If you have done a lot of work on yourself, or are yourself a practitioner, you are probably already familiar with belief change work.
Our beliefs are like a road map to our lives. We create most of them before the age of ten, and after that we keep adding some new beliefs based on our current life experience. However the most powerful of our beliefs are the ones we form in our earliest years – because they are the blue print of our lives and also most of the time we are not aware of them.
In terms of TA (transactional analysis), we talk about the script. The script is the story we create about ourselves and our lives in the first few years of our existence. The script is made of rules (how to behave in the world) and beliefs (why things are the way they are) and is quite difficult to change. Our script is what allows us to function and survive in the world, therefore it is very deeply engrained in our mind and represent a kind of emotional security: it’s what we’ve always known.
Therefore it is quite tricky to change the script, as often we will face resistance: our unconscious mind prefers what is familiar, even if unhealthy, to novelty and the unknown quality of what is new. This is often why even when you know consciously that a behaviour is destructive or unhealthy for you, you struggle to change it.
Some beliefs are easy to change. Santa Claus is a good example! when you face the new evidence that he doesn’t exist, in the blink of an eye your belief has changed. So surface belief change work is quite easy in some way ; you can use CBT and Hypnotherapy to start looking for counter evidence of the belief you want to shift, and practice visualising the new belief.
However, there are some beliefs that won’t budge, no matter how much work you do on yourself. You can explore the belief, find new evidence, hammer it with counter evidence, practice it with positive affirmations, fake it until you make it etc. but eventually, you’ll find yourself hitting the same wall over and over again.
One of my client is a good example of that: she has a belief that she’s not legitimate in the world. In other words, she feels inadequate and that other people are more important or valuable than her. It manifests as her over doing things to be approved of, or constantly seeking validation at work and in her personal relationships.
We have been working on that belief for ages: from CBT behavioural experiments, such as asserting her boundaries in order to not over work, to taking her place in the world in the working place, to start experimenting she’s an equal to her peers ; hypnotherapy to identify what her unconscious mind was trying to reach through those behaviours. Or even coaching, exploring and understanding what is going on for her around that belief and what might be the pay off. We’ve jumped into therapy, exploring where the belief was formed in her childhood, done some NLP and Hypnotherapy relentlessly on it. But no matter how much we change it, it always find a way to creep back in through the back door. Most of the time, it will show itself in a new situation we haven’t worked on ; or old patterns will simply pop back in.
It is fascinating, isn’t it, why some beliefs or patterns are easy to change, and why some others are so annoyingly stubborn. What is the difference between the parts of us that we can change effortlessly – sometimes with one hypnotherapy or EFT session only – and the ones that take years to shift?
When I first learnt the part integration process, we explored how the pattern that we were trying to change was directed by a part of us that was younger than us. Sometimes our inner child, sometimes simply a younger version of us. The NLP philosophy behind that model highlights that the part is benevolent and trying to fulfil a positive purpose whilst doing it clumsily with outdated tools. The process involves then connecting unconsciously with that part, reframing it and helping it find a more up-to date way to fulfil that purpose – and then integrate it with the other part of us that wants another result. Easy peasy (on paper!)
But I’ve always wondered: why do parts get stuck at a younger age? how come some parts of us keep updating themselves, whilst other parts get stuck? How come we’ve all learnt to walk instead of crawling (a good example of parts evolving with time) but we keep behaving like immature children in our relationships? what’s the difference between those 2 types of behaviours?
I think there are a few interesting answers to that question, but two of them catch my attention: the first one I would say, is the pay off: what do we get unconsciously by keeping that unhealthy behaviour? most of the time it will protect us or keep us safe in some way. At least that’s what our unconscious mind believes. Other times it will be about avoiding pain. In any case, a lot of our resistance to change is rooted in wanting to keep that secondary gain and fear of what might happen if we transform it.
The second reason I think some beliefs are deeply stubborn is probably more rooted in traditional psychology. The belief will have been created early on in our lives, and probably in a challenging situation. For example for the client I was talking about before, she created that belief at the age of 4 when her sister was born and her parents neglected her to look after the baby. Her pay off is to get her parents’ love (if she over does things and constantly please them, they might love her back – that’s what a 4 years old unconscious mind is likely to believe anyway). We worked on that endlessly, as I mentioned, but it still doesn’t shift at its root. Why?
What if it was because there’s another pay off? What if actually our unconscious mind held on tight to those engrained beliefs or behaviours, because there is still some unresolved business attached to the original event? What if it wasn’t enough to practice new behaviours and beliefs as an adult, nor was it enough to work on the pay off – what if actually, what was needed, was simply to get closure? And sometimes closure doesn’t come through powerful advanced therapeutic processes like EFT or Hypnotherapy: sometimes closure comes from simply talking, honouring our emotions, inviting the pain, the fear and the anger, feeling them until they dry out and then, congruently be able to move on.
I am curious if you’ve experienced this in your life, as a client or a practitioner, and would be very interested to hear your thoughts!