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Stress Managment and Mastery: Break the Rules!

Of all the sources of stress in our lives, faulty emotional rules are one of the most debilitating. These faulty emotional rules are typically ingrained during childhood and become a part of how we live. Because they are largely unquestioned, we rarely stop and consider how they might be influencing our lives. If unchecked, these rules can even run our lives.

"How can I know what these rules are if I'm not aware of them?"

Good question. Perhaps a few examples can illustrate what I mean.

Let's consider a person who appears to have his life together. He is financially secure and fulfilling most of his dreams. Yet he always feels there is something missing.

If this scenario seems familiar, you're not alone. It's a fairly big club.

Now, check out what we discover about this person's faulty emotional rules for life. The rules are:

I have to be perfect.

If I'm not perfect, then I make a fool of myself.

Then I will never forgive myself.

That's not exactly a prescription for enjoying life, is it?

Let's look at another example. This person is in and out of bad relationships and has a history of being taken advantage of by others. Here are the rules this person lives by:

I have to please everyone around me.

If I don't, then I am bad.

Then people will abandon me.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Faulty emotional rules typically involve three steps or parts that look something like this:

1) I have to (fill in the blank). This usually involves some kind of command, with no choice allowed.

2) If I don't, then I'm (fill in the blank). This is usually something bad and difficult to change.

3) Then (fill in the blank) will happen. This is some terrible event that will dramatically affect your life, maybe even threaten it.

Now that the pattern of these rules has been established, you can look at the faulty emotional rules that interfere with your life. Just ask yourself these three questions:

In order to be a good person, what is it that I believe I must do?

If I don't, then what does that make me?

Then what will happen to me?

The answers to these questions can help clarify the faulty emotional rules you might have accepted in your life.

So what should you do with this information? This is one of the rare times when you are being encouraged to break the rules. And you'll be breaking them for a good reason.

One way to begin to break and then change faulty emotional rules is to ask lots of challenging questions. For instance:

Where did these rules come from?

Who taught them to you?

In what "emotional classroom" did you learn these rules?

Are they useful?

Do you want to keep them, change them or get rid of them?

Are they outdated and no longer applicable?

Are they like training wheels on a bike - necessary for survival at one time but no longer needed?

These questions can begin to loosen the hold that these rules have over your life.

The next step is to begin to construct and create your own emotional rules that fit your present life.

One way to do this is to ask friends and family about what rules work for them. They might look at you strangely at first, but if you keep digging, you might find out some interesting things.

Another way is to think of someone you admire and either guess about their rules and/or ask them.

Still another way is to ask yourself: "What do I need to believe in order to feel the way I want to feel, take the actions I want to take," etc.

All of us either have or have had faulty emotional rules in our lives. The trick is to identify, challenge, break and then, most importantly, change them.

Visit for tips and tools for creating and growing a great relationship. You can also subscribe to our f*r*e*e 10 day e-program on how to enrich your relationship today, from relationship coach and expert Jeff Herring.

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