When Our Rules Break Us


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"Sometimes your belief system is really your fears attached to the rules." - Shannon Alder

Years ago, I used to watch the Food Network and Rachael Ray would be cooking on her show and be using some sort of tomato marinara sauce. She would go on and on about how she could never understand why people would buy jarred marinara when it was so easy to make it. It would drive me nuts because I would say to myself, “because they don’t have time to make homemade sauce!” And then I would feel guilty for not making the time to make homemade tomato sauce.

Now, I get it; we hear things all day from all sources such as family, friends, strangers and of course, on TV. Most things just roll off. For some reason, this one stuck. It stayed with me through the day, and randomly through the night, and I started seeing more times that I took so-called short cuts in my cooking. When my daughter innocently commented how I bought a bag of popcorn this time instead of popping it myself, I was convinced she had talked to Rachael and discussed all of the glaring discrepancies in my life.

Walking around accusing a 7-year old of conspiring with a TV host wasn’t conducive to healthy parenting. Obviously, this couldn’t go on too long without a pause to see what was really bugging me. I realized I turned this innocuous comment regarding someone’s opinion on a food product into some sort of shame, as if a giant spotlight was zeroing in on my questionable actions and pointing out my inconsistencies. Like somehow, I was doing something wrong because I bought marinara in a jar.

We all have internal rules and agreements that can get us stuck.

I realized I had an internal agreement with myself that if I was truly a person that believed in real foods, and a good parent, I would make my own sauce. I felt like a fraud; as if I wasn’t good enough. My brain often operates in all or nothing. And this absolute thinking meant a store-bought sauce equaled that I was wrong. There was no grey area for circumstance consideration. Now, this may sound trivial, yet it signaled a deeper issue. And this was an incredibly minor and inconsequential comment and look how hard it stuck! Amazing how these thoughts, rules and judgments can do that to us.

When I (unknowingly) made this rule to myself, things were different. I was probably in my early 20’s, with no children, little responsibility, a lot of time, and life experience that didn’t include the realm of possibilities that might require time saving food products. I had the ability to be more meticulous in my lifestyle and preferences. As life evolved, my requirements and priorities evolved. What worked for me then didn’t work now. This is how life is. We need to be prepared to reevaluate when things don’t work anymore.

We all have rules to which we subscribe, that make us feel safe.

Everyone has their own set of rules and beliefs about the way things should be, what is right and what is wrong. Now, I’m not talking about behaviors that clearly cross lines of humanity. I’m talking about the kind of restrictive thinking that gets you in an argument with a television host about marinara sauce. We all have these beliefs from one thing or another, and they tend to come from our family of origin, religion, society as well as from our experiences and education. We have made these (often subconscious) agreements with ourselves, accepting that this is the only way to be, and our security is guaranteed as long as we follow these rules.

And don’t get me wrong. Rules and regulations are incredibly helpful. The rule of the set speed limit helps keep drivers and pedestrians safe. Regulations as to health standards in restaurants help to limit food borne illness. And these internal rules can be helpful for us, helping to keep us acting in line with our values and to keep society on track. Systems and guidelines are necessary for a society to function.

It gets dangerous when these rules are set in such a way that produce judgment and criticism when others may not see things or live the way we do. We create disharmony in ourselves and with others, living in constant defense mode, unyielding in our protection of our belief system. We have rules about what to say, what to wear, about how to raise kids, what to feed kids, and what we should look like. We separate ourselves based on these categories. Preferences are natural, as no two people (or the way they think) are exactly alike. However, to place someone in a right or wrong category leaves life pretty black and white. Either you’re with me or you’re against me. If you’re right, then I must be wrong. And boy, do I not want to be wrong.

The thing is, not everyone sees the world as we do.

Not everyone has had the same experiences that help form the rules we create for ourselves. We don’t always know their story and they don’t always know ours. That is why we must recognize our own subconscious rules and challenge our own pre-conceived notions. The rules that once served us may not be useful any longer. For me, this little thing got so big in my head, it forced me to stop and examine what internal rules I had set for myself. It wasn’t about the sauce. It was about me feeling legitimate, “right” in the vision I had of myself. And that’s how it is for most of us. It’s not about the food or about where we shop or what we wear. It’s about our own need to feel OK in our choices, in our life. We can let others choose differently, and it can still be OK.

We can still be OK.

And 9 out of 10 times, I use marinara sauce in a jar. To everyone else, it’s just crushed tomatoes in a container. To me, it is a gentle reminder to be kind to myself, recognize and release any subconscious judgments, and for the love of pasta, simply enjoy my darn spaghetti!


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