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Peeling the Onion into the Core Beliefs: 5 Questions, One at a Time

Do you ever think about how we just naturally react to stuff, especially when things get super intense, like angry jaw clenching, totally depressing, or downright scary moment? If you do, see if my sharing about my lived experiences, my work, and psychology is helpful to you in figuring out the mechanisms of our self-organisation.

For me, as mentioned in my previous blog on the battle between my ‘monkey brain ‘and my ‘working brain’, there lies my unhelpful core belief which played a huge role in the ways I organise my reality. My “you’re not enough” self-narrative was pretty sneaky with a defense mechanism which grew out of my unconscious mind to protect my conscious self from being judged. When I detected that I was being judged, it immediately sent me to the zone of self-degradation which then led me feeling disappointed at as I berated myself for not being good enough and as a result, my esteem-o-meter dailed to the bottom left with insane speed. You see, this cycle has no ending once it starts so my unconscious self would device a brilliant plan to avoid such fearful incidences in the form of "procrastination".

My beliefs are strongly reinforced by the feedback I received from many years dating back as far as my teens (I’m sure it was way back but it was quite loud during these times) when a stage of self-identity was developing. I was not a popular gal among my peers, I was the quiet one sitting at a corner wishing to be invited to the party, the one who my relatives didn’t really fancy, they didn’t tell me point blank but the occasional snarky remarks on my disposition were enough to plant a seed of self-evaluation then. I was also the one with a bitchy resting face who got called out by my choir instructor for not putting up a smile during a performance when everyone seemed to naturally joyously singing. Mom would just be nonchalantly cool as a cucumber when I excitedly showed her my grades, a score of 85 for Maths which she just said, “that’s average”.

Sadly, I did not know that I was progressively nurturing the seed of my unhelpful core belief this way neither did my parents. If they ever knew, would my narrative be different today?

Core belief is one of the important components in our super brain which drives our actions and reactions. It is the internal narratives we tell ourselves about ourselves. We know there are beliefs we have in others, and beliefs others have of us in relation to our interactions. While these are important elements which shape our ways of interaction with other people. But how do these processes exist?

When we dive deeper into the Self’s core belief, there lies the True Self - the soft, vulnerable, and yet powerful force of the unconscious. This core belief shapes our perceptions of others and our perceptions of what others think of us. This is how the core belief makes its presence in the consciousness in tangible ways as our thought processes which we are aware of and in our actions and our behaviours, This is called our character structure, the ways we approach our reality.

Core beliefs are hidden in events throughout our formative years. So, it’s like a collection of patterns which the mind is constantly making meaning out of them. For example: If we were hurt over and over again by , our minds learned to be fearful, vigilant of possible threats and always on the lookout to protect us by expecting the worst. Imagine going through life with this lens and the experiences of the past. How has it been for you?

Unfortunately, we can’t see our core belief with our eyes and it is very difficult to put a pin on where do those unhelpful core beliefs reside.  So, why bring out the unconscious you may ask? It is totally Okay to just keep doing what we’re doing if everything works fine with us, and the trade-offs are in check.

However, in stages of our lives we might want to explore different opportunities but finds it difficult to move forward even though external barriers are not that hard to overcome. Then we must look inward into the Self where most of the juicier parts of our predispositions are kept hidden in the unconscious. If and only if you’re interested in understanding yourself and want to be as good as you can be, give your unconscious the curiosity to be explored! Look everywhere! They can be found because they are in you.

Having said that, how we developed these core beliefs is actually not within our control. So first, don’t blame yourself. Most of us might have painful experiences from childhood or unresolved/unprocessed traumas. We have never chosen to be hurt; it was not your fault. And now, you can take back your agency in this domain by taking the first step to understand yourself better. Awareness is an empowerment to do better. If you have difficulties exercising your agency, please seek support from your community mental health professionals. A little help will get you ahead with less resistance.

In most of my work with my clients, I work with their core beliefs where we collaboratively explore the Self. Here, I’m only going to mention those beliefs which aren’t helpful to our well-being. They aren’t my self-proclaimed plucked from the skies kinda pop beliefs (I’m not that smart enough, I must admit) but from well researched psychological practices.

If we look around us, we are actually quite simple organisms who crave meaningful connections with others. If we don’t have these connections around us, we will come out with many ways to self-sooth ourselves (I will talk about self-soothing next time). So, in a nutshell, we yearned to be loved, to be competent, to be accepted, and to be acknowledged.

Healthy core beliefs sounds like: "I am loved", "I have the abilities to change my life", "I am accepted for my uniquesness and my flaws", "My presence matters".

And we do not churn out core beliefs out of thin air. How and where do we receive these feedbacks? From the environment and people around us…meh!

Where do we start looking for these core beliefs? Let’s start from the most outer layer of the onion and work layer by layer until we reach the core.

1.      Find events/ people/ situations that trigger your internal alarm. Look at the conscious self – our actions and behaviours and also the thought patterns which we are aware of. "What was I thinking when ..... happened?" followed by "What did I do in response to my tthoughts?"

2. To find the ones that aren’t helpful, we need to ask ourselves “Are these actions and thought patterns helpful in the long run?", If they are many and could be overwhelming, Write them down in a notebook/journal first, in no particular order.

3.      Look at the impact these patterns had on us – What is the price that I will pay in the future or even now if this persists? – this is to gauge the weight of this behaviour against our well-being because not all unhelpful actions have the same impact on our well-being.

4.      Look into the decisions we make in response to question 1 to 3 – Would the decisions I make increase my stress level?

5.      Look into the kinds of impact that is debilitating our self-esteem, our self-worth! – Is my self-esteem being attacked/let down/crushed/diminished by my actions and thought patterns? What are the monologues which kept playing in my head? What does it mean to me? Usually, you will answer it like this: I am…

Lastly, and the most important bit of juice in core beliefs is the element of emotional weight and quality they carry. Emotions are the depth of our beliefs, and that is what makes core beliefs impactful and salient. It’s like what made an good movie awesome; brilliant storyline that touches our emotions. That’s the relationship between emotions and core beliefs.  

You might think "What's next?" "What do I do with these core belief once I've found it?" Fret not, we're not done yet. I just thought it might be a good idea to let this sit in for awhile and see what comes out for you. Let this simmer in your body and mind,

I’ll leave you here to kinda digest these bits of ‘wisdom’ at your own pace until we meet again in my bubble talk about emotions in core beliefs.

If you find this helpful and there are elements of self-development or self-discovery which others can use, do share to people around you. You may also reach out to me at alix@baecounselling.comor WhatsApp us at +6013-6933051.

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