Letting Go Of Beliefs That Don’t Work

by Susan Dunn

“You have learned something. That always feels at first as if you had lost something.” – H. G. Wells

“It struck me like thunder,” Cammie said. “I was sitting in class hearing about rigid people, and I recognized my father. Could it be true the things he’d taught me weren’t right? All the time I thought he was the authority on everything. It was like I was sitting there taking notes. He sounded a lot like the “Type A” personality the teacher was talking about. I began to sort out things I’d learned from him and to see how they were holding me back. It was one of the hardest things to face I’ve ever been through. He taught me to take his word for gospel. But I could see how it had driven my boyfriend away. The fact that I always thought I had to be right.”

Most of the self-talk that goes on in our heads, we got from our parents. Maybe from one of them more than the other. In Cammie’s case, it was from her dad.

Thomas got a lot of messages from his mother, because his parents were divorced when he was 6. “I realized,” says Thomas, “how little I thought of myself and how much it had to do with what my mother was always telling me. I think she really hated men because my dad left her. It was like I kept trying to prove things to myself about myself that weren’t even true. One day I made a list of the things I remember her telling me. Men are no good, men don’t know how to love, things like that. It took a while to get rid of all that.”

As I cover in my book, “Changing Beliefs, Self-limiting Thoughts and What to Accept,” one of the hardest things to do is change your beliefs. Many of us just go on operating under the same beliefs even though they don’t work. Usually we don’t know it’s the beliefs that aren’t working, we blame it on other things. So we try harder, redoubling out efforts hoping to bring about different results. It doesn’t work that way! Doing more of the same is only going to bring you more of the same.

We may not even know they’re beliefs. We think of them as absolutes, and when we find someone who doesn’t think the same thing, we avoid them. Therefore we never learn anything new.

When we do give up a long-held belief, it feels like something is missing, that’s for sure. We feel like we’ve lost something big, a large part of ourselves. You wonder what else you might be believing and operating on that’s false or non-productive. Therefore it takes courage.

When I’m coaching, I listen carefully to hear the client’s self-talk. I hear all sorts of awful things. Some people are more mindful of these things than others, but they do slip out. Under stress, we tend to revert to old messages. I could never succeed. No on would ever love me. I’m such a fool. Things like that.

Whenever you hear someone say, “I can’t believe.” it’s because a belief of theirs has been assaulted, and they aren’t willing to face that fact. It happens, for instance, if you think everyone’s going to treat you right. Some people stay too long in relationships because their underlying belief, their assumption is that they’ll always be treated right. Their husband abuses them and they say, “He didn’t mean to” or “But he really loves me.” That’s an underlying belief that’s flying in the face of reality. Someone who loves someone doesn’t abuse them.

These underlying beliefs tend to be self-fulfilling, too. I remember reading in a text book that “life is hard.” I’ve had my ups and downs, but on the whole I hadn’t found life to be hard. I wondered where that statement had come from. Over the years, I’ve found people who felt that way did indeed have hard lives, and I wondered which came first – the cart of the horse. If you believe life is hard, surely, I think, you will go about proving that, because we’re very clever about that sort of thing. What if you changed that belief to “life is easy”? What would you lose? What would you gain?

The other day I heard a very low EQ guy yell, “It doesn’t help to be nice.” He was furious because someone had thwarted him, and hadn’t done what he wanted.

Sometimes it doesn’t help to be nice, I thought to myself, but it doesn’t hurt, either. What if you were nice and didn’t get what you wanted? At least you would still have been nice. The difference would be all to yourself, the person that matters. It makes a difference in how well you sleep at night, I think.

If you operate under the premise that the only way you’ll get what you want is to be nasty, I imagine you’ll get even less of what you want, and you’ll also feel a lot worse, since nastiness is its own punishment, just as niceness is its own reward.

What if you believe that you can’t forgive someone unless they come to you on bended knee? Forgiveness is one of those things that’s also it’s own reward. When you forgive, it’s your self and your sanity that you’re saving. The event or incident remains the same, and can’t really be taken back. If you continue to relive it, letting it fester, you eat yourself up with little effect on the perpetrator. The most important injustices in life, no one could apologize for anyway. You’d have to ask life itself to apologize to you, and that isn’t possible. It’s comforting to believe someone’s at fault, but sometimes things just happen, that aren’t really under the control of anyone.

I think of my friend whose child suffered brain damage from an operation. She went so far as to file a lawsuit, and all the investigation proved the doctors and the surgeon had exercised the best judgment, and done what was standard care under the circumstances. My friend is still convinced someone should be held responsible for this. She suffers terribly, not only because her child suffered damage, but because of her beliefs about why it happened.

Both Cammie and Thomas had to give up believing that everything they’d learned from their parents was operable. Part of growing in Emotional Intelligence is taking back your Personal Power. Also being flexible about “always” and “never”, because the tricky part is that some of the messages they got work quite well. Thomas’ mother also taught him many good and useful things, and Cammie’s father gave her some good guidance about self-discipline that has stood her in good stead.

One way you can come to grips about changing beliefs that don’t work, is to work on your intuition, which is another part of Emotional Intelligence. When you hone your intuition, you can see more clearly how you’re affecting other people and therefore, whether it’s getting in your way or not. Some held beliefs can be downright self-sabotaging. “No one would hire someone my age,” is one of them.

Coaching can help because you can test out your beliefs against the reality of someone with experience, but of course you have to be willing to take them out and look at them in the first place, which requires, in itself, a level of self-awareness, which is the tenet of Emotional Intelligence. Without it, there can be no Emotional Intelligence. If you haven’t taken the time to become introspective enough to be self-aware, maybe now’s a good time!

If something’s hanging you up, it could well be your Emotional Intelligence, and the good news is that it can be learned. It’s a set of life skills that can be taught. Most people take to it immediately, recognizing it as “the missing piece.” It usually brings relief, as you begin to figure things out, and excitement, as the changes in your life are immediate and rewarding.

When you keep getting stuck and state your belief, ask yourself how that belief has been working for you. One belief you might entertain is that when YOU change, your life changes.

Copyright Susan Dunn, MA, Emotional Intelligence Coach, Coaching, courses and ebooks around emotional intelligence.