In this post, I identify common core beliefs, how we develop them, and describe how they affect our happiness.
Our core beliefs are what we think and feel about ourselves based on the verbal, physical, and emotional information other people have given us and the way we interpret that information. These beliefs are formed, developed, and stored in our subconscious mind, the core of our existence. Our core beliefs are the seeds planted deep within ourselves from which we grow our lives.
We get information from our parents even before we are born. Mothers and fathers, who esteem each other and their unborn children, care for each other with respect, honor, kindness, generosity, and love, creating a safe and secure environment in which their children develop. This sends messages of love and security to their children. Mothers and fathers, who don’t esteem their unborn children or themselves, by abusing drugs, alcohol, and each other during pregnancy send very negative messages to their children.
Unborn and newborn babies have active subconscious minds that take in information and store it for possible future use. It may be good, bad, or neutral information, depending on how it is received.
After we are born, we continue to fill our subconscious minds with information through the direct and indirect messages we get from our parents and other people in authority. These folks influence how we think and feel about ourselves by what they say or don’t say to us and how they treat us. Some examples: if our parents don’t tell or show us they love us, we will believe we aren’t lovable. If our parents devalue us by calling us names, neglecting us, or abusing us, we will believe we are not valuable. If parents’ expectations are too high or they compare us to others, we will believe we aren’t good enough. These are a few common core beliefs.
Besides people giving us information, we put information into our subconscious minds ourselves through repetition. Just like we learn to do things by practicing until we can do it without thinking, we can repeat information to ourselves until it turns into a subconscious belief. We do this indirectly when we don’t understand something and constantly mull it over in our mind.
The feelings and thoughts we get when we do this become embedded in our subconscious mind forming a subconscious belief. For example, say you were the youngest child in your family and your dad left after you were born. You wonder why he left after you were born and why he didn’t leave after your siblings were born. You play the scenario over and over in your mind, trying to make sense out of it, but you can’t. You feel like it’s your fault and think you caused a bad thing to happen. Human beings want to understand why things happen because it satisfies our curiosity and alleviates future concern. But, in this case, you don’t have all the information and don’t know why your dad went after you were born. You use the information you do have (your feelings and thoughts), as you try to come up with something that makes sense to you. But, instead of coming up with an explanation you understand, you just keep rehearsing the same feelings and thoughts. Your subconscious mind holds the information so that you are convinced what you feel and think is true and it becomes your reality. You develop a deep seated belief that you are shameful, bad, and cause people to be unhappy. Imagine how you would behave if you believed this about yourself.
Children also develop core beliefs from the indirect messages they get when they hear bits of scary information or they don’t understand, such as news reports or when they overhear parents talking. Case in point: Clementine is a sweet six year old girl who all of a sudden refused to go to school. For the past several months, she’s refused to sleep in her bedroom because “the bad people will come and get her,” but her fear has escalated. Clementine’s parents thought it was just the childhood “monster in the closet” phase and tried to reassure and comfort her each night, only to find her on the floor of their bedroom or in bed with them each morning. Further investigation revealed that Clementine’s refusal to sleep in her own bedroom started soon after she woke up one night as her parents were watching the late night news. She came out of her bedroom into the living room just as a story about a girl being abducted came on. The girl’s family was on television crying and pleading for the girl’s safe return. Clementine’s parents didn’t realize she heard and saw the report. They gave her a drink of water and sent the sleepy little girl back to bed. She appeared undisturbed until the following night. Clementine knew something bad happened to the girl on the news, but didn’t know what abducted meant. So, she filled in the gaps with her five year old imagination. This led her to think something bad might happen to her end even her family. She became very afraid.
Because she didn’t understand exactly what happened and didn’t know the whole story, she kept rehearsing the story in her mind, trying to make sense out of it and create an ending she could handle. She repeated her thoughts and feelings until her subconscious mind took the information in and accepted it as truth and reality. This became a core belief for Clementine and she lived accordingly. She believed she was unsafe because the bad people were going to come and get her and her family, so she always wanted to be with her parents.
We continue to develop core beliefs while our brain continues to mature (into our mid 20’s) from information people who are “bigger” or important give us. Abusive relationships, middle and high school bullying, an alcoholic partner, sexual abuse from a person in authority, and untreated traumatic events can leave us feeling afraid, guilty, ashamed, insecure, and unacceptable. If we experience these kinds of situations, we often replay them over and over in our minds because we are too afraid or ashamed to talk to anyone about it. Sometimes, when we do try to talk about it with someone, we’re told to keep it quiet or made to feel it really wasn’t “like that.” This compounds the situation so that along with fear and shame from the trauma, we doubt ourselves and the truth. When we replay these events in our minds, we also relive the same negative emotions and they become our norm. We give them energy and life while they exhaust us and kill our joy.
It is easy for our core beliefs to be negative. Because our subconscious mind focuses on survival, it stores the hurt we’ve experienced and remembers what “not” to do as a way for us to avoid physical and emotional pain. We remember things like, “don’t touch the hot stove,” “don’t jump down the stairs,” and if we were really hurt in a relationship, we may be reminded to “not get close to anyone.” Therefore, subconscious thoughts and feelings naturally flow in a negative direction.
This natural inclination makes it very easy for us to focus on the negative aspects of life or the “n’ts.” These are the “I can’t…” “I’m not…” “You shouldn’t…” “I don’t…” “You won’t…” ways we feel, think, and communicate and stem from common beliefs such as, “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not valuable,” “I don’t count,” “I’m not loveable,” and “I can’t do anything right.”
When we focus on the not’s of life, we limit, cheat, and deny ourselves of happiness. There is no peace in “I don’t…,” no joy in, “I’m not…,” no love in, “You won’t…, and no satisfaction in, “I can’t…”
What are your core beliefs and how do they affect the way you live?
We all know what our core beliefs are when we pay attention to ourselves. It’s the feeling and thought that pop in our head when good and bad things happen to us and others. If you feel bad when something good happens and feel good when something bad happens (especially to others), your core beliefs are coming from your survival emotions.
Core beliefs that come from our survival emotions make us behave like we are living in the jungle in survival mode. We are greedy; in survival mode the more we have the better off we are. We are suspicious because in survival mode we know everyone else wants what we want. We are impatient because in survival mode, there’s no time to wait around. It’s eat or be eaten. We are self-centered because to survive you must think of yourself first. We lack respect since the more dominant you are, the better you will survive. We are envious because in survival mode, we don’t want others to have more than we have. We are undisciplined because in survival mode there are only two rules, survival of the fittest and might makes right. To translate these into more civilized behaviors, it would look like this: if feel that you are not valuable, you may try to compensate by gathering a lot of material goods; if you feel like you aren’t loveable, you will probably be suspicious of people who show you kindness; if you feel like you’re not good enough, you might continuously try to impress others.
The first step to being consistently happy is to recognize your core beliefs and how they affect your behavior. Pay attention to yourself — your feelings and thoughts when good and bad things happen. Also, pay attention to the words you use when you talk and how you feel when you use them. After you realize what you believe about yourself and how it makes you behave, then, you can decide if and what you want to change. My next posts discuss why and how to change core beliefs, the challenges for making changes, and how it creates happiness. Stay tuned!