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Belief > Feeling > Behavior

By Peter Shepherd

The work we do on Trans4mind is for personal development rather than psychotherapy. You're starting off with a state of reasonably happy and stable, and looking to enhance your life by recovering freedom of viewpoint - to be free of cultural conditioning and also free of previous belief systems, including unconscious ones. But there is some overlap with psychotherapy.

As a therapist you are looking to uncover the underlying beliefs that cause the presenting problem, which is causing the client distress, but first you have to release the painful emotion enough so that the client is capable of looking deeper. They need the therapist's help for that.

On our personal development work we are normally more emotionally stable, so working independently we can ask directly for beliefs in specific areas and address them. There may however be experiences or issues in your life that you can't think about without tears or anger, causing unconfrontable fears that severely interrupt what you want to do in life. What can you do to get yourself together and begin working again towards your goals?

The model that I find most effective to help with this is Rational Emotive Therapy, as discovered by Albert Ellis and fully described in Transforming the Mind. Briefly stated, it is about spotting the thoughts that go through your mind when circumstances trigger an unpleasant or self-defeating emotional reaction, resulting in behavior that is not in one's best interest. In other words it is beliefs and considerations that drive emotions and resulting behavior.

These thoughts derive from times when they seemed like the best solution to trying circumstances, and they may be an agreement with a dominant, authoritative or persuasive force, or derive from the conclusion to an episode in your life of success or failure. If the original circumstances were unpleasant and become painful to think about, the accompanying thoughts, decisions and purposes become suppressed too, but continue to operate subconsciously.

When brought to light, it is apparent that the thoughts are affecting current life unnecessarily, as they are usually an over-generalization, an exaggeration, a negativity or an intolerance that is irrational. The therapist asks appropriate questions so that the client can see this for themselves - being careful not to evaluate for the client: it needs to be their own insight to be meaningful and to give positive change. A personal development student learns to ask these questions for themselves, to become aware of their thoughts and examine them objectively. And to be conscious of the present moment, and so act (rather than react) as circumstances change.

The route to the beliefs is to recognize the situation or circumstance that triggers unwanted feelings and subsequent behavior, then see what the underlying thoughts are that drive that reaction. Most often these are fleeting and subconscious, since they are associated with painful experiences or because they have long been installed in the mind as seemingly safe solutions to the situations of life and have therefore become taken for granted - 'built in' as part of one's identity. Normally you can't see what you are being.

Finding the underlying thought pattern is therefore crucial to resolving the problem, and when it is seen in the light of an objective view this is a great relief, because the decision - and the beliefs surrounding it - can normally be changed quite readily. It may however mean finding a new solution to the problem that it has been 'solving' in the mind. This may be difficult if the solution is used to make one feel right (or justified if connected with bad actions) and/or to make others wrong defensively or manipulatively. Again the therapist needs to ask appropriate questions to expand the client's view in this area. In personal development the student can ask these questions, having been educated in the principles involved, and being emotionally stable enough to do so.

These principles are common to much of humanistic psychology, and in my approach are also the basis for further transpersonal work. To recap, the way it works is this:

  1. The person has a traumatic experience, of pain or loss.
  2. As a result of the experience, s/he makes a decision or intention for the future, such as "men are selfish bastards, I can't trust them" that becomes part of their belief system.
  3. Because the incident was painful it is suppressed, and the accompanying decision is identified with, but both remain in the mind and continue to have influence.
  4. When the incident is restimulated by similar circumstances in the present, the old decision is subconsciously dramatized. The tape replays subconsciously.
  5. The decision may have been relevant and appropriate to the original circumstances but it is probably not appropriate now - it is therefore irrational and somewhat stupid, i.e. it may contain an assumption or generalization that causes intolerance or negativity.
  6. The current situation is interpreted according to the restimulated beliefs and considerations, and so the person creates unpleasant emotions (sadness, fear, antagonism, anger, etc), which then drive the him or her to behave in an inappropriate and self-defeating way; rather than the appropriate and self-empowering way that a rational and objective interpretation would encourage.

To resolve the cycle of irrationality > misemotion > negative behavior pattern, you can use the technique of Releasing, described in Transforming the Mind.

Releasing helps you to re-experience the painful emotion, to the point that you realize that you actually create the emotion based on your interpretation of events, and that you are not the emotion, i.e. "I create the feeling of being angry" rather than "I am angry". With acceptance of the emotion, so that you can have it or not have it and still be content, then you can let the emotion go.

For the releasing to be permanent you also need to spot the underlying irrational thought, assumption, decision or intention, and how it has been driving your emotions. Now the emotion is cleared it will no longer be dominating your view of the situation and these thoughts will be exposed. Upon examination it becomes clear that you can change your mind about this and see things differently, so will you no longer need to feel upset in similar circumstances and have new freedom to behave in ways more aligned with your goals in life.

We all have a belief system full of ideas imprinted by our culture and upbringing, and as the effect of earlier traumatic experiences, and even influences we are born with. They are here with us all the time in the present and effect our view of things and interpretation of events, so that we are not really free to be ourselves, and to know our true selves and our true goals and purposes in life. ,p>

Peter Shepherd is the founder and producer of the Trans4mind personal development website, producer of the Mind Development website, and author of 'Daring to be Yourself.' He is also developer and supervisor of The Insight Project. Read Peter's biography page and send a message.

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