Copyright 2004

We all expect ourselves to act on what we believe is right and avoid those actions that we deem as wrong. Sometimes, though, we don't live up to these expectations. Why? The primary reason is the failure to carefully examine our beliefs about right and wrong – or what I will call your personal moral code.

If you habitually act against or outside of your moral code, perhaps it is less your own than that of your parents, your church, or your community. It may be too stringent and in need of reevaluation. If this is a problem for you, it's a good idea to sit down and really think about what your moral code is. Write down your beliefs about right and wrong. Take a look at these beliefs, and realistically evaluate each rule. Are they rigid? Do you truly believe you have to live up to these expectations in order to be a good person? Do these beliefs truly belong to you in your heart, or are they ideas that were imposed upon you during your childhood?

Next, make note of which rules you have broken, perhaps putting an extra "star" next to the ones that you break often. Perhaps you are breaking your own rules for one of the following reasons:

1. Your rules are too strict, and you feel boxed in by them. Therefore, another part of you is constantly seeking freedom. Do you expect more of yourself than you do of others, offering more leeway to everyone but yourself? Can you find a way to relax around your rules so that you feel less like your freedom is being infringed upon?

2. Your rules belong to someone else. If you adopted the moral code of your parents, for example, you may automatically feel rebellious toward that code. A part of you will try to derail it in order to push against the strict hand of the parental voice inside you. As an adult, however, it is your job to become aware of the voices of your parents that remain in your psyche. Once aware of them, you can evaluate from an adult perspective which rules make sense to you and which do not. It also takes some time to realize that your parents no longer have power over you, and rebelling against them is really rebelling against yourself. Whenever there is a conflict within you, it helps to become aware of it and perhaps even facilitate a dialogue between the two conflicting voices. If you can observe this inner dialogue objectively, you can determine which voice (if either) is the more rational of the two.

3. A part of you simply cannot stand to follow any rules. Perhaps your rules are not stringent, and yet, you still cannot live up to them. Often, this is a result of the same kind of thing mentioned in number 2. Your parents or your church may have imposed an enormous number of rules upon you as a child, and now, you feel rebellious toward rules in general. It is also sometimes true that low self-esteem begets low self-esteem. If you were told that you never follow rules, told that you were no good, you may find yourself trying to live up to that image. If you perceive yourself on some level as a bad person, you may continue to be that person. First of all, a thorough evaluation of your moral code is in order. However, in this case, awareness is key! It takes time and vigilance, but when you begin to catch yourself prior to breaking the rules, you will start to evaluate what you truly want to do. If you're going to ultimately be hurt by your behavior, you must gradually learn to love yourself enough to stop ahead of time. Obviously, if addiction is involved, you will need outside help. Even if addiction is not involved, you may find that a therapist or counselor can do much to help you break any destructive patterns.

When you truly know yourself and who you are, you can determine who you want to strive to become. From an open-hearted position, you can evaluate what you truly believe to be right and what you truly believe to be wrong. Once you know what your beliefs are (and they may grow and change as you do), you can begin to design a life where you live up to your own expectations and rarely disappoint yourself. Living and standing by your beliefs promotes self-love and self-respect. It gives you the opportunity to see yourself positively rather than feeling down on yourself. And, most importantly, it affords you the cushion to allow for mistakes and slip-ups. When the heart is open and compassion is present, rigid perfectionism has little place. You can give yourself the time to grow and to change gradually until your outsides match your insides. This is what it takes to be whole and comfortable in your own skin. Imagine a world where we all felt good about ourselves and lived with absolute integrity!

Author's Bio: 

Melanie Votaw is a transformational counselor and the author of five books, including "Hummingbirds: Jewels On Air" and the newly released "52 Weeks of Passionate Sex." Her two meditation CD's entitled "Discovering Your Life Purpose" and "The Creative Impulse" are available for purchase at http://www.CDBaby.com. A certified hypnotherapist for 12 years, Melanie has taught psychospiritual courses for The Learning Annex and others in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. Information about her work can be found on her websites: http://www.MelanieVotaw.com, http://www.RuletheWord.com.