Most of us are shocked to discover that, at a core level, we believe some pretty irrational things.
Below are some examples of the convictions that compromise and burden our lives:
People are not to be trusted.
Betrayal is inevitable in any relationship I may have.
I will always be disappointed in life so there’s no point in looking forward to anything with pleasure. Or, if things do work out for me, I will be punished later.
Nothing good comes without a cost.
All men are beasts.
You can’t trust women.
People in authority will always try to screw you.
I must take care of everyone else. If I take care of myself, I am selfish.
Life sucks. There is nothing I can do to make my life interesting or rewarding.
Only boys are valuable.
Only girls are valuable.
Anyone who loves me will leave me because of my inherent neediness and/or badness.
Because I have experienced abuse, everyone I get close to will abuse me.
Everything I touch turns to shit so I will never succeed (or,I screw everything up) because I am defective.
I must be responsible for myself because nobody will take care of me.
Everyone is out for themselves– it’s a dog eat dog world. Nobody really cares about other people.
I don’t deserve to take up space in this world.
If my therapist, or partner, or friend find out how bad I really am they will reject me.
I don’t deserve to be happy because I am.. (bad, selfish, stupid, lazy, etc.).
A hidden belief, such as any of the above, operates from the unconscious where it can exert their strong influence on our conscious decisions and our view of life in general. Beliefs, like those listed above, rule by what feels like a law; as such, their law is assumed to be the truth about how life works. Rarely are these beliefs challenged or examined—precisely because they feel like the ‘truth’. Even if we notice one of these beliefs and become aware of their influence, they are challenging to change. And as time goes on, they function like self-fulfilling prophecies. While some core beliefs are benign and can have a beneficial effect, many have a negative effect on our relationships and our life.
Where do these destructive beliefs come from? Often the scenario which generated the belief occurred very early in the individual’s life– possibly at a preverbal age. An infant is always in relationship with her or his caregivers. Survival depends on how that relationship goes. So very early, babies can figure out whether it is by pleasing, or being quiet, or being loud, etc., that they will be held, fed, changed, seen and heard. Or that they will not be punished. These types of conclusions at which a baby or young child can arrive (not necessarily by cognitive processes—but more by survival instinct) serve as a protection from neglect and/or abuse and insure her or his continued safety. Since we usually arrive at such conclusions and strategies so early, they become part of the fabric of our existence so we barely notice them. Most of us carry unconscious beliefs, some of which can work to our advantage or in a benign way. The beliefs of the type listed above inevitably narrow our range of creativity and torpedo our relationships, as well as our enjoyment of life.
The “parts work” of Internal Family Systems (see the page, Working with our inner parts”) can be successful at, first of all, bringing these beliefs to consciousness. Usually one or more parts carry an irrational belief that was taken on often very early in life to protect the young self against dangers that no longer exist. Such an inner mandate requires the person to fulfill the core belief– sometimes to extremes. Hence its feeling of “truth”.
In “parts work”, the part that guards the belief can become conscious and, over time, relieved of its burden so that it can function in a way that releases the potential of the personality instead of ruling with fear and mistrust. Sometimes this can be a relatively fast realization; sometimes there is so much distrust at a deep level that it takes time to trust the therapist and subsequently the client’s own system. When the part that carries the belief is willing to share it’s truth with the client and therapist, the healing can begin.