Have you ever been told that the way to change what you believe about yourself is to think new thoughts or say affirmations in a mirror? I know I certainly have – by therapists, spiritual teachers and even IG memes!
I would faithfully practice my daily affirmations, rephrase my self-talk when my inner critic was rearing its head and re-direct my thinking in a positive direction.
It helped in a lot of ways but it never seemed to actually touch the way I felt about myself deep down. You know, the secret hurts and hidden shame that we all carry.
In fact, for about 100 years, it’s been a popular idea in modern psychology that beliefs live in the mind, therefore the concept is that we have cognitive control over changing our beliefs. Because of this, we are told to think new thoughts, make new choices, and voila! The old beliefs should be replaced with new ones, right?
And I hope this comes as a relief, Read on…
While the intention is good, research shows us that’s just simply not true neurobiologically. The brain just doesn’t work that way. Unlike popular opinion, beliefs just aren’t cognitive.
We cannot change deeply held beliefs about ourselves simply by changing our mind and saying new words.
The beliefs we all carry deep down, where we feel insecure or unwanted, beliefs that carry an emotional flavor of loneliness or unworthiness, are actually stored in a different section of the brain.
SO WHAT ARE THEY?
They are emotionally held, neural wirings that live in the brain, that were created at a time when an event happened at some point in our life that was emotionally impactful (good or bad).
At this time of emotional impact, a protein process occurred, which activated an actual brain-based storage unit (neural net) that holds the emotional knowing of the specific thoughts, feelings and actions that are associated with this emotional knowing, and a belief system was born!
In other words, we cannot even reach the area of the brain where these deeply seated core beliefs live, with our conscious, thinking brain.
So, let’s say, when you were a small child, Dad or Mom drank too much. You felt like you had to walk on eggshells or be a good girl to not provoke their tempers or you had to work really hard to get their attention.
Because of this, you learned (and believed) that your needs didn’t matter and that you had to be good to be loved. None of this is conscious. This belief system begins to form and you’ll likely carry it with you through life.
SO WHY IS THIS A RELIEF?
Because for any of you reading this, who have devoted themselves to ‘reprogramming’ your belief system by thinking new thoughts yet feel frustrated that you still struggle with the old, familiar feelings of shame or insecurity that may be inside, even though you know better, this is meant to help you understand why this is,,,and what you can do to retrain your brain.
There is a much more gentle, emotionally safe process involved in connecting with and reshaping the parts of our brain that hold these emotional knowings, these beliefs, at their core, which allow the neural nets to literally open, take in new information (new thoughts! new beliefs!) and re-organize around a new reality.
This is what I do with my clients and with my own therapist and am in awe of the elegance and simplicity in this powerful process. I have experienced the wonder of this firsthand and want to assure you, if what you’ve been doing so far just isn’t working, there is a new way.
Find someone who specializes in what’s called ‘memory reconsolidation’ and give yourself the gift of learning how to unlock beliefs in your brain so you may receive the love, compassion and care you deserve.