You Done With That?
Beliefs are thorny things. Depending on what they say, they can help us soar – or chain us to the bottom of deep, dark pits.
A brilliant client recently uncovered a particularly nasty, ancient belief. Regardless of mountains of evidence to the contrary, the old belief consistently eroded his self-image, much in the same way groundwater quietly undermines a structure’s foundation.
The voices born of that old belief were not particularly loud, but they were relentless and brutal.
Whether one calls them saboteurs, gremlins, inner critics, negative self-talk, “the committee”, or the channeled voice of your endlessly judgmental, know-it-all Drunken Uncle Charlie, we all have them.
As a bonus, (of a dark sort) the smarter and more sophisticated one is, the smarter and more sophisticated one’s limiting voices are going to be. (They learn and grow along with us, gathering evidence as they go.)
Mitigating the damage they do – and make no mistake, they do damage – is going to depend on several factors, the most important of which is awareness.
While it may sound counterintuitive, doing battle with those voices isn’t useful. After all, they become parts of ourselves over time, and it’s pretty tough to win a battle with one’s Self.
Besides, taking the fight inside is usually an ego-driven attempt to stop beating yourself up by beating yourself up for beating yourself up!
And yes, as strategies go, it’s every bit as circuitous, weird, and ineffective as it sounds…
The key is becoming ever more aware by learning to listen, with curiosity, to what they are saying. Then looking, also with curiosity and non-judgement, at what is behind and underneath those words.
Noticing the array of physical sensations – from tight muscles and twisted guts to nervous tics – will also provide a wealth of useful clues and information.
The goal is to get to the “what” – the autopilot language and experience of the underlying belief – rather than an analysis of the causal “how” or “why” of the belief.
The deepest of limiting beliefs usually come down to variations on the following themes:
I’m not enough
I’m a fraud
Sure, there are going to be nuances, but the essence and impacts remain the same. Confidence and forward movement are undermined in waves of self-criticism, doubt, and habitual self-limiting behaviors.
Tackling destructive beliefs is important because, while no one outside ourselves actually hears our inner chatter, (unless we’re muttering to ourselves) our behaviors can’t help but impact those around us. For instance, if a belief throws a wet blanket on your creativity, there’s a collective loss in that the world doesn’t get to experience your unique gifts.
The good news: beliefs, which are simply habits of thought one has come to consider truths, can be changed.
The slightly less good news: it takes developing practices of awareness and, as you might imagine, practicing.
There’s a variety of conscious rituals out there for removing and replacing old beliefs. I have a favorite I learned years ago that I use with clients. I love it not only for its effectiveness, but also because it’s full of beautiful imagery and more than a touch of magic.
If you’re curious, drop me a line and we’ll find a time to go through it.
Meanwhile, what might be most useful is to notice beliefs that consistently trip you up. Let yourself be curious, doing your best not to judge either yourself or what you find. Notice also which parts of yourself are most attached to the beliefs you find, and what clinging to the beliefs does for those parts.
For instance, my Inner Child used to hang onto “no one understands me” as if it were a life-preserver. He thought others would feel sorry for him and pay him more attention. It was not a good look…
Once you have zeroed-in on the belief and the part of you that holds it most tightly, practice setting it aside – as if you could grab it and put it on the floor or a table – and play with leaving it behind, even if only for minutes at a time.
Let yourself enjoy the experimentation, noticing what comes up emotionally, physically, and cognitively as you create some distance between yourself and your beliefs.
Oh, and don’t be surprised to find out that they don’t define who you are, and that you might just be done with that one. Or even that one!