Sometimes we have to slow ourselves down. Action is not always the best step.
Before we can work towards change and growth, we have to generate insight and for so many of us, it starts at getting to know the deepest depths of our relationship with ourselves. Where is that? Our core beliefs.
Many of you have heard me use this term before. Core beliefs, or the beliefs we hold about ourselves, the world and our place in it, are the base points from which all the rest of our narrative is created. These beliefs are a foundation for communication, self-esteem, shame, managing distress, time management…and more. What we belief to be true about ourselves is the theme in the book of our lives and so, to begin to understand and take control of writing our own story, we have to get down into the weeds of our inner most selves.
Where do they come from?
Who we are is a combination of nature and nurture. We are born with certain traits and then throughout the course of our early childhood, we are further shaped and influenced by the experiences we have both directly and indirectly. For a few, lucky people (my guess is about 0.0003% of the population), that combination leads them to believe that they are inherently “good enough”, “lovable” and “worthy” simply by being born. They do not have to earn those feelings or feel a pressure to succumb to others expectations and cultural ideals. They may contribute to the world and be valuable assets in their communities but they do not hang their worth on the assessment and judgment of others.
The rest of us? Yep, we drew the short straw. We believe we are not “good enough”, “lovable” and/or “worthy” UNLESS…(fill in the blank with some bullshit rule). Unless we get good grades, have the right job, say the right thing, choose the right life course. We believe we have to look, act, and feel a certain way in order to meet the external standards imposed upon and created around us and by meeting those standards, we can secure our place (at least for a moment) in the world around us.
What does this lead to?
Over time, these beliefs lead us to create a system of rules from which to operate from — the things we “need to” or are “supposed to” do to be “worthy” or “lovable”. Rooted in negative self talk and distorted views, we see ourselves as the problem in our narrative and are constantly working to negate that feeling to secure our place in the world around us. We chase the grades, the friend groups and relationships, the college or job we are “supposed” to pick…we lose ourselves in the quest for approval from everyone but the one person that matters — ourselves. We anchor our worth and value to the response from others — whether they like us, need us, see us as “successful”, etc — rather than learning to align with our values and trust in our inherent worth that exists in us simply by being human.
And, honestly, who could blame us? The pressure is insurmountable. Social media, cultural norms and hierarchy, fashion trends, implicit biases, even asking people the question, “What do you do?” when you first meet them…it is so ingrained in us it becomes automatic to focus on perpetually creating the bullet point list of our worth and value to others that we don’t get the chance to ask ourselves, “Do I really care about these things?”. Or better yet, “Is this really who I am or what I want?”. Now, this is not to shame anyone — we are all victims of it and guilty of contributing to it. We have all said things that contributed to someone else’s core beliefs and systems of rules and many of us have existed on auto-pilot as it pertains to our own rules, never getting the chance to see that our current reality does not have to be the reality we choose to live in.
So, as it turns out, what feels like a cultural or societal problem is actually just a compounding of a lot of people focused on the wrong anchor point — the world around us versus the person we are.
Why are they important to talk about?
Because too many of us are trying to “change our lives” — buying every book, going to every seminar and listening to every podcast selling buzzwords like authenticity, thrive in your life, live your best life…and oh, the list goes on…without first understanding the issue at hand.
Why is that a problem? Because too often, people are selling an external solution, a band-aid if you will, to an internal wound. But without taking that time to understand it, what they are selling sounds amazing.
But, the problem is not that you have to do more, be better, “fix” [x]…it is that you have to stop doing until you can be sure these actions are congruent with who you truly are and want to be rather than the you that exists as an extension of these core beliefs.
We can’t live a life we are excited about without first spending some getting to know the deepest depths of ourselves, our world and the root beliefs we hold about ourselves. We have to see the full picture before we can take any steps of action. Because without that, we are inevitably going to fall back into our standby systems of rules.
Why? Because these rules, in our mind, are the only thing that prevents us from feeling constant shame and creating connection with the world. It is not without dismantling these beliefs both by learning about their origin and then slowly untethering ourselves from them that we can begin to make actionable steps to living a truly authentic and full life.
How can I change them?
The short answer? It takes a lot of work. Unlearning what has been building within us for decades cannot be undone in one sitting. It takes work and commitment. And most importantly, it takes the willingness to move from judgment to curiosity.
It takes opening the door to the room you have deep inside you that has been harboring your anger, sadness, resentment, self-doubt, fear, shame…you name it, and not only facing it, but working through it to dismantle the power these feelings, memories and experiences have had on you.
It is true, sometimes, the pay off from following the rules of your core beliefs works…for a little while at least. The rules of my eating disorder, chronic anxiety and perfectionism, and pervasive shame got me amazing grades, top opportunities, attention, and everyone wanting to be around me all of the time and being everyone’s “best friend”. I had a status that accompanied these accomplishments. And it was sustainable…for a little while at least.
But at what cost? All of my relationships were superficial. I kept everyone at an arm’s length. I constantly worried about what others thought of me and made choices I felt like others wanted me to make, even when they did not align with what I truly wanted. And I think I single handedly kept the Post-It note company in business with how many times a day I would write, rewrite, recalculate, and write again the food I could eat and at what times.
But was everything about who I was motivated by a performance? No. And that is the hardest part of doing this work. There are parts of me that really care about my health. Now health and weight/shape are VERY different things (for those of you who haven’t ever heard of Health at Every Size, check them out), but it gets tricky as you walk through the weeds of health and addiction/fixation. Challenging myself and leadership are two very important values to me. But does it really matter if I had over a 4.33 in high school or got a 4.0 all through grad school? Nope. It doesn’t. In fact, none of that has made me a better therapist, artist, speaker, friend or, simply, human. What makes me better is what happens within the process of living within my values — the application and the exploration of how they flex and work together and in tandem with each other during different times of my life. It is more about being mindful and present within your life and embodying a message versus focusing on outcomes, goals and externally motivated ideals.
I love to work hard, but it is not that love that makes me feel anxious when I sick and feel “behind”. It’s my core belief telling me I am only “good enough” if I am always exceeding every expectation. It is my core belief telling me that I am only “worthy” if I get the response on social media or in other platforms where others reinforce my leadership skills, fill me with compliments or even, like a post. The reality is, my skills and how I can effect the world are not dependent by any numerical data. It is what I offer in every interaction I have, the way I show up to my life and the ability I have to enact change.
But, again, walking the line between who we are, what we believe and value and how our core beliefs have used that against us is tricky. And reinforces my statement that doing this work and building genuine insight cannot be done overnight.
So…where can you go from here?
Slow down. Be patient. And find space for self love and curiosity. We are all, universally, struggling with the belief we are not inherently “good enough”. You are not alone.
But the only way to rid yourself of that feeling is to turn and face it, head on, and make peace with it. After all, your inner self was only doing what it thought it needed to do to protect you from being “found out”. It just wanted you to belong. So make space in your heart for forgiveness and reflection, not just for yourself but for all of the voices, experiences, people and moments that instilled this belief in you in the first place. It serves no purpose to carry any animosity towards any of them.
And as you move to a space of openness and forgiveness, take time to get to know the real you — without the mask. Peel back the layers of performances past and present and see who the real you is, nurturing every beautiful imperfection, flaw and insecurity. Focus on the aspect of your “being”, not of your “doing”.
From there, it is about anchoring to your internal self by uncovering and cultivating your values and intentions in life. For more information on where to go with this, keep coming back every week as we will continue down this journey to self exploration and work on insight AND growth.
And if you are ready to dive deeper into the topic, here are a few more tools to take it to the next level:
Just starting out: Check out this “Inside versus Outside” Activity worksheet that helps you think about the role you play for the world and the you that exists underneath so you can begin to see the discrepancies and start your journey to internalized anchoring and self-efficacy
Ready to go deeper: Check out the “Addressing Negative Self Talk” Webinar (and other tools on the Identity Development Resources page) where you will learn more about core beliefs and the way that this has shaped your internal dialogue, giving you tangible next steps to continue to build both the insight and action we discussed.
Time to take the plunge: Check out my Clarity Compass course starting again this Fall where we learn to invest your F*CKS — time, money, energy — more wisely and gain a greater return on your investments so that you can live a life you enjoy.