How To Recognize Cultural Messages And Take Care Of Ourselves
These messages do not dictate who we are — we do.
But what are cultural messages? They are all the implicit and explicit expressions from society that tell us how we should look, behave and feel. One example is that only people who look a certain way can live in a particular area. If we keep getting that message, eventually this will turn into something we think about, telling ourselves that we can’t live in that area because we don’t look like the rest of the people who live there. Since repetitive thoughts can turn into a belief, the cycle keeps growing, and a belief is born that people live in different areas depending on how they look. Our beliefs impact our decisions and the way we see the world.
It is important to remember that we can choose which cultural messages we welcome into our lives and which ones we say “no, thank you” to. No matter how old we are, we have already taken in many different cultural messages from those around us. Those messages created thoughts and beliefs that can impact our mental health and limit us from reaching our full potential. This happens to all of us, but there is also something we can do about it.
Whenever you are having limiting thoughts, and you are putting yourself down, or the next time that you think something like:
- I am too old or too young
- I am too Latina for that job
- People with an accent like mine would never do something like that
- I am too black or too white, and that is why I can’t do this, whatever “this” may be for you
Pause for a second and ask yourself: Is this true? Is this thought mine or is it the result of all the cultural messages I have received?
We have a choice and can pick which thoughts to keep and which thoughts to put away during our life journey. Knowing that we have a choice can be liberating. Knowing that we can always pause to explore with curiosity whatever we are thinking is empowering.
Nevertheless, it is not easy. We may not know how to do it, and like everything, it requires practice. The more we pause to examine our thoughts, the easier it will become. Engaging in this exploration of our thoughts is always better when we use gentle curiosity and ask judgment to please step aside from the equation. However, self-doubt can easily arise if we discover that something we believed is not necessarily true for us anymore. Looking at things in a new way is scary.
When this happens, we can feel the temptation to go back to our old habits and limiting thoughts, which feels more comfortable. This is why having a trusted friend or community of like-minded people with similar values is crucial during this process. Having support from people we trust and feel understood by may be what we need most when we are doubting ourselves and don’t trust the part of us that is saying: There might not be people that look like me that live in that area, but that does not mean I can’t look for houses there.
Do you have a community of like-minded people you can reach out to? If you don’t, that’s perfectly fine because you can find one today, or it may find you. This community can come from the most unexpected places, so try to be open to the hidden windows of opportunity life offers you. It may come from a book club, an exercise class, a master-mind group, or from a conversation that you finally have with the lady that walks her dog at the same time you do.
So, let’s recap what we’ve discussed so far:
- We know that cultural messages about how we “should” live our lives can eventually transform into limiting beliefs.
- We know that not all thoughts are accurate and that we have the choice to pause and explore which ones we welcome into our lives, and which ones we let go of.
- We know that doubting ourselves along this process is normal.
- We know that having a community of like-minded people to support us is essential.
Finally, we must start taking steps to do whatever we want to do. If we think about it too much, this may lead to analysis paralysis, so it is better to ask ourselves: What is the smallest step that I can take right now? Then, if you need to, break it down even further. Do not underestimate the value of small steps. In our example above, a small step may be sharing your thoughts with someone from your community, and asking that person to take a drive around the area you are thinking of living in to see how you feel while driving there. It does not have to be calling a real estate agent right away. That may be too much, too soon. The important thing is to take action.
Although we are constantly bombarded with cultural messages, and there is nothing we can do to prevent this, we do have a choice about how to handle them. These messages do not dictate who we are — we do. Once we know this, we can care for ourselves compassionately and lovingly by only taking in the cultural messages we want. We all deserve this, and this is something we can only do for ourselves.
Dulce Orozco is a licensed mental health counselor in Massachusetts, who has extensive experience working with individuals and their families who are not native to this country. She works remotely with women who feel like outsiders and have a tough time taking care of themselves. For more information visit www.dulceorozco.com.