The brain is like a tape recorder. During childhood, it records thousands of messages, attitudes, beliefs, and rules for behavior. In adulthood, the brain tends to replay these same recordings, and unless we consciously question or update them, these old messages will automatically guide us.

Some messages, like “Look both ways before crossing the street,” remain appropriate in our lives. But many messages no longer serve us. Such internal “tapes” deeply influence and severely limit how we relate to others. They lead us to judge or react to each other in a variety of upsetting ways.

What tapes still affect you this way? Are you hearing tapes that play back the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” fed to you in childhood – what you should say, do, feel, or show? Tapes that define what is “good,” “bad,” “right,” and “wrong,” that are used in blaming others, making yourself right, or feeling guilty? Tapes about your gender – how a man or woman should act? Or tapes labeling your own character, that tell you you’re “untalented,” “hopeless,” “shy,” or “a failure”?

Such inner tapes may still be influencing you – without your even noticing it. They have the power to deeply affect every aspect of how you relate to others. They can generate unlimited blame, judgments, guilt, and unhappiness.

The card TAPES warns you to be alert for old messages that are still playing and affecting your relationships today. Notice when you judge a partner – or yourself. Notice when you try to prove that you are right. Notice when you tell yourself or others what should or shouldn’t be done.

This card challenges you to become more aware of how your tapes play. They normally run at lightning speed, too fast for you to consciously hear! So how can you notice them? Listen for key words in your speech, such as “should,” “must,” “have to,” “always,” “never.” Be alert for judgments that make people “bad” or “wrong.” Catch it when you label someone or call them names. Catch it when you label yourself. Be alert in emotional situations, where tapes often tend to play.

Whenever you find yourself reacting emotionally or catch yourself using a key word, stop for a moment! Hit the pause button by taking a deep breath or two. Then slow down and listen for the internal messages that accompany your reaction. What beliefs, attitudes, or rules are being played back to you? Do you hear a message from your childhood? Whose voice is saying it? A parent’s – or some other person’s? How does that message relate to events in your past? Most important, does that message still serve you as an adult?

Hearing it, you may want to change the tape. You may decide it is time to record an entirely new message. Or you may simply look deep within your heart and find that the tape is no longer relevant to your life – or how you truly want to relate to others.

The card TAPES encourages you to engage in this kind of active self-examination as part of your journey of personal growth. You evolve as an adult whenever you replace your old tapes with new messages of your own. Choose messages – and repeat them often – that reflect your desire to create joyful and fulfilling relationships in your life.