Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pxfuel.com
Man often becomes what he believes himself to be.Mahatma Gandhi
I’m very fortunate to have true friends. Friends who tell you the truth, even if (they think) you won’t want to hear it, or it makes them uncomfortable saying it.
There are also friends who read my blog, and then comment on it, and challenge the content on it.
When I had a conversation with one of my oldest and dearest friends, (we’ve known each other for about 27 years), she commented on my previous post Why is it so hard to be happy. She speaks Dutch but I’ll translate (which is coincidentally one of the many jobs I hold).
“Jorinde, if you hold the idea that ‘it’s hard to be happy’, that actually makes it much harder to be happy. Many feelings actually come from the thoughts we hold, whether they are accurate or not.”
As you can tell, she is a very wise woman!
And she is, of course, right. Our beliefs very much shape how we view our world, how we experience it and how we act in it. Sometimes this is for the better, often it makes life much harder and way more painful than it needs to be.
In NLP the concept of ‘limiting beliefs‘ refers to the convictions we hold about ourselves and the world that make it hard to move forward in life and grow as a person. We’re not born with these beliefs, but we often pick them up at such an early age that we are completely unaware of them. And then we reaffirm them, again, and again, and again thanks to confirmation bias.
I’ve been thinking about this for the past week and looking at some of the beliefs that have shaped my life. One of the strongest convictions I’ve had about myself is that I don’t belong. I was the only person in my family with straight hair (my brother, sister, mother and father all have curly hair), and for a while I even thought I was adopted. When all of my family members kept playing badminton and I quit after two years, I felt left out again. I grew up in a family where the dialect was different from where we lived, and I was sometimes mocked for it.
Today this belief is still something I fight to disproof. And when my brother and sister decided to travel together with their families and, for reasons I fully understand, didn’t ask me to come along (I wouldn’t have come due to the same reasons they didn’t invite me to.), all this pain from the past 30 years jumped out and filled my head with the same stories that have been playing on repeat all that time. I don’t belong. I’m always alone. No one likes me. Etc.
I’m grateful to finally be aware of this particular belief. I’m sure there are many I’m not yet aware of, but questioning myself and my feelings is a good way to start figuring them out (Brené Brown calls this Let’s rumble). It takes awareness to change something, and for me it takes expressing that belief and the hurt that I feel connected to it, to heal the pain that’s behind it. Expressing that to both my sister and my sister-in-law this morning had a profound effect on me, it opened my heart and revealed that belief for what it is: just a thought. It’s just a thought in my head that I’ve grown so used to that it’s now convinced it’s part of who I am. But it doesn’t have to be my reality at all. I get to choose here.
Questioning your beliefs is scary for just that reason: it seems you are questioning your very existence as a person. You question the way your parents raised you, your education, your friendships, your world view, your ideas about others. It all feels very shaky at first. It takes real courage to start tackling your own firmly held beliefs. But on the other side of that fear is growth, ownership, opportunity and true freedom.
Step by step you start replacing your old beliefs with new ones. Ones that make you happy, allow you to grow and expand to the true size you are meant to grow into.
Yes, I do belong. Yes, I belong in this family. I belong in this city I grew up in, whether I’ve mastered the dialect or not. I belong in this group of friends I’ve known for decades, no matter how much we’ve been in touch over the past few years.
Which beliefs have you recognized in yourself and perhaps been able to let go of? And which ones can you see others live by? Scarcity, the ‘I don’t have enough money/time/friends/patience/…‘ or ‘I am not enough‘ belief is a widely held one that we need to face, personally and as a society, to start letting go of fear and opening ourself up to others in all walks of life.
We’ll have to do this one step at a time, one belief at a time, one person at a time. Will you join me?