Last week, I posted the following short list of some limiting and false beliefs that we learn as children and cling to as they are reinforced in our lives. These are excerpted from the book “Getting Real” by Susan Campbell, PhD.
#1- if you express your wants too strongly, you’ll get punished.
#2- you need to shut down your feelings to avoid making others uncomfortable.
#3- no matter how much you want something, you won’t get it
#4- you can avoid painful feelings by becoming judgmental or critical of others
#5- it’s not safe to talk back to an angry person. It’s better just to keep cool.
I hope that you took some time and reflected on these and maybe even noted some others that are personal and specific to your lived experience. I’m going to add a sixth false belief – it isn’t safe to be honest, especially to a direct question.
So, how do we learn and adopt these false and limiting beliefs. That’s easy. Something happened to us when we were children and these beliefs were the natural outcome.
Have you ever seen a child in a toy store throwing a “tantrum” because they wanted their parent to buy them a toy they wanted and then see the parent scold the child for making a public scene and embarrassing them? There is #1, #2 and #3. This same scenario could also lead to #4 and #5 too. They won’t buy me the toy because they….fill in the blank. If I back talk, I’m just going to get into more trouble, so I’ll just keep quiet. This takes place all the time when the child’s desires are not heard and acknowledged and when this chain of events occurs where they are punished for voicing their desires. The child carries these beliefs into adolescence and then into adulthood.
I feel it is very common that many if not most people cannot or will not ask for what they want (#1 and #3). Many people regularly repress or do not show their feelings and emotions especially in public (#2). Many people, especially in our fragmented and divided society today, are judgmental and critical of others and their views (#4). Anger is probably the most difficult and uncomfortable feeling for people to witness (#5). People don’t call the police when other people they encounter are happy, sad or afraid, but they do call when others are expressing anger especially in a public manner. Most people tend to give angry people more space and distance. This space and distance gives them a sense of safety.
The sixth false belief – it isn’t safe to be honest, especially to a direct question, develops when children are questioned about their actions, they tell the truth and then they are punished. They may not associate the action they did with the punishment but instead they associate the truth telling with the punishment. This behavior carries right into adulthood too. It may not manifest as telling a direct lie (but it could). It could also manifest in behaviors like silence, projection, deflection, defensiveness, blaming, and other types of avoidance. These are all examples of nervous system responses to the threat (punishment) that will occur if they tell the truth. The person will experience anxiety, fear, anger, and sadness feelings associated with the fight, flight, freeze, and appease nervous system responses when the request is made of them to be honest. When you don’t feel safe or you are not able to be honest, you are likely clinging to a false belief that is still influencing your life choices.
Many people are not honest because there is a gap between how they are and how they believe they should be (or how society and culture believes they should be). They beat themselves up over this difference and experience real emotional pain. What is the root cause of this emotional pain?
During our retreats, we often work on exposing these false and limiting beliefs that are at work in our lives and then develop and practice tools that will serve to reduce or eliminate their effects on our lives. These beliefs are often the rocks in our backpacks I’ve mentioned previously. As you gradually unpack them, your burden becomes lighter and you can move faster and with more agility while using less energy. Doesn’t that sound like a worthwhile effort to invest your energy into?