Rules for Life?

Traffic light rulesI love learning new information, I really do. But it’s not without issues. As soon as someone ‘discovers’ something, it probably pushes out, overturns or disproves something I thought I knew.  There’s the problem in a nutshell, there are no fixed rules for life.

Whilst it can be exciting to learn about all this new stuff, (Who knew? It turns out the world isn’t flat after all!!), it can also be extremely unsettling.

What Actually ARE the Rules?!

It’s hard to have a fixed set of rules for life when things are constantly changing, and this can be a real source of distress for people. Suddenly we’re faced with choices, options and pressures that mean a relentless adaptation of how we live.  Everything is changing; the work we do, the places we live, the people we connect with and the values we hold. No wonder we’re struggling with overwhelm and stress!

Us humans have a tendency to make rules to give the appearance of stability in the face of all this chaos. Often we are forced to follow the rules of life e.g. Road traffic laws, and at other times we force the rules on ourselves e.g. I’ll only eat chocolate after 6pm. However it happens, we try and bring order to our world.

What happens when Our Rules for life Don’t Match Other People’s?

You only have to look at social media to observe the rich variety of perspectives that exist on any topic. Two people can have entirely opposing views, and argue them vehemently, and this too can cause distress.

This is often particularly true in relationships of any kind. Here are a couple of examples…

  • A parent might set a firm bedtime routine as they believe their child needs to learn good habits, and the child might interpret this as a punishment which segregates them from their family.
  • One friend might not be able to open the door without full make-up and dress, whereas another may happily pop to the shops in their Pjs.

The Role Of Judgement

People judge us from our earliest moments. “He’s just like you,” “What pretty eyes,” “Is she a bit chubby?” Insiduously, we absorb the judgements into our way of viewing ourselves, and we learn our own particular set of rules for life.

Often people come to therapy when their rules for life no longer work, or are causing them pain. Sometimes people come because they’re not even sure what or whose rules they’re following. Sometimes people recognise that they have been living by everyone else’s rules for life, and they no longer want to do so.

A Safe Place to Challenge The Rules

If you ever spend any time on Facebook you will have seen a poster turning off comments with an exasperated, “I only asked a simple question…”   Even simple questions seem to upset or offended someone (or several someones).  If you’re shot down in flames, you might never ask anything again!

In the safe space of the therapy room, within the bounds of confidentiality with your therapist, you can challenge the rules. You can explore the unwritten laws governing your life, and decide whether you still want to follow them.  You can amend or even discard them!

It can be quite a revelation to realise that some of the rules we have been living by for decades, are not even ones we necessarily agree with when we think about it!   I was the daughter of a teacher and headmaster; no swearing allowed!  My father used to say that it was evidence of a lack of vocabulary. When I was heading towards fifty, I decided to disagree. Sometimes a loud f*** is the perfect word for the situation! I’m sorry if that shocks you. I’d have been the same a few years ago, but now I am at peace at saying the words that would have had me grounded all those years ago.

The Effect of ‘Breaking’ The Rules

My swearing example is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but what if what we do (or don’t do) really hurts us, or hurts others? What if we follow the restrictive rules set by an abusive partner?  What if we drink ourselves into oblivion because of peer pressure on a Friday night?  Or hate ourselves because we can’t live up to the perfection we believe we should achieve? What if we belittle others by our words or actions, or teach our children to keep quiet instead of speaking up about things that are wrong?

I don’t see my role as therapist to point out what your rules for life are, but to be with you as you start to see them for yourself. We might look at patterns of behaviour, and reflect on where and when they started, and explore how you feel about them now. Often just becoming aware that you are following these unrecognised rules for life can be enough to change your way of responding the next time you’re in that situation.

I’d Like To Know More!

Perhaps you’ve found yourself nodding as you’ve been reading this, and you’d like to know more?  Dr Meg-John Barker has written some great books surrounding sex, gender and relationships, and has a website called  If you’re looking for new rules for life around the way you care for yourself, watch this space for new blogs on this soon.

If you’re not sure where to start, and would like some support, why not book a free 15 minute phonecall with me, to find out if therapy is right for you.  Email or call or Whatsapp +34 654065721.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash