Untrue central beliefs

First of all, let me make it clear that when I talk about “beliefs”, I certainly do not mean religious beliefs! Rather, it is about the beliefs that one has about:

  • oneself
  • other people
  • the world around you

For example, regarding oneself, one might have the belief, “I am caring”. Regarding others, one might have the belief, “People are selfish” and regarding the world, one might have the belief, “There are a lot of dangers out there.” Such beliefs are central to a person’s view of everything within and outside, and for this reason I call them “central beliefs”. (Many psychologists call such beliefs, “core beliefs”)

When one is born, one’s mind essentially has no beliefs about anything. However, from that blank state onwards, one starts to form beliefs about various things. For example, even as a baby, one would learn which faces belong to those that will cuddle and give nourishment and which faces belong to those who provide no benefit. I.e. one forms certain beliefs about who is “good” for one’s survival and who is “bad”. As one’s childhood years progress, one’s brain continually updates one’s central beliefs. 

Central beliefs are the driving force of a person, and one’s mind tries its best to think in ways that “support” such central beliefs. I call thoughts that support one’s central beliefs, “supporting thoughts”. 

For example, imagine that a person has the central belief, “I can learn new things”. For this central belief, one of the supportive thoughts might be, “If I have an opportunity to learn new things, I should take up that opportunity”. Let’s take another example, where a person, who we will call Sujith, has the central belief, “I have good leadership skills”. Now suppose Sujith, at a social event, meets an owner of a major company and that person offers Sujith a very attractive job as a manager. In this situation, Sujith’s mind may develop the supporting thought, “I have the skills that will help me to do well in this new job, therefore I should accept it”, prompting him to take up that offer. However, let us now imagine that Sujith’s mind has the opposite central belief, “I have poor leadership skills”. In this scenario, if he was offered the same job, his mind might have the supporting thought, “You have useless leadership skills and you will therefore fail in this new job”, prompting him to refuse the job offer. The supporting thoughts blindly support one’s central beliefs.

As central beliefs direct almost all aspects of one’s life, it’s very important that one has central beliefs that truly represent oneself. You may now wonder how one can have central beliefs that do not truly represent oneself. Unfortunately, this can happen quite easily and I will explain how. As mentioned before, central beliefs often start to form in one’s childhood, which is a time when one’s mind is not fully developed and is quite immature. This can lead to one having central beliefs that may not be truly logical. For example, imagine that a small child, who we will call Gaby, is with her mother, who is quite preoccupied with some pressing issue. As they walk in the park, imagine that Gaby’s mother buys her an ice cream. Unfortunately, a few minutes later, imagine that Gaby accidentally drops the ice cream, and her mother, in a lapse of concentration, says, “You are stupid”.

Gaby, who does not have the mental maturity of an adult, may take this statement coming from her mother seriously and this may lead to the formation of the untrue central belief, “I am stupid” in her mind.  Now you might say, “Surely, when Gaby grows up, she would replace this with a more realistic core belief, such as “I am not stupid.” Unfortunately, things are not all that logical when it comes to the mind! What can happen is that some childhood central beliefs can remain unchanged in one’s mind and persist into adulthood. It’s almost as if one’s mind forgets that the central beliefs are from one’s childhood, and instead just “assumes” that such beliefs must be true. 

Such unchallenged untrue central beliefs that persist into adulthood can cause harm. In the case of Gaby, her childhood untrue central belief, “I am stupid”, may remain unchallenged with new logical thinking as she grows up and this could limit her potential as an adult. For example, this unchallenged untrue central belief may well dissuade Gaby from pursuing a university education. This would be a pity, because if she disregarded her untrue central belief, she may well have flourished in university. 

Such unchallenged untrue central beliefs may remain quietly in the background, and get activated at only certain times. For example, continuing with the ice cream example, the adult Gaby may not always be thinking “I am stupid.” But say, when Gaby thinks about applying for a university education, the “I am stupid” untrue central belief may surface at that moment, and dissuade her from continuing.

Untrue central beliefs can sometimes be difficult to discover as they may lie in the background. However, you will recall that untrue central beliefs are associated with “supporting thoughts”. If one cannot work out one’s untrue central beliefs, one may be able to recognise the supporting thoughts instead. For example, when thinking about her higher education, Gaby may not recognise the untrue central belief “I am stupid”, but instead, she may recognise the supporting thought, “I should not apply to university, as I will surely fail if I enrolled in one.” Such supporting thoughts that support untrue central core beliefs can unnecessarily negatively affect one’s life.

As you can imagine, unchallenged untrue central beliefs can unnecessarily limit a person’s potential. One goal of happy thinking is of course to deal with such beliefs. However, we will keep that for later on the website, when we discuss various psychological tools that you can use to access and change untrue central beliefs. For now, just remember the basic concept of central beliefs.

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