“Okay, Goofus, you did it again,” Bob* said to his teenage son. (Goofus is a slang term for an inept person.) Ray* had messed up a model airplane and his father grabbed it and made the correction.
Eight years later I was visiting Ray when his young son spilled his milk. “Okay, Goofus, look what you did this time!”
Neither time did I say anything, but I realized that Ray had not only absorbed the belittling words of his father, he had also passed them on to his son.
In some sense most of us are like that. We heard the negative comments about ourselves from an older or respected person and unconsciously claimed them as true (even if they weren’t). Because we accepted them, when we made mistakes or failed, we tended to say to ourselves something like this: “You did it again, Goofus.” That word wasn’t part of my vocabulary, so I used terms like dumbbell, lazy, or stupid.
No matter how many times we did something well, on those occasions—even if they were rare—what did we say?
Regardless of the negative term, each time we used it on ourselves we reinforced it on our brain. As long as we don’t question the correctness of the putdown, it stays with us and grows stronger.
When I made a mistake, my default mode was to say, “You did it again, idiot.” Or “That was a stupid thing to do.”
About 30 years ago I started disavowing those accusing thoughts. I was driving and made a wrong turn (even though I had consulted a map only minutes earlier). “There you go again, stupid. Like you always do.”
“I don’t always do that,” I said. I had made several correct turns and that was the first mistake.
Just then I thought, I’m not stupid. “I do a lot of things right.”
That simple experience began to reshape my life. It still took me years, but I’ve now learned to say, “This action is not typical of you, Cec. Please don’t do it again.”
I also remind myself, “I’m the creation of a loving God. By repeating those negative words, I insult wonderful work.” One of my favorite verses reads, “For we are God’s handiwork” (Ephesians 2:10).