VII. Belief systems: It’s not just what happens that shapes us, but the beliefs that come from them.
The meaning making that I speak of in the previous section is quite conscious. What I speak of in this section is a different animal, at least to me, in that it seems to happen on a more subconscious or unconscious level: we do it without knowing we are doing it, or we do it without choosing to do it. We end up thinking that we are just that way, inherently, whatever that way is.
Many people spend years going in circles with their healing. They’re looking for why they struggle so much: I think these struggles come from beliefs systems that, though expressed many different ways, are making it such that they cannot fully inhabit their own lives and bodies. They struggle because they truncate their expression and their emotional participation in their lives, and cut themselves off from reaching for human connection. Why do they over-edit themselves and under-express? Why do they keep themselves so isolated? Because of the beliefs that run their life.
Let me back up for a moment so we can unpick this carefully.
The bumper sticker tells us clearly that “Shit Happens.” It’s true: so many things in life happen to us that we would never have chosen if there was any way to choose.
So we don’t choose our particular bag of struggles. They come from family experiences - often deep old family patterns - and from life experiences, and also from the ways that we made up, consciously or unconsciously, to deal with the effects of those experiences.
The hardest part of all of this is that we usually can’t see the patterns and belief systems that are running our lives. And if we can see them, we often don’t know where the root of it lies so we cannot simply shift it by willpower and forcing ourselves to change.
This is different than consciously making meaning of the fact that we saw a raven three mornings running. We mostly don’t or can’t see the belief systems that we have created, which means that they begin to look like just the way we are. And once we believe that they are inherent to us, we judge ourselves harshly for being this way, or we struggle endlessly against what we think are just our traits.
Humans are ridiculously resilient: we come through situations of personal or collective adversity often looking remarkably well. We make ways to cope with stuff on the spot. These leave us changed on the inside, even if we might not look changed on the outside.
Again: It isn’t just what happens to us in our lives that shapes how we live later. It’s the combination of the things that happened plus the belief systems that we made or the ways that we changed ourselves to cope with them that shape us.
Imagine that come from a family where every single time you opened your mouth to speak, you were shushed, for whatever reason. You would grow up not knowing your voice, not knowing that it was valuable or wanted or allowed. You would make it mean that you have no right to speak, that who you are on the inside is not sought, that what you have to say is not valued or valuable. You would believe that your possible expression in the world is very small. You would have to work hard to overcome this and force your voice our there in the world.
What if you didn’t know that this was where your hesitant voice came from? What if you had forgotten that you were shushed every time? What if you just thought it was inherent to you to speak hesitantly?
It would be hard to make a satisfying life.
We waste a lot of time talking about what happened in our childhoods without looking at what we made that mean, consciously or unconsciously, in our lives. It’s not just the traumatic or unsettling experience that holds us, but also what we made it mean.
We cannot force ourselves to let go of these beliefs through willpower.
A willingness to move closer to ourselves and to find the roots of the struggle - this is self-love and self-connection to me in all of its imperfection - and this is what shifts these long-held, erroneous belief systems. You probably will need help seeing and moving some of them.