ttWe all have beliefs. About ourselves, the world, and life. We’re not born with them, but we do start forming them from the moment we are born. My experience as a hypnotherapist has shown that we even start to form them in the womb. Many clients that I have regressed to the womb tell me that they can sense a reality beyond the womb.
Most of our beliefs are unconsciously held as basic assumptions. They underlie our decisions and actions without being questioned or examined. We strongly defend (even to death) beliefs that we are passionate about. Sometimes we may even try to convert others to them.
Some beliefs are little more than rationalizations for learned/trained animal responses.
When someone is brainwashed, they have been trained through emotional manipulation, alternating fear with hope to respond to certain ideas, and life in general, in specific ways. The belief system that develops as a result then explains (or justifies) the emotional training or experience.
A belief is a strong, compelling sense that “something is the case”.
Reality, of course, means different things to different people. All our interpretations of reality are hypothetical. It doesn’t matter too much what they are unless our interpretations get in the way of living our life.
For example, if you believe that the sun goes round the earth, given what we all see every day, this won’t have any significant impact on your ability to live well.
But if you believe that the sun not only goes round the earth but is a powerful vengeful deity who will only cast light on the earth if you appease him by pouring a pint of your own blood on the ground every day, this is likely to get in the way of you being able to live your life at all.
These are extremes. But people can, and do, have a great many strange ideas and beliefs and still live adequately functional lives.
Problems arise when we confuse “reality out there” and what we consciously or unconsciously believe. When this happens we can become unhappy and distressed.
So what kinds of difficulties can arise around our beliefs?
If it’s true here, it must be true everywhere
Some beliefs are more emotionally conditioned, and therefore more powerfully held than others. This is because high emotion suppresses clear or logical thought. The belief becomes universal when it may be specific.
eg “These people treated me badly – therefore all people are to be distrusted”
It’s true for me, so it’s true for everyone
A shy person may believe that no one ever enjoys public speaking. Or a person may believe that all abstract art is a con because they cannot relate to it themselves.
It’s true because other people believe it
It’s amazing how we are influenced by what others believe! It was a good thing that we came to realize that smoking wasn’t good for us. Not so good was the belief in the Middle Ages that witches had a pact with the devil. This resulted in witch hunts and the death of 80,000 people suspected of witchcraft.
I‘ll see it when I believe it!
What we believe can shape our reality and determine our emotional reactions. Our beliefs can be shaped also by our emotional reactions.
This is not the full picture though. Studies have shown that when we are presented with direct evidence that clearly shows that our belief may be incomplete or even wrong, we exert more mental energy in strengthening the belief that has been challenged.
Presenting people, therefore with information does nothing in the way of helping them internalize that information and change their beliefs accordingly.
We can be very attached to our emotion-based beliefs. We will discount feedback that contradicts our negative biases. For instance, people with low self-esteem will say “you’re just trying to be kind” when we pay them a compliment. Even if we can give evidence to support what we say.
So, trying to convince someone who is steeped in depressive thinking or any strong emotional attachment, may not just be ineffective but can actually strengthen the negative belief.
This has been found to be the case when using positive self-affirmations for people with low self-esteem.
Are all beliefs created equal?
Beliefs that come from a cognitive assessment of reality are generally less troublesome because there is less emotional investment in them.
Some people need help to go from a more knee jerk, emotion-derived negative belief system to a more objective take on reality.
I can hold the belief about ancient Rome had an empire. I don’t have complete knowledge of this because I wasn’t there. I have read books and articles. I have enough “hard” evidence that they existed in the form of viaducts, amphitheatres etc. to adopt this belief in the truth that, yes, the Romans had an empire.
I don’t, however, feel emotionally invested in this belief. It doesn’t give me a sense of identity, or self-esteem (low or high). I might be surprised if lots of evidence came to light that no Roman Empire had ever existed. If I thought the evidence was good enough and could see how so many had been mistaken, I might very well change my belief.
My belief in the Roman empire wasn’t inculcated into me through fear, or promise of reward.
So beliefs are not all equal. A willingness to examine beliefs, test and update or even change beliefs in response to new information marks out someone who is mentally healthy enough to use their beliefs, rather than be used by them.
In my next article I will explain specific types of beliefs that can cause you problems and how you can modify and change your beliefs.
I am Linda Clarke, personal coach, relationship counsellor and mental health expert with 14 years’ experience in private practice.
I have helped many people challenge their asumptions so that they can be happy.
I have been featured in several South African radio and TV programmes and was part of a Fox TV film documentary, where I was working with Nelson Mandela’s Granddaughter overcome a phobia.
I offer face-to-face consultations in Swindon and a free no obligation 30 minute zoom session Book your free session here
Read more about me
Here are 10 beliefs that can hold you back.