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The Positive Approach - Lesson 22

False Beliefs

By Peter Shepherd

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When our minds immediately come up with negative or irrational thoughts in response to situations, and we then respond emotionally (often inappropriately and self-defeatingly were we to look objectively at the situation), these thoughts are based on deeper-lying beliefs or assumptions about ourselves, others, and situations. While growing up we learned these beliefs from our parents, teachers and peers, as well as from other authority figures, and we may have absorbed such beliefs from the conditioning of the media - TV and films, song lyrics, and so on. You may have been told "Big boys don't cry," "Nice girls don't get angry," or learned "It's risky to trust people," "It's very hard to be alone"... the possible list is endless.

You may have developed an attitude about yourself as a result of being frequently criticized (thus "I'm worthless"), ignored (thus "My needs don't matter"), or rejected (thus "I'm not worthy of being loved.") You may then "live out" these false beliefs to the point where you act in ways that confirm them, and then others treat you accordingly. Like computers, individuals become "programmed" and the false beliefs we hold become self-fulfilling prophecies.

The most powerful false beliefs are those we adopted as a result of some painful experience. Even if true for then, such beliefs become false in the present as our situation is different now and we have the power of choice we may not have felt we had then. If we expose and re-evaluate such beliefs then the power that past traumatic experiences hold over us will immediately dissipate.

Our core beliefs are typically so basic to our thinking that we do not recognize them as beliefs at all, we just take them for granted and assume them to reflect reality. They are our map of the world. We actually absorb such beliefs into our identity.

Based on false beliefs we may make ourselves anxious by anticipating the worst, we may put ourselves down, and try to meet unreasonable expectations. For example, if you assume "I must worry about a problem before there's any chance of it being resolved" then you'll worry much more than another person who doesn't hold that assumption. If you believe "I'm nothing unless I succeed and others approve of me" then you will feel less confident and secure. Or if you believe "I must do things perfectly or there's no point in trying" then you'll get less done and be more stressed along the way.

The psychologist Nathaniel Branden developed a technique called Sentence Completion, to help his clients uncover and communicate their true feelings, which previously were suppressed. This denial of feelings and true wishes or desires occurs because of fear that acting on them or communicating them will bring scorn or ridicule - in short, will upset the apple cart. But to continue suppressing what one truly wants is to die inside, to lose integrity.

Try completing the following sentences, with as much honesty and frankness as you can muster. Get it all out, then in each case look for the underlying belief that drives that feeling.

I am a person who ...

One of the things I'd like people to know about me is ...

One of the things I don't want people to know about me is ...

One of the things I have to do to survive is ...

All my life, I ...

It isn't easy for me to admit ...

Sometimes I feel frustrated when ...

If I didn't care what people thought, I would ...

Ever since I was a child, I ...

If I knew I could not fail I would attempt to...

If I were to communicate all this to my (partner/friend/family/colleague) then ...

Just recognizing your own particular false beliefs is the first and most important step toward letting go of them, to de-programming yourself. Next you need to re-evaluate your deeply-held belief and see if you'd like to revise it - you can use these questions:

  • What is the evidence for this?
  • Does this belief always hold true for me or just sometimes?
  • Does this belief look at the whole picture, taking into account all of my life experience?
  • Does this belief promote my well-being?
  • Did I choose this belief on my own or did I adopt it because of another's influence?
  • Was it a particular experience that lead me to adopt this belief?
  • What new belief can I adopt to better serve me?

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Next Lesson: 23. The Power of Affirmations
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