If you ask people how old they feel, many will say they feel younger than their years, as if they’re still a kid, existing somehow within the body of a much older person. This happens because we all have an ‘I’ existing somewhere within us that never ages and is somehow separate from our physical body. This ‘I’ is the ‘Me’ that we know ourselves to be, the collection of stories and beliefs that have accumulated over the whole of our lives and contribute to our impressions about who we are and what we can and cannot do.
You can get in touch with that ‘Me’ simply by considering whether you would be willing to do something outrageous. Would you go sky-diving right now? Get on stage and sing, dance or tell jokes in front of a hundred people? Would you run a marathon? Would you switch careers and do something totally different? Regardless of whether that little voice in your head said “Sure” or “Never!” the fact that your little voice said anything at all demonstrates that you too have a collection of stories that tells you who You are and what is and isn’t possible in your life. Psychologists call these core beliefs.
Core beliefs are formed in our earliest years when we have only the most basic ability to understand the complexities of the world. When we feel afraid as children, when we’re separated from our caregivers or when they’re angry, our young brains instantly create terribly unsophisticated stories to explain why those things happened. The theme of the stories often goes something like ‘There’s something wrong with ME that made that painful thing happen. It was my fault.’ (Of course, the stories can be positive as well.) The brain accepts those stories as The Truth, carving them into the granite of our knowledge base, and we move on from there forever believing that that is just how things are.
Core beliefs are tenacious and sticky, meaning that they hold onto their existence with a fierce intensity, bending facts to fit them, blinding vision so we cannot see things that don’t fit and convincing us in so many ways that they are the real truth. Negative core beliefs try to convince us that no matter how much we achieve in life or which positive things happen, for some reason or another those things simply don’t count, we’re not really that good, strong or worthy. The beliefs influence our actions, resulting in choices that seem only to confirm what the beliefs say is true.
Examining and changing disruptive core beliefs, for example through cognitive behaviour therapy with a psychologist, can be a rewarding process. The world can suddenly seem much more open and available when we realize that the ‘Me’ I always thought I was is not the only ‘Me’ I can be.
Shift Cognitive Therapy Oakville is a psychology practice with a focus on change.