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Friday
Oct252013

Core Beliefs

Conscious, unconscious, sub-conscious. These are terms we toss around almost on a daily basis, and in a way this is a wonderful thing. That means that some of the concepts that are the underpinnings of modern psychology are so widely accepted and understood that they have become terms in common parlance.

The terms and concepts are the stuff of the forefather of psychology and psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud (and later his followers including daughter Anna).  Loosely defined:

Conscious is our state of awareness.

Unconscious is out of the realm of awareness but is based upon our childhood experiences the beliefs that are formed as a result.

Pre-conscious (later termed sub-conscious) is the information from the unconscious that is partially accessible.

Think of it as above the water, under the water and accessible by reaching into the water (some of the time).  Ok let’s dive into the deep end, and go under the water line into the unconscious. Of the many items that reside there are your beliefs which are based mostly upon your childhood experiences. Beliefs generally fall into three categories, beliefs about self, belief about others and beliefs about the world. As children we strive to make sense of the world and tend to make up rules which make sense to us based upon what we are experiences. Unfortunately since our brains are not fully developed and we have no yardstick of life experience to base them on, these beliefs are often distorted and overly simplistic.

Suppose that you are plopped on Mars and are struggling to figure things out, make sense of things, figure out the “rules.” You may for example observe large black craters with smoke coming out followed a few feet later by a burnt landscape. After this is experienced a few times you may suppose the rule “craters are bad, they hurt the land.”  However this is only a small fraction of this huge plant and your little human brain with no Mars experience must make sense of this based upon experiences on earth. In fact parts of Mars may have craters that have cool streams flowing out of them with surrounding areas of green landscape, but you wouldn’t be able to fathom that because you haven’t experienced it and you have no other basis of figuring things out besides what’s in front of you. Children on earth are not unlike if we were on mars.

Imagine a young child is abused by a caregiver or loved one and they attempt to make sense of this. One of the beliefs that the child may develop that makes sense of this situation is “people aren’t trustworthy” or “to care for someone you must hurt them” or ‘there’s something about me that makes grownups do bad things.” These beliefs are now stored in the child’s unconscious and are the basis for how they move forward for the rest of their lives. This is an extreme example, but all of us have developed belief systems based upon our childhood experiences and these “Core Beliefs,” held in the unconscious, are a driving force for us in life.

Much of the work of psychotherapy is uncovering these beliefs for they have the effect of wearing dirty glasses and not knowing it; you don’t know that your glasses are dirty until you take them off and your vision brightens and clears. How to recognize our Core Beliefs and what to do once you do, well that’s the fun part. Stay tuned…

 

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