Ever notice that we live by rules? I'm not talking about societal rules such as laws, but internal rules, or beliefs and guidelines we've created for ourselves to live by. We typically develop these internal rules/beliefs through experiences we've had, or to help us achieve or avoid things.
You'll likely identify these internal rules by the language you use when thinking of them. "Should, ought to, must, right or wrong, good or bad, always or never" are common words and phrases that let us know that we're connecting with these internal rules/beliefs.
But internal rules and beliefs are useful, right?
Maybe. They can be useful, guiding us towards things that matter to us in life. BUT, they can also be unhelpful, leading us to veer off track. It's this unhelpfulness that I want to explore - with a simple, practical strategy to help navigate these unhelpful internal rules and beliefs.
Quality of Life Impacts of Unhelpful Internal Beliefs
Our internal rules and beliefs can act as guides for how we navigate life. Let's look at some non-allergy examples first:
Just like the rules of the road that guide us in driving, these internal rules/beliefs guide our behaviors and how we navigate life. Think of them like guard rails on the highway. When the internal rules/beliefs are helpful, they're like guard rails separated by many lanes - there's so much space to move around, and there may even be portions of the road where there aren't any guard rails limiting us!
But when these internal rules/beliefs are unhelpful, they can feel like guard rails on a one-lane highway - keeping you confined to a very small space.
Before we explore examples of unhelpful allergy-specific internal rules/beliefs and what to do with them, I need to cover one more topic: How rigid or flexible our internal beliefs are.
How Rigid Or Flexible Are Your Internal Beliefs?
Using the guard rail metaphor, let's apply it to bowling. Have you ever gone "bumper bowling" with the guard rails up so that the bowling ball doesn't go into the gutter?
In my experiences with bumper bowling, sometimes I've played with hard, rigid metal bumpers and other times with softer, inflatable-looking bumpers. With the hard, rigid metal bumpers, my ball would typically bounce off of them so much so that it would overcorrect itself, bounce to the other side of the lane, and then bounce back again. It looked like it was erratically bouncing back and forth with no real hope of hitting a pin! But when I've played with the softer, more flexible bumpers, while my ball would still bounce off of the bumpers, it actually seemed to have a chance to actually move down the lane with hope of hitting a pin.
What this example is getting at is that our internal rules/beliefs (guard rails) can be rigid or flexible, which impacts the actions we take and our quality of life.
With rigid internal rules/beliefs, we often find ourselves avoiding experiences and limiting ourselves because they don't leave much room for exploration, possibilities, and other perspectives. Things need to be a certain way and align with these internal rules, otherwise it's too risky, scary, uncomfortable, and likely unattainable (or so we believe). The rigid nature of these rules is MEANT to help us feel less anxious and more certain about things, but often times, it ends up doing the opposite and creating more discomfort in our lives.
When our internal rules/beliefs are more flexible, we're more willing to test the waters outside of our comfort zone to see what happens. We're also more willing to see things from more than one perspective, which potentially leads to changing our internal rules/beliefs to be more workable ones for ourselves, our goals, and our lives in general. While the flexibility of these rules/beliefs may initially scare us because it feels so uncertain, the flexibility helps us to develop life skills that get us through the discomfort and uncertainty life throws our way - and that helps us develop competence and confidence in ourselves!
Now, let's put this all together with allergy-specific examples!
Noticing Your Unhelpful Allergy Beliefs
Many of the internal allergy rules/beliefs we've developed are likely rigid ones, which doesn't leave much room for anything less than perfection.
Let's look at these examples of unhelpful allergy rules/beliefs and potential outcomes of living by these rules - and as you read them, I encourage you to think about the rigid rules/beliefs you may have developed:
Now, let's use these rigid allergy belief examples above and turn them into more flexible internal beliefs.
A Practical Tool For Changing Unhelpful Beliefs
So what's the simple, practical tool that helps us change our rigid rules/beliefs into more flexible and workable ones?
LANGUAGE, or the words we choose to use, even in our own mind!
You'll see we can turn a rigid belief into a more flexible one by simply changing the words or phrases used - because language matters when it comes to how we internal rule-making!
While there is a lot of room for very calculated and precise rules in allergy life (and life in general), not EVERY internal allergy rule/belief has to be so rigid. And in fact, the more rigid we tend to be, the more potential there is that these rules/beliefs will negatively impact our quality of life.
Other FAC posts that may help:
Remember, support is out there if you need it! Don't forget to check out the Food Allergy Counselor Directory, the Exploring Food Allergy Families podcast, the Food Allergy Behavioral Health Resource section, and the allergy-specific therapeutic worksheets. And if you're an allergy-informed therapy provider, then visit the Provider page!
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