Change Becomes You
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Change Becomes You

How Do We Do Away with Damaging Beliefs?

We all have agreed to beliefs that don’t serve us. They are nonsense.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

At some point in time, we all have adopted damaging beliefs about ourselves such as we aren’t smart enough, not funny enough, not good-looking. Not only are these beliefs damaging, but they are also profoundly untrue. We agreed to them usually at an early age, in a stressful situation when we had little wisdom and understanding. Damaging beliefs, as well as empowering beliefs, become part of who we are — our identity.

As humans, we are programmed to defend our identity and all beliefs that construct it: negative and positive alike. People go to great lengths for their beliefs — they literally kill for the. Beliefs are to be taken very seriously.

What to do when a damaging belief limits your full potential and causes suffering?

The trick is not to focus on changing the damaging belief. I argue that usually there’s nothing to be fixed; the only one who agreed that you are not enough is you.

Trying to re-program the brain out of the damaging belief doesn’t always work. A process of peace-making and walking away could do more and might lead to transformation.

The event that led to the adoption of a damaging belief could range from severely traumatic (violence, death) to an off-hand comment.

Imagine your primary school crush called you ugly at the age of 10. That s/he called you ugly is a fact but that you are ugly isn’t. It could be that two other classmates had a crush on you at the same time, and you didn’t even notice. Yet, if you agreed that you’re ugly, you could be spending a life being and acting like an ugly person, getting what ugly people get, and saying things ugly people say.

Living as an ugly person, you will be catching every little hint that confirms that you’re ugly. You will be interpreting others’ innocuous statements and body language as affirmations that you’re ugly. Even worse, when someone finds you attractive, you ignore them because “they didn’t really mean it” or “they are flattering me because they need something from me”.

In the meantime, you maybe grew into an incredibly beautiful woman or man, yet your belief in your ugliness runs the show from behind the curtain.

The following suggestions are not steps that you have to follow one after the other. It’s best to see them as part of one (and I believe, the only) way out of your parasitic processing.

Track it. It’s important (and empowering) to make the connection between ugliness and that event in primary school. Tip: you remember specific childhood memories for a reason. You experientially learned something that day. You made stories. You formed a part of your identity that day.

It’s scary because the process of personal story-making evades our awareness, sometimes for decades. In my case, it was due to a mid-30s crisis that revisited my past and understood my storytelling.

Assume responsibility. So, a 10-year-old called you ugly. That’s a fact and (in this case) you are not responsible for it. But you are 100% responsible for how you relate to the fact — the bunch of crap that you stacked on top of the fact. It’s you that chose (and still chooses?) to make it big in your head.

Ponder the costs. What did you create by holding onto this belief? A life with low self-esteem, heartbreaks, and problematic relationships? Any unborn children, any crimes? Isn’t that a high cost you -unknowingly, at the age of 10 agreed to pay? Take a moment to write down what the supposed ugliness (or other inadequacy) deprives you of, and how life would be without it.

Be aware of how ridiculously the human brain works. It’s not only you. We all let the words of a 10-year-old dictate our life choices as adults. Our brain has probably evolved this deep-learning method to protect us from danger. However, it doesn’t distinguish between limiting and empowering beliefs — we choose this. That this happens to us when we are kids is both funny and tragic, so, make mental space to laugh or cry. Probably both.

Thank it. You probably developed survival skills because of the event (the fact) and your interpretation (the belief). Compensating for your supposed inadequacy, you became smart, intellectual, hard-working, physically strong, manipulative, or anything else that worked for you. Better to develop these by free choice, instead of in reaction to a supposed inadequacy but, hey, you grew thanks to it.

Address it. Write a letter to the person that called you ugly. Be kind and don’t accuse them of anything. Just explain how you allowed those words to affect your life, and how funny brain-works are. You are the protagonist here.

If you are finding this ridiculous, well, take it seriously, especially if you are still making a big deal out of it. Write it so it brings tears to their eyes and get personal. Unknowingly, they played a major role in your life. In the world’s randomness, we are all entangled in each other’s story-making. This revelation should move them.

I can’t stress it enough: you are not pointing the finger at anyone else but yourself. It’s not about the event itself. It’s about the story you told about it.

If the person is not reachable, still write the letter, and read the letter to a few people you choose.

Get out of the comfort zone it created. If your supposed ugliness kept you from approaching women or men you fancy, this time, put yourself in the uncomfortable position of being brave and receptive.

Confess it — if you haven’t yet. The more you share the non-working belief, the more its importance declines. Be open about it to your partner, parents, and people who matter.

Show self-compassion. Assuming your responsibility is not a self-whipping exercise. You did the best you could with the means available to a 10-year-old because you didn’t know any better.

Move on. Remember, you’re the only person still making a big deal out of it. Do confess it, do write about it. But at some point soon, walk away. You can stop pretending you’re ugly, it cost you too much already.

Overthinkers, note that you might be turning your hyper-analytical skills into chains that could keep you linked to the negative belief eternally. That’s the opposite of letting go.

You could get rid of it. The damaging belief could be ejected with a breakthrough. It’s usually an avalanche of insights that turn pain into a purpose powered by a new view of life — one where nothing truly wrong or right happened, and importantly, one where the storytelling is done by an adult. The adult you may choose to be.

Some people believe that they could train themselves out of a limiting belief slowly — usually by trying to convince themselves that an opposite belief is true. They aim at new ways of dealing with it and preventing it from causing further damage. This is repairing and fixing. For this people, it’s about improving, but not about transforming.

Most usually, the perceived problematic belief usually doesn’t need repairing, fixing or healing. It needs to be abandoned — it was never true in the first place.

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Life advice that will (actually) change your life. Curated stories from The Good Men Project.

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Yorgos Altintzis

Yorgos Altintzis

I love airports. Gili lives in me.

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