TAUGHT to Think or Taught NOT to Think?


facing childhood historyThe last few blog posts have covered how our feelings can get shut down, but what about our thoughts? Have you ever thought about how you were taught to think, or taught not to think?

In recovery and emotional healing, I hear people say all the time that when they are asked the question “what do you think?” they just jam up.  That they don’t know how to respond to that question in the same way that people freeze when asked how they are feeling.

Just as we learn to shut down our own feelings as a result of being told over time that they are “wrong” or that we don’t actually feel them”, learning to doubt our thoughts and opinions and to shut them down also happens in a very similar way. The details are different, but the damage is very comparable.

I have heard children trying to contribute to the conversation with the statement “well I think …” and the adult (or the bully) in the situation will respond by saying;

~ “well no one asked you to think”

~ “Well no one cares what YOU think”

~ “you are not capable of thinking”

~ “If I want to know what YOU think, I will ask you”

There are often subtle rhetorical questions that are designed to tear you down and put you back in “your place”. Although these questions are not necessarily meant to be answered, they have an effect. Even when the person saying these things has no intention to cause harm, these types of statements DO cause harm.  These proclamations might be in response to something you did, or to something you said. Usually they have the desired effect which is to communicate to you that you are wrong.

~ “what in the world are YOU thinking”? or “What in the world were you thinking”

~ “do you have ROCKS in your head instead of a brain”?

~ “How old are you?” inferring either that you are old enough not to say or think such stupid things OR inferring that you are too young to know anything.

These questions or sayings are invalidating and meant to remind you that you are “less than” or less important than they are and that you are LACKING.  They create self doubt and add to low self esteem. And if by any chance you believe what they imply they embed themselves in YOUR belief system.

The underlying message is always that your contribution is not welcome.

If you were not encouraged to share your thoughts as a valid person no matter what age you were, or if you were taught to keep your thoughts to yourself, these types of statements are likely at the root of the problem when it comes to freezing when asked for your thoughts. Being constantly reprimanded and told you were wrong when you did share thoughts will lead to self questioning the validity of your thoughts and ideas. This is equal to having been taught NOT to have thoughts.  No wonder there is fear and or freezing when asked “what do you think”

When someone asks “what do you think” and your whole life you were told (whether inferred or in direct words) that you are stupid and that you “can’t think” then that goes into your belief system and causes the fear of expressing thoughts.  It causes a fear of thinking; what if the thought is “wrong”?  And again, as with feelings, what will the consequences be if you ARE wrong?  Public humiliation? Sarcastic comments?  Rejection or fear of being kicked out of the group?

The risk of being wrong can bring up fears that we had in childhood that are no longer valid fears in adulthood, but we don’t know they are there in the first place.  Fears operate under the surface and we often don’t know what drives them.

If you have a history of being harmed in any way for having thoughts, such as being hit for thinking or for expressing a thought that someone else didn’t approve of, then you have a history of being punished for thinking. If you have been emotionally harmed or humiliated for expressing a thought, that is the same as being punished for thinking and you might still be afraid to think or to express an opinion.

Being ignored is another way that communicates “your thoughts are not important or welcome”. When a child speaks and there is NO response at all the child gets the same message. And think about where all this “communication” leads;  I concluded that if I had nothing of value to contribute to my family, then I had nothing to contribute to my community either and if I had nothing to contribute outside of my family, then I had nothing to contribute to the world. See how it happens?

I had to realize why I would freeze when I was asked what I was “thinking” or asked to contribute my thoughts to a conversation.  The fear of being “wrong” was huge and it stemmed from the fear of the consequences of being wrong and NOT trusting myself to have anything valuable to contribute because it was communicated to me that I HAD nothing to contribute.

Were you encouraged to think? Were you asked to contribute and was your contribution acknowledged, considered or valued? Were you encouraged to contribute your thoughts to a conversation or to a plan? Were you ignored which communicates the exact same message; that you have nothing to contribute.

Please share your thoughts and please feel free to use only your first name or a screen name in the comment form.

Exposing Truth, one snapshot at a time;

Darlene Ouimet

~ Related Posts with Discussions here on Emerging from Broken (click titles to visit)

Why didn’t I know how I felt about anything?

Stop Crying or I will give you something to cry about

The purpose of facing the past and childhood history

Psychological abuse, domestic violence and the belief system

Psychological Abuse ~ if you don’t like it, Leave.


88 response to "TAUGHT to Think or Taught NOT to Think?"

  1. By: Doren Beard Posted: 24th October

    I remember my feelings and thoughts being repeatedly invalidated. Once when I was about 7, I was sitting in the back seat of the car reading a newspaper (smart kid :)) and came across a story involving a dog’s death. I started to cry and Mom turned around angry and asked me what I was crying about. I was being a pain to her by showing distress. Anything could have been wrong with me, but she was being “inconvenienced”. I don’t think I mentioned the dog…reactions like that were a familiar pattern by then. Her message was that my feelings were burdensome and inconsiderate…in other words I “should” have been considering THEM more and something was wrong with me. Now I can see that according to her something was ‘wrong’ with me cause I was actually asking something of HER/THEM or expecting to be comforted, expecting them to come out of themselves and do their jobs as parents.
    But this was twisted and pathologized by self-centred people who believed kids were to be of service to THEM. My distress was asking of something they thought was not in the job description. I was being presumptuous and inconsiderate, and had no choice but to internalize that, when now I can plainly see THEY were inconsiderate and demanding.

    They were intent on teaching me that I could not depend on them emotionally, and that my distress was wrong because it took attention from theirs. They taught me I was selfish for being “needy”. So, I became ever more shy and withdrawn and living in books and tv. It became very hard for me by age 10 to make friends because by then I felt wrong and undeserving. I couldn’t speak up to people, they were always right, even though many times I felt so wronged and hurt. By that age I was trying to be really good, really nice so other kids would like me. I’d take their change at recess and go alone to the store nearby to buy their treats. Returning, I’d give their change and candy back and see them all leave and play elsewhere together.
    Just like at home I guess, always having to pick up something for the house when I went out, never being allowed to just go out for myself. Being good and hoping this will win me favour. It never did in either case, I was just handy. But I guess I was trying to prove myself as good/worthy, and have all my life.

    Repeated invalidation of my feelings because they exposed the deficiencies of my parents, and they weren’t going to have that at all, so I was wrong. My anger and speaking up as a teenager said, “What is going on here is not right or normal”, but they weren’t going to have that, so I was called sick and weak. This truth was beyond my grasp as a child. Their feelings were all that mattered, and they sacrificed their children to live as they chose. Our feelings were only supposed to be their feelings….this never wavered. We were never individuals to them.

    When you teach your child to think you see them as individuals. My mother gave the silent treatment at times, when she wanted to forget we existed. When she wanted to play victim when we were the victims. We were supposed to be their examples when they themselves were too lazy ass to follow them themselves. “Why aren’t you going to church?” Mom would say glowering, sitting in her chair when she wasn’t going either. If I said, “Well you’re not going”, she’d say, “I am the mother!”

    It was around this time that I noticed that whenever I got mad at Mom, Dad would say nothing. My sister usually said nothing. I took the load. And all the sick labels on me came out in force during that time, and stuck. I never stopped thinking differently, or being angry…but I gradually swallowed that anger more and believed in my ‘badness’. It’s been so difficult to be alone in that family with my perspective.

    Today, as for most of life, I am soft spoken and very other oriented. I can speak well one on one but get much quieter as soon as one or more people are included in the conversation. I have a thing about other people overhearing me, what do they think of me, do I sound stupid or odd or whatever negative? This acute self-consciousness is rooted in all those times being told I was wrong and bad and sick, and when my feelings were reacted to inappropriately, like when Mom laughed and thought my anger was entertaining.

    More and more I get stronger in my self-conviction though. Last week on a crowded bus I talked to a stranger about the record he bought, I had to speak up cause of the noise. I turned my head and this old fart of a man was watching me intently, glowering, but I carried on. I recognized being self-conscious but continued out of my comfort zone. I realize now how very deeply ingrained childhood messages are in me.

    My parents were very ill and disturbed people who made the easiest choices for themselves they could, and refused to change or accomodate difference. I see now I was being a very healthy kid and that was alien to them. Unfortunately their years of negativity were like a brain implant in my head, and I have to work very hard now to take that implant out. I’ve found it’s not only a matter of intellectually understanding what happened, but changing my behaviour, being my own good loving parent, and , over time a new implant will be in place.


  2. By: Barbara Joy Posted: 27th July

    Darlene, a big amen from the peanut gallery on your last comment. We must replace all the negative messages in our lifetime with positive ones! Cheers and kudos to you for passing on the power of positive thinking.

  3. By: Barbara Joy Posted: 27th July

    Wow! Can I relate to this! One of my issues I started exploring after my NM died was my lack of ability to “feel”. After hearing my whole life, “NO YOU’RE NOT!”,(the answer to any statement I would make) I couldn’t tell you if I was hot, cold, sick, in pain, or even in love. I could sit in a hot car in the middle of summer until I passed out. The upside to this? I got through menopause pretty easy. Now I concentrate on myself – it seems like so many others have said, you can’t go NC without replacing another voice in your head – and that voice needs to be my own, and I need to trust and listen to what it tells me.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 27th July

      Hi Barbara Joy
      Welcome to EFB ~ Great to have you here!
      I had to find my voice. I had to validate that I even had one. Listening to myself has been the best thing that I have ever done and has led me back to me!
      Yay for concentrating on YOU.
      Hugs, Darlene

  4. By: Joey Posted: 26th July

    Yep, this plagues me to this day. This could be one of the worst of all the neglect. I fear opening my mouth. I beat myself up for being such a wimp. I end up suffering the consequences because I didn’t speak up. I feel invalid, stupid and angry…and we’re off into depression because I deny myself. I realize it is the cause for people thinking I don’t have a brain. I realize that it holds me back in personal and professional situations and that until I get enough courage to open my yap this ugly cycle will continue. This very subject is one of the drivers for my recovery. I can no longer tolerate the consequences and I feel I need to grow up here and be an adult like everybody else. I absolutely do freeze up. I find if very difficult to ask a question in a group for fear I will look stupid. If I do manage to get something out, I’m usually tongue-tied…and my fears have been self-filled. I look like an idiot. I can trace this crap back to sitting at the kitchen table and adding some innocent comment to the conversation my father was having with my grandparents. My father, a big man, bellowed in rage at me to go stick my nose in the corner until he told me I could come out. Something about if I want your opinion I’ll ask for it. That idea that children should be seen and not heard were the order of the day. Anyway, I was publically humilited and that was the end of my confidence in speaking out. As I never wanted that to happen again, I zipped my lip as much as possible. Today, however, I hate myself for it. I hate that it still has a reign over me and that it effects my life in a big way. And with that…I’m off to see my therapist! Thanks for the topic.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 27th July

      Hi Joey
      What helped me the most was finding out the root causes of all these things you are talking about. I searched for the origins; where did this happen to me, how did it start, where did my self esteem get broken and through looking at those events I looked at the messages that I got about myself and looked at where they were still operating in my life. It sounds like your father was a bully and that you were totally discounted. I had to overcome those false messages and empower myself by sort of “reparenting” myself. I write a lot about it in this website.
      Thank you for sharing,
      Hugs, Darlene

  5. By: Karen Ranes Posted: 9th July

    I was not allowed opinions or feelings. I had to follow many rules of
    polite behavior. Always to speak certain words, a script. Add nothing
    extra of my own. Always the perfect polite child. No noise or childish
    playful behavior. Seen but not heard. Punishment if you behave
    wrong or say too much. I had to ask permission to do everything.
    Permission to use the bathroom, leave the table, there were so
    many rules. No I was not allowed to think, feel, hurt, not without
    permission. I was obedient and compliant. No one in my family
    has ever heard me.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 10th July

      Yes and all that caused huge amounts of damage to the self esteem! This is what we are dealing with and overcoming!
      Thanks for sharing!
      Hugs, Darlene

  6. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 11th February

    Hi Joan
    I hear you.
    I had to decide what was more important to me. Being free of the sick system and being healthy, or staying in the sick system and being very unhealthy. (depressed etc.)
    I finally chose me. Nobody liked the “new me”. Many walked away, family included. At the time it was agony, but today my life is thousands of times better. I LIKE me now and I respect me. This was part of my self value. When ever I think I may have made a mistake standing up for myself, I ask myself “what is the alternative?” and I am not willing to accpet that alternative!
    It takes a long time to sort it all out; hang in there!
    Hugs, Darlene

  7. By: Joan H Posted: 11th February

    I don’t know if I can do this I defended myself 2 times today to two people “close to me and now they r not talking to me” I feel like crap but it’s not fair — one is my sister who gives me the silent treatment for no reason n I respective her respect .. But her son does whatever he plzs in my sons room but my son can’t even go in his, no more I don’t want my son not speaking up bcux he is afraid. She was turning it on my son n I told her we don’t disrespect her house but she said we do. The point is her son is a bully and she is too I told her you don’t have to give me the silent treatment I had enough of that growing up but I’m going to stick up for me from now on ,so be it.
    Omg she had a fit. N denied what she does to me.
    — the other was my cousin she wanted me to go somewhere with her n I said no becuz my son didn’t want to go n I had no babysitter but I knew what was coming next:;; she texted me back ” u are the parent u know, I don’t let mine control me!” I said to her ” you are so right , that works for your family but I am me”
    I say it very nicely I don’t know why they get upset LOLLLLL. They don’t say it to me nicely n I have said yeah ok—
    Wow it’s hard … 🙁
    She is always putting me down but this time I said ” ur so right

  8. By: joy Posted: 7th August

    HI my dear Friend: Darlene

    That poem was before I fought with the Demons!! I resolved i wouldnt listen to them. they are the voices of the past.. How can good things be bad.. Lies .. I agree with you Darlene. but you see what state my soul was in last night. I have no one here. just the bad thoughts were harassing me. . I sought everywhere but had to fight them myself . and luckily . i had the tools to fight with but boy am I so tired.. It took me till 3:00 am to fight those bad bad thoughts. But I agree .it’s not selfish..rather its the most unselfish..since brokenness keeps one from doing as much as one can. But the demons are children of the Devil and the Devil is the father of lies. and they will lie… lies are not from God but from the evil one. .and how can a God of love want me to hurt. .. this is what I come to see last night . I thank you Darlene that you share and for not judging me to be hopeless.. I appreciate your encouragement. Thank you !!


  9. By: joy Posted: 6th August


    I having such a hard time
    my mind is challenging me
    Am having feelings of guilt
    for seeking therapy
    I am feeling like a traitor
    like i am committing sin
    I am captive to my soul
    being accused within

    I am shaking all over
    I am so afraid inside
    Who do i think i am,
    am i acting in pride?
    What am i really doing?
    why am i even speaking?
    is selfishness the cause
    of this healing i am seeking?


    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 7th August

      Hi Joy
      Thank you for sharing your poem. I hard time shaking the brainwashing. I was “told” that I was selfish and I beleived it. I had to dig down to the truth. What is selfish about healing? Healing benefits the entire world. Look at what I am doing as a result of MY healing. Do you think that my healing was selfish? If I had not done it, I would not be here writing this blog.
      Hugs, Darlene

  10. By: Pam Posted: 2nd August

    You’re right, the words don’t matter. If it were as easy as identifying certain words to know when someone was trying to be God in your life it would be a lot easier. Spiritual abusers use words that have very good meanings for evil. They twist everything to gain control.

    Joy, I believe that God not only understands but is pleased when you talk one on one with Him. He knows you better than anyone and He knows just what you need now.

  11. By: joy Posted: 30th July


    It’s good to be free from that and now am seeing how much beauty there is in every faith and religion .. I like to just stay inside my heart for now in my communication with God..I think God ..understands.

  12. By: Kate Posted: 30th July

    And beware that the ones claiming to speak for how “God” works, are the ones controlling you!! The “sovereignty of God” was the favorite live used in my circles, but it was really the sovereignty of the church controlling our minds with more talk, it didn’t really even matter what the words were…just quit listening.

  13. By: Renee Posted: 29th July

    I never associated freezing when asked to speak with my abuse. I am deliberate in my thinking, but horribly inept during verbal communications.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 30th July

      Hi Renee
      I didn’t associate a ton of my adulthood reactions to my childhood abuse. Realizing that most of that stuff was connected to my childhood was a big part of how I overcame so many of my issues.
      Thanks for sharing,
      Hugs, Darlene

  14. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 29th July

    Great comments Fi,
    thank you for jumping in here. This is a huge problem in our hurting world.

    Yes, you “must stay away from them”. God gave us free will, and abusers took our free will from us, brainwashing us that we didn’t really have it after all. When we begin to realize the truth and come out of that fog, we take our choice and our free will back and like you said, we can stay away from those people.
    Hugs, Darlene

  15. By: joy Posted: 29th July


    I understand that.. I would imagine God is crying daily since all over the world people are being hurt unjustly .. children are hurt with no one to help.. people who have no one to help are broken down .. with no one to care.. I would say God is very sad.. Yet .. sometimes I wonder.. with all the power God has.. It would suffice to stay “stop all evil” and it would stop.. .why not stop the evil.. I wish people would stop hurting me .. but God won’t stop them. so I must stay away from them.
    Hugs .. love.

  16. By: Fi MacLeod Posted: 29th July

    Joy it’s not “God letting it happen”. It’s a case of men doing and saying terribly evil things. God gave men and women free will to act and speak either as God would have them or not as the case may be, otherwise we’d just be robots with no independent thinking/acting. If God intervened every time people said and did terrible things He would be removing people’s free will and turning them into robots.

    God did not and does not want you to suffer, that is not His nature. But there were people who chose to do that to you and they will have to account to God for that and He will not allow any excuses. Evil exists and is not due to God but due to people choosing to live and behave in ways that God does not like, approve of or want.

    So often God gets blamed for things which are nothing to do with Him. God does not approve of or agree with such terrible things being said or done in His name. I had the same sort of rubbish told me. It is rubbish, plain and simple and does not reflect the heart or character of God at all.

  17. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 29th July

    It is not my belief that God “let” it happen. God gave man free will, and the sadness is that innocent people get hurt because of evil choices that some people make, but I don’t believe that God “Lets” this stuff happen. I believe that God is broken hearted and devastated by the horrors that go on in our world.
    Hugs, Darlene

  18. By: joy Posted: 29th July


    I don’t know if God approves what that man said but God did let it happen. .for some reason ..along with all the terrible, horrible, scary things that continued to happened there..

    It’s hard for me to understand things but I can’t imaging God who is loving agreeing with evil being done. yet God still let it happen.


  19. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 29th July

    You are right, you WERE terribly traumatized by these events and by what was taught to you by that minister. His lies validated your biggest fears, as you have expressed here in your comments. But he lied, and he has no clue what God approves of. Do you think that God approves of that minister telling a little innocent girl that she was displeasing GOD by telling about being seriously abused at home? I read the bible (in depth study for 8 years greek and hebrew word origins) and I KNOW for a fact that what that “man” told you and taught you not any kind of biblical teaching. No wonder you were terrified of God, you were taught that he was terrifying! But the teachings that you learned were the teachings of men.
    Love, Darlene

  20. By: joy Posted: 29th July


    The biggest damage done to my mind was by the “church” The day I was told as a 6 years old girl that I should never speak of the things done at home despite the terrible things that were done me.. was the day I believed God was behind all the bad done to me.

    I thought for sure. .but my thoughts were wrong.. that people of God would stop the painful things being done to me. but instead all they did was tell me that God was displeased with me.. that I should ask his forgiveness for trying to make my mom and brother look bad..

    I remember walking home in tears .. and not being able to talk ..I think that the minister had spoken to my mom afterwards for I got a very bad beating when we got home . . If not wrong that was a sunday that is why we were there.

    Anyway . i started believing i had absolutely no value that mom was right i was the worst mistake and deserved all the hurtful things. I was terrified of God.. since he was obviously given mom permission to abuse me in so many ways..

    The only thing I learned was I was to keep quiet and not speak and not cry and suffer.

    This is what the minister told me and that is what I believe God put his approval on.

    I believe I was traumatized to think God wanted me to suffer all that..


  21. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 29th July

    Thanks for highlighting another type of abuse; I am talking about when people control and direct other people using GOD and the Bible as a back up. In my case I was lucky; this type of abuse along with ny addiction to having proof that I might have just one right thought in my head, led me to do extensive bible study, but for most this kind of spiritual abuse just completely tears a person down leaving them in such a spin, believing that they are SO WRONG that even GOD can’t love them. And if God can’t even love me, then the conclusion is that there is NO HOPE! This is a disgusting and debilitating method of abuse and misuse of power and authority over a kid!
    Thank you for sharing!
    Hugs, Darlene

  22. By: Kate Posted: 29th July

    My ex-husband loved to know what I was thinking, as long as he could get comfortable first with popcorn and/or a pillow. He remembered carerully nad used it all AGAINST me, ASAP. It was amazing, but no more.

    My mother told me in junior high that:

    1) I couldn’t think
    2) I didn’t have a brain
    3) I couldn’t learn

    NOT a good time, I hated her by age 13.

    My dad told me repeatedly, from his church’s point of view, that we should never say the words “I think” because our hearts are deceitful and wicked, etc., ad nauseum, and he NEVER said how that also applied to our pastors, guess it didn’t,…

  23. By: Pam Posted: 28th July

    I hate those old tapes but when I finally realized that I didn’t need my family to understand in order for me to resolve my past, many of them have stopped playing. The relief is amazing!

  24. By: Fi MacLeod Posted: 28th July

    We all have that tape recorder.

    It takes time to find stuff to challenge the old stuff, my therapist puts it this way – “you are allowed to turn the volume down on all that old bad stuff”

    Eventually you’ll get stuff to play against those old tapes, it’ll be a tiny voice for a while which will get stronger and stronger till eventually it’s louder than all that old bad stuff being played. It’s a process, small steps by small steps.

    Yes, everyone has their own pace but actually healing means stepping out of your comfort zones into stuff that feels strange, disorientating, sometimes contradictory. All the old patterns of thinking and behaving are comfortable like a pair of old slippers. It takes stepping out of those comfortable places which actually are not helping you but hindering you to step into newer and more helpful ways of relating, responding, etc.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 29th July

      LOVE these comments!! ~

      Fi wrote: “Yes, everyone has their own pace but actually healing means stepping out of your comfort zones into stuff that feels strange, disorientating, sometimes contradictory. All the old patterns of thinking and behaving are comfortable like a pair of old slippers. It takes stepping out of those comfortable places which actually are not helping you but hindering you to step into newer and more helpful ways of relating, responding, etc.”

      Pam wrote: “I hate those old tapes but when I finally realized that I didn’t need my family to understand in order for me to resolve my past, many of them have stopped playing. The relief is amazing!”

      Hugs, Darlene

  25. By: joy Posted: 28th July


    I read Fi’s and yes I see it takes time
    It isn’t anything anyone is saying here it’s the tape
    recorder playing back inside .. lots of old tapes keep
    playing in my mind and I wish I could find the battery source
    and disable it completely.

    THank you for your kindly words.. I know all takes time and
    everyone has their own pace and comfort zone to work in .



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