Messages from the past


Injunctions are messages from parents when we are in our early years that tell us how to be. In the context of therapy they are usually considered to be limiting or inhibiting messages that thwart our autonomy, curiosity or development of personal power. Here are some verbal examples:

‘Smile for Mummy’
‘Be quiet’
‘Big boys don’t cry’
‘Don’t touch yourself down there.’
‘Don’t you start!’
‘Don’t answer back.’
‘Don’t you talk to me like that.’
‘John!!’ (Tone of shock horror)
‘Stop laughing.’
‘Stop slurping.’
‘Stop xxx…’

Injunctions are often given by parents either in words that we no longer remember or else in a family atmosphere or vibe that is felt, e.g. never talking about sex, or never raising one’s voice.


Fearful child B-WPut-downs are verbal or non-verbal messages designed to belittle that child. They are sometimes totally inaccurate, and sometimes only partially accurate. They may be global criticisms that have no positive use. Here are some examples:

‘You should be ashamed of yourself.’
‘You little bugger!’
‘He’s too big for his boots!’
‘Get in here now!’ (Shouted angrily)
‘Who’s a little madam?’
‘You’re naughty!’
‘You’re lazy!’
‘After all I’ve done for you!’
‘What did I tell you?’ (I predicted that you would be as useless as this.)

Here’s where co-counselling comes in…

If you are very lucky, your parents or caregivers did not ever belittle you in the slightest: that would be the ideal. It is however often the case that parents, even if only in a mild or subtle way, will at some point do or say something that inhibits us. It’s important for our development to know about this rather than deny it. And in a co-counselling session we have a safe space where we can do this exploration without fear of being criticised.

Suppose you’re saying: ‘hang on, my parents were great’, or ‘hang on, I love my parents’…

If we explore all of our emotions about any of this, which inevitably leads to acknowledging dissatisfactions, however slight, with our parents, it does not mean we do not love them. It is common for people to feel like they are betraying their parents if they admit anger towards them, but actually, anger and love may co-exist. Indeed, I believe that the opposite of love is not anger or hatred, but indifference. And few people are really indifferent to parents.

And if you’re saying, ‘I hate my parents, they were worse than useless’…

…then you may eventually choose to use co-counselling to lessen your hatred and move towards an acceptance of what is or what has been, or even move towards a kind of inner acceptance (or could you call it forgiveness?), even though you may have no physical conversation with them.