The trap


If I tell you that you are a good person there are several ways that you might respond. You might be flattered and agree, you may be shy and  brush the comment aside or you might be wary and wonder why a stranger is saying something that  they cannot know to be true.


The reason for these different and perhaps opposite responses is  that the relationship or lack of relationship between us will add to or detract from the value of what I am saying. In simple terms, if you know me  you are more likely to accept what I say, if you don’t know me you will assume I am trying to sell something to you and it is easier to disregard anything I say.


Now imagine a situation where a person is constantly told either a positive or a negative thing about themselves. That repetition, by one person, will, over time, make you believe that the statement is true, even if you initially do not believe what you are hearing.


This can be a beneficial or a deeply damaging situation. Let me give examples:


Positive: A child shows a natural ability  for (Drawing) a parent notices this and encourages this talent at every opportunity. Over time the child grows in confidence and develops their talent in many ways. They become confident individuals with all that this entails


Negative. A child shows ability in  ( Playing football) the parent feels this is of little value, and rebukes the child for wasting time playing, tells them they are no good. Over time the child not only comes to believe that they are not good at what appears to them a skill, they then begin to doubt their ability generally. This breaks their confidence and makes them insular.


These are broad examples and you may cite cases where individuals have overcome negativity and proved themselves or have failed despite great support.


Both these outcomes are possible and interchangeable, the effects will carry on  through life . If, perhaps as an adult, the individual is shown that, at a certain point in their life, they “Became” the success or failure that they are today, what might their reaction be?


The successful person will then recognise the value of the support they received and may strengthen the relationship with the individual that supported them. They may apply the same  level of support with their children, partners, friends.


The less successful person will realise that they were adversely influenced by an individual that had motives that may not have been  focused on the child’s best interests.

These types of negative relationship with individuals or groups can occur at any stage of life, a dominant person or group can have strong positive or negative effects on adults as much as on children



This realisation is a starting point. It is a time for brief reflection to assess the damage that has been done. This reflection is not a chance to attribute blame but it is an opportunity to see what needs to be altered, adjusted, repaired so that going forward from this point things will be different.


The process may be emotional but it should really be a launch point, a losing of shackles, a recognition of possibilities---- “I can now------“ and “I will now”.


I am paraphrasing  the process to give you an understanding of what is possible

The point is IT IS POSSIBLE, if you will allow it to be.

I say “if you allow it to be” because we generally resist change, we say that we want to “Change” but the effort involved in so doing and the uncertainty of what the change might produce make us  wary. Strange as it may sound often we feel safe in an unhappy situation and scared at the prospect of freedom. The phrase “Better the devil you know” comes up a lot and is borne out of the lack of confidence that the negative conditioning has produced. That is why therapists exist, to help , firstly , to build the self confidence so that a person can then move out into the warmth of the sunlight from the shadow of the negative influences that previously overshadowed them.

Please feel free to comment on this article. It is a short piece that illustrates a point, there are lots of if / what about /how /why questions that can be triggered by it..

© Martin Williams 2013/15/16