27 Nov 2017
Stress is the consequence of how you interpret a situation. If you feel you can’t cope with the situation, you are stressed. Have you ever thought that your ability to handle an event largely depends on your beliefs system? Here, we explore beliefs. Your thinking is dictated by your values. Your values or what is important to you reflect your beliefs. Therefore, in order to make lasting change in your life, you need to be aware of your beliefs. Understand their impact on your daily routine and update those beliefs which are unhelpful and adopt new ones.
Beliefs are based on opinions rather than facts, collective consensus and personal experience. Humans are social animals who want to belong to a group and have a role in it. We explore how beliefs shape the way you relate to and communicate with others. As you develop self-awareness, you become able to question your beliefs and challenge them.
Anna and Paul have been in a relationship for two years. Paul has been working as a manager in a fast-food restaurant for over a year after completing his degree in History and wants to train as a teacher. Anna works for an insurance company. She met Paul at the university. The postgraduate training to become a teacher lasts one year during which Paul won’t earn. Anna will have to support both of them, and Anna believes that a man should support his partner, not the other way round. She has been brought up in a conservative family. Will Anna support Paul?
Judy grew up in a family in which both parents worked long hours at the office. Judy spent a lot of time outside the home, being looked after by various nannies and she was later sent to a boarding school. Her parents told her that she had to make sacrifices in order to succeed in life.
After the university, she started her career in recruitment and worked her way to senior manager. In the meantime, she married. Judy was conditioned to sacrifice for her career, and her marriage eventually ended. Judy was devastated, wondering why this happened to her.
You may now understand how your own beliefs shape your life. If Judy had questioned her belief, the outcome would have been brighter. Ask yourself what makes you happier: enjoying your life and making loved ones happier or sticking to old principles to please others? Listen to your words when you speak: ‘I’ have to, I should do, I must, I can’t…’ These words shed light on your beliefs.
Let’s explore the origins of beliefs. A definition l found is: ‘An acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof’. In other words, it is a declaration taken for granted. A belief is also ‘trust, faith or confidence in someone or something.’ We think of religion or political doctrine, councils of Elders in indigenous communities, following today fashions to comply with peer pressure, parental influence…
Acceptance happens easily when there is a lack of knowledge to form a critical idea of a proposal. When a person is unaware of other possible choices, she is limited to black and white thinking. Limited knowledge makes also people more vulnerable. They desire even more a leader for direction and safety. Church leaders and rulers from Medieval times to the Industrial Age cultivated and used the people’s ignorance to control them through… beliefs! People feel obliged to comply.
When you were a child, your knowledge of the world around you was limited, so you believed what the adults told you. Through repetition, declarations were printed in your subconscious to form autopilots. Cultural beliefs are generally deeply rooted and difficult to change. For instance, there are still beliefs such as a large family is a sign of prosperity. Poverty and modesty are virtues and many other beliefs…
Beliefs are anchors which give you a sense of belonging to a social group. Humans are social animals who fear rejection (ostracism) and are stressed as a result.
Professor Aaron Beck, the father of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy classified core beliefs into two main types. There is one about the degree to which you feel loved and wanted. The other category relates to the sense of achievement. On the whole, it is about your position in society.
Personal experience plays an important place in the beliefs system, though it might be easier to update beliefs based on personal experience. Cultural beliefs which have been passed on over several generations and ingrained in the collective unconscious are very difficult to update.
Personal experience gives feedback about the position held in the social hierarchy of love and importance. Laura was brought up in a single-parent family. Her mum had to work odd hours to make ends meet. She returned from work late in the evening, really tired, and had supper while laying on the sofa to watch TV. Fortunately, their neighbours were retired people who were childless and loved children. They cared for Laura after school. Each morning, Laura’s mum recommended: ‘You’re kind. Don’t annoy them!’ In the evening, Laura sought her mum’s affection, longing for a cuddle. Each time, she was repelled. ‘I’m so tired, it’s bedtime now!’ she moaned. Over time, Laura felt she was not important after all. She even thought of herself as an annoyance to other people. In adulthood, her belief is that she will annoy people if she asks anything.
Will she annoy them? Maybe not. Some people might even feel offended if she doesn’t ask them. Laura has learned to appraise and respond according to the present situation and not from her previous belief. Observe your own thoughts and beliefs and ask yourself: Is it true? Am I sure?
Question your beliefs for they might stop you. This creates resistance in your body and stress. We have seen how beliefs control our lives and how they influence our behaviour. You can think now about the way your own beliefs shape your life. Are they helpful? What could you change in your beliefs?
At first, you are likely to encounter resistance while updating your beliefs system. This is normal, old habits die hard. The effort eventually pays off. To initiate change, practice mindfulness or being in the present moment. Gratitude is the first step because you acknowledge your situation and adopt a positive attitude. Positive thinking helps you look at the bright side of things and discard what is not helpful and harmful. You can start by adopting this belief: you are worth more than you think.
(*Names have been changed.)
#stress #stressmanagement #stressrelief #mind #beliefs
(Photo: iStockPhotos/Gilaxia 2012)