I once read a true case in which a man was physically unable to tap a screw with a hammer to make an indentation in a piece of wood prior to drilling the screw in. Even though he logically knew this was an acceptable process, he just couldn't do it, so he went to a therapist to find out why.
In therapy, he remembered an incident in his childhood when his enraged father screamed at him, "Never hit a screw with a hammer!" His therapist explained that words that are spoken in a highly emotional situation imprint more deeply in the mind of the listener than do words spoken in ordinary circumstances. In this man's case, his father's words imprinted so deeply that the man could not make his body perform a simple action.
Imagine the effect of a parent saying to a child, "Why can't you be more like your brother?" or "You'll never amount to anything!" or even worse, "I wish you were never born!" Yet, every day some children hear such words from an angry parent. It isn't surprising when those children become depressed.
It doesn't even take hurtful or angry words to affect a child's thinking. Sometimes just the content of the words becomes locked into the child's view of the world. I discovered this when trying to help my children with their homework (usually math problems). I'd often hear the protest, "But that isn't the way the teacher does it!" I realized that my children were assuming that there was only one way to get to the right answer. I had to explain that I had learned a different way to solve the problem and get the same answer. I explained my way, and they explained the way the teacher had taught them, and both our worlds were enlarged.
Children take words literally. Imagine a parent saying, "Let me show you the right way to tie your shoes." What the child hears is that there is only one way to do something. Most children will eventually realize that other people perform the same task in other ways, but some children will be locked into the belief that there is only one right way to do things and that attitude prevents them from learning or even seeing alternatives.
Do you ever find yourself uncomfortably locked into certain behaviors? Do you really believe things must be done a certain way, even if you know there are different or even simpler ways to accomplish the same thing?
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.