Joanie (not her real name) would not try new things and was afraid of failure. A deadly combination for sure, but one she had lived with her whole life. She didn’t know why these things scared her. In fact, as far as she knew, she had always been this way. These held her back from many wonderful opportunities and relationships. She had resigned herself to live a sequestered life filled with only people and things she was familiar with. Once we figured out her beliefs, 1) that she was not good enough, 2) she would fail if she did anything on her own, and 3) unlovable, we began to unpack where they came from. She had grown up in a dysfunctional family based on fear and control. Her father had said to her many times, and in different ways, that she would never amount to anything, that she wasn’t capable of doing things on her own, and had demonstrated that his love was conditional.
In time, Joanie began to understand that her beliefs were rooted in the comments her father had made and the environment she grew up in. Because children want the approval of theirs parents, they overlook the imperfections of their parents but internalize them as being their fault. It was also important for Joanie to learn not to blame her father, but to accept his limitations. Parents don’t wake up and think to themselves how can I screw my kids up today? They do the best they can with what they have, and are usually unaware of the gaps in their own development and how those gaps affect themselves and their relationships. Once Joanie realized where her negative beliefs came from and challenged them, she was able to replace them with the truth: 1) that she was good enough just because she was alive, 2) that she could do things on her own, and 3) that she was lovable.
Changing Your Beliefs
Technically its called epistemology: the study of what I think I know and why. For a more formal definition and exploration of epistemology, you can go here.
Our negative beliefs about ourselves hold us back. Some call them ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts), some call them NATs (Negative Automatic Thoughts), and some call them Self Limiting Beliefs. Regardless of what you call them, these beliefs are not realistic and they plague our thoughts and hamper our true capabilities. How many times has a negative belief about yourself limited you?
These beliefs, once in place, provide our motivation for everything. What you believe about yourself and the world around you sets the stage for everything you think, feel and do. Some therapy models are built on this idea. For instance, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) hinges on this whole concept. One easy way to summarize its approach is this: change in thinking = change in behavior.
Now how is this helpful? Well, if you don’t know what you believe and why you believe it, then you can’t change it. Unfortunately, many people are walking around on autopilot in regards to what they believe about themselves, the world around them and why. This is about taking control of what you allow yourself to think, about yourself and otherwise.
Life should not be lived randomly. If we do not take conscious control of our choices, then who or what is making them for us?
Its time to turn off the autopilot and take control of yourself.