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How Unwritten Rules Have Shaped my Mental Health

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

by emmanuel shoo


I never realized the immense power that unwritten rules held until recently. These hidden regulations, silently governing our behavior, expectations, and standards, have had a profound impact on my life and mental health and well-being. As I embarked on a journey of self-reflection, I began to connect the dots between these unwritten rules and the struggles I have faced.


During my upbringing, I was immersed in a family dynamic with several social norms, such as maintaining silence whilst eating our food, and not questioning adults. Little did I know that these are the “unwritten rules” that silently dictate how we should behave when interacting with others, especially adults. Initially, I saw no harm in following these customs, but as I delved deeper into the concept and embraced the importance of creating a safe environment for everyone, I began to critically examine the negative impacts these rules had had on my own mental well-being.


Unwritten rules are not mere suggestions; they are expectations that must be met. When I was younger, if I failed to conform to these expectations, whether consciously or not, I found myself overwhelmed with guilt, shame, and a constant fear of punishment. The weight of these unwritten rules seemed to overshadow my ability to enjoy life fully.

But it wasn't just within the confines of my family that these rules prevailed. Society, too, had its own set of unwritten rules that affected different social groups. Gender roles, in particular, were rigid and confining. As a boy, I was expected to be strong and suppress my emotions. These expectations placed an incredible burden on my shoulders, leaving me feeling trapped and unable to express my true self.


It is disheartening to witness the devastating consequences of mental health issues in our society. Far too many of us are at the mercy of the unwritten rules that are ingrained in our cultures, and far too many of us lack the open and accepting support we need to navigate them.


As I grappled with these realizations, I came across Citizens 4 Change, an amazing organisation that aims to create safe and inclusive environments for everyone. Part of their mission focuses on working with communities to shed light on the unwritten rules that govern their lives. C4C then empower people to challenge and reframe negative unwritten rules, to reduce the harm they can cause. C4C’s mission has ignited a spark within me, and I am now passionate about becoming an agent of change. Armed with newfound knowledge, I am setting out to raise awareness and shed light on the connection between unwritten rules and mental health.


Together, we can challenge the status quo and foster a more compassionate and understanding society.


It is my hope that, through the work on C4C, others will recognize the influence of unwritten rules on their own lives and mental health journeys. Let us dismantle the barriers that prevent us from seeking help, so we can start to express our emotions freely and support one another without judgment. The road to a society that prioritizes mental well-being may be long, but collaboratively, we can pave the way for a brighter, more inclusive future.


Find out more about unwritten rules by following C4C on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. You can also read about the unwritten rules at play in Shinyanga, Tanzania, in C4C’s recent research report.

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