disturbing acts (All’s fair in love and war!) and
that contradict themselves (Rules are made to be broken),
as well as those that contradict other injunctions. (Fools
in where angels fear to tread calls for caution, whereas
those who help themselves calls for forwardness.)
Injunctions often include a
injunction–a disturbing "between the lines" message that the
are self-evident and are not to be questioned. The big problem here is
that even though the injunctions were frequently bad advice (or good
in one setting, but bad in others), or impossible to follow, we were
them as demands rather than suggestions or guidelines, and our failure
to obey them was then often punishable by harm or disapproval. We were
thereby caught in a double-bind. To follow inappropriate injunctions
do us harm; not to obey them would risk the loss of others’ care.
Such disapprovals generally
believing that it was we who were difficult,
and deficient and that therefore everyone else was going to judge us
same way. This rendered us unable to realize, for instance, that others
can and do find us worthy of love even though some (e.g., our parents)
seemed to have found us lacking.
A particularly disturbing
metaphorical injunctions is the unexamined acceptance of the underlying
metaphor as reality. If, for example, someone is described as "having"
"feelings," what is implied–and rarely questioned–is that "feelings"
"things" which we "have" and which, if unpleasant, ought to be gotten
of. Similarly, if we are described as being "too sensitive" (a
description--nobody says this about us when we’re feeling good), the
injunction is that we ought to get rid of intensely
feeling lest–again (inaccurately) implied–we will break down and lose
The inference is that being emotional is losing control and
it is bad to lose control. Beyond the inference that not "breaking
(or being "out of control," or "losing control) would be a good thing
the inference that we actually can accomplish this.
This point of view is
numerous song lyrics, such as "I whistle a happy tune and the happiness
in the tune convinces me that I’m not afraid," "Smile though your heart
is aching, smile even though it’ breaking." "Let a smile be your
on a rainy, rainy day," Bing Crosby singing, "The future’s brighter
hearts are lighter, " Anna (Anna and the King of Siam) singing
cry young lovers, wherever you are" or, more recently, the Academy
winning "Don’t Worry, Be Happy." How well we have accepted these
injunctions. (Lest you deny that you are influenced by injunctions, I
that it’s worth your while to take the time to check it out before you
dismiss it out of hand.)
It seems to me that as
guidelines, injunctions are useful and even necessary tools; but as
or prohibitions (which essentially conceal the self of the demander),
are destructive. Such attempts to control--to get someone to do or say
or not do or say something--ultimately exacts quite a large price. We
such coercions, which inevitably damage our self-esteem, inhibit our
to act assertively and creatively in dealing with life’s exigencies,
disturb our relationships.
By the way, all’s not
fair in love and war.
I’ll give you something to cry about!
be a sissy!
like a child!
be such a coward!
Be a man!
Act like a man!
getting out the crying towel.
sorry for yourself!
dwell on what you don’t have.
when you’re feeling blue.
walk through a storm, keep your head up high and don’t be afraid of the
"... I whistle a happy tune / And ev'ry single time / The
happiness in the tune / Convinces me that I'm not afraid...."
(The King and I)
would it do to get angry!
lid on it!
fewer muscles to smile than to frown.
let it happen; winners make it happen.
no such thing as failure.
do whatever you want, if you just set your mind to it. "Anybody can be
free–all you have to do is want it bad enough."
- It’s all
in your mind! It’s all in your head!
down and cried.
out of control. He lost control.
make things worse by whining and grumbling."
(Hansel and Gretel, by Humperdinck)
- Hold your
let them see you sweat.
little girls made of? Sugar and spice and everything nice...
little boys made of? Snips and snails and puppy dog tails.
in time saves nine.
not broken, don’t fix it.
can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
of sugar helps the medicine go down.
E. Linn, Ph.D. • Empowering People