Have you ever stopped to consider what the rules are for your life? I’m not talking about things such as make your bed, brush your teeth and be at work by 8 a.m.

I’m referring to the sometimes faulty emotional rules that govern the way we think, feel, live, and the choices we make.

These faulty emotional rules are typically ingrained during childhood and become an unquestioned part of how we live our lives. Because they are largely unquestioned, we rarely stop and consider how they might be influencing our lives.

Faulty emotional rules typically involve three steps or parts that look something like this:

• I have to … This usually involves some kind of command, with no choice involved.

• If I don’t, then I’m … Usually something bad and difficult to change.

• Then (fill in the blank) will happen. Some terrible event that will dramatically affect the rest of your life, maybe even threaten your life.

What are some of your faulty emotional rules for living that get in the way? Simply ask yourself these three questions:

• In order to be a good person, what do I believe I have to do?

• If I don’t, then what does that make me?

• Then what will happen?

The answers to these questions can give the basics of the faulty emotional rules you may have been living by.

One way to begin to break and then change faulty emotional rules is to ask lots of challenging questions about them. For instance:

Where did they come from?

In what “emotional classroom” did you learn them?

Are they useful rules?

Do you want to keep them, change them or get rid of them?

Are they outdated and no longer applicable?

These questions can begin to loosen the hold that these faulty emotional rules have over you.

The next step is to begin to construct and create your own emotional rules that fit in your present life. One way to do this is to ask around among friends and family about what rules seem to work for them. They might look at you strange at first, but if you keep digging, you may find some interesting things.

Another way is to ask yourself “what do I need to believe in order to feel the way I want to feel, take the actions I want to take,” etc.

All of us either have, or have had, faulty emotional rules in our lives. The trick is to identify, challenge, break, and then most importantly, change them.

Jeff Herring, MS, LMFT, is a marriage and family therapist.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.