A new study confirms what many skilled NLP Practitioners have known for a long, long time.
Calling a child a negative name (regardless of your intention) increases the likelihood that he or she will become that very thing.
For example, a new study conducted by psychologists at UCLA has shown that girls who are called fat by close relatives, friends, classmates or teachers before age 10 are more likely to become obese later in life.
The study examined 2,379 girls living in Washington, D.C., Northern California and Cincinnati. 58 percent of those girls reported being told that they were too fat at or before age 10. Girls were weighed and had their height measured at the beginning of the study, and again nine years later. The study found that the girls who had been told they were fat were 1.66 times more likely to be obese at age 19.
Additionally, the study also showed that the more people who told the girl she was fat, the more likely she was to become obese nine years later. The result was shocking, according to A. Janet Tomiyama, assistant professor of psychology at the UCLA College of Letters and Science.
This effect persisted even when factors such as actual weight, income, race and age of puberty were removed. Being labeled as “fat” has a measurable effect on the girls’ weight later in life.
According to the study’s co-author, Jeffrey Hunger, the negative association may have caused the girls to anticipate the effects of weight stigma. Then, they began to unconsciously exhibit behaviors that would lead them to experience those effects.
The last sentence is of profound importance. Later in life, kids often become the negative messages that they receive.
This phenomenon can work on two levels: physical and psychological. Obesity is an example of a physical manifestation. Psychological manifestations are more common. Criticisms like:
You’re a loser.
You can’t do anything right, can you?
You’re so disobedient!
You don’t get along with anyone.
You never keep the rules.
You are such a problem!
You’re gonna fail, like always.
You never listen.
Why does it happen?
It happens because children do not have the mental and emotional capacity to refute negative messages. Yet, they are more than mere sponges that soak up everything they are told. They are intelligent sponges that apply the knowledge they are given.
Imagine the following: You are born not knowing much about who you are. Your job as a child is to learn who you are and act accordingly. As you grow and develop, you rely on your parents and caregivers to teach you who you are. In this realm, your faith is supreme.
When you receive negative messages, you know they are true. When you are told that you are a loser, you believe it and act accordingly. When you’re told that you are a disobedient, impossible child, then you comply. The more you live up to your parents negative expectations, the more negative messages you receive that confirm how true those messages are. It’s a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle.
Then comes the blessed resistance…
Then, something fascinating happens. Many of my clients and I have observed that, often at a very surprisingly young age, we revolt against all the negativity. We are so hurt or resentful of all the negativity that we vow to fight it, to prove how untrue it is. We swear that we will make something of ourselves and prove our parents wrong, once and for all. We often dream of the day when a life of prosperity and inner peace will be ours.
Thank goodness for this resistance. If we are strong enough in it, it can serve us well through our 20s and 30s. We’re driven toward a desired future that contradicts that past, and we often have significant successes that establish a solid platform for the rest of our lives.
Along the way, however, we are plagued by self-criticism, self-doubt and anxiety. Those old messages are still operational in our psyche. In other words, we worked against them but did not let them go. At some level, we still believe and fear that it is all true. At some level, our childhood willingness to believe and comply with parental messages sticks to us like glue. And we have a very hard time controlling our thoughts.
Amazingly, the thoughts are the same. A critical voice whispers:
You’re a loser.
You can’t do it.
You’re fooling yourself.
Nobody loves you.
If this reminds you of someone you know, there is also good news. With a little effort and a lot of self-awareness, you can reverse these painful tendencies.
** If you or someone you know is struggling with negativity, contact Aspen Counseling Services to schedule an Initial Assessment.