Dear Candy Q & A - Core Beliefs
Q: Where in your opinion do core beliefs about being unlovable, unworthy, not good enough, or cast aside by others come from? Do they derive from real events in our pasts that lefts us stuck in fight/flight/freeze mode or are they lies the limbic system is making up in the present moment to deter rewiring efforts (or both)? Also, when you experience deeper, negative beliefs about yourself and your value, what's the best way to handle them for those of us who are father along in the process?
A: Core beliefs such as the ones described above typically stem from early life experiences. Most of our core beliefs are formed by the age of six, and they come from the environment we are raised in and the modelling of those around us and those caring for us. Even in more ideal upbringing experiences, there can be times when those looking after us were not available to meet our needs because of their own experiences or circumstances, and this can get internalized by us as children as being somehow our fault or having something wrong with us.
The vast majority of people with autonomic and limbic system dysfunction have a history of adverse childhood experiences, trauma, or emotional neglect. It predisposes us to have a heightened stress response and to be more vulnerable to limbic system impairment. The underlying unhelpful core beliefs and driving forces can keep us stuck or make recovery difficult to achieve and sustain, and as such they do need to be addressed in order to achieve optimal recovery and attain a level of resilience that buffers us against future stressors.
When working with core beliefs the first step is to become aware of the main ones that are operating within you, and to begin to separate yourself from the beliefs. You may have a sense of where they came from, or you may not. For example, the voice of the inner critic that tells you you're not good enough might sound like a particular parent or caregiver. If you don't have a sense of where it originates, that's okay too. What's important, once we become aware, is to acknowledge that it is not true. It's either someone else's erroneous beliefs that were projected upon you or something your child brain created to make sense of a situation that was beyond its understanding (for example, "my caregiver is always yelling so therefore I must be a bad person"). It may have also served a purpose to protect you and ensure your survival when you were young, but it is no longer helpful or needed.
We may also want to give some consideration to what belief we would like to have instead, although most of the time it is the opposite of the false beliefs that are operating. It can also be helpful to remind ourselves that each and every person has inherent value, and there is nothing we need to do to prove or earn that. It is our birthright. Your true self or inner essence knows this to be true. See if you can sense into that part of you, even if it is just a tiny speck in your being right now. The more you attend to that part, the more it will grow.
From here, there are several different ways to work with the core beliefs, but my personal preference involves a combination of self compassion and inner child work. When we notice the belief coming up or driving our behaviour, taking a moment to place your hand on your heart and offer yourself loving kindness and compassion can go a long way to breaking the hold of those beliefs. Most often what was missing at the time they were created was a loving & compassionate presence in the form of an adult, to help meet your needs. We can now offer that to ourselves by connecting with our inner essence that unconditionally loves and accepts us. If we have trouble at first offering that to ourselves, consider connecting with something greater than you (the divine, source energy, spirit, nature, angels, mother earth, etc.) and imagine yourself receiving that unconditional love from them. Open yourself up to taking it in. It might be a work in progress at first but over time it will become easier.
There are a number of ways to do inner child work as well. One version is to start by sensing in to how old the belief is with which you are working. When you sense in to those words (e.g. "I'm unlovable"), and feel what that feels like in your body when you bring those words to mind, how old do you feel? You might get an exact age or an experience that comes to mind, or it might just feel quite young. If, when you first do this, you get experiences in adulthood, keep gently inviting your mind to float back to an earlier experience when you felt these sensations along with the belief until you no longer have previous experiences or a sense of going to a younger age. Once you have connected with that earlier age or experience, invite the loving and nurturing aspects of your adult self to connect with the younger you, offering loving kindness perhaps in the form of a hug or holding them, or sitting next to them and being really present. You can do this through your imagination or simply by using your intention. You may want to ask the younger part of you if there is anything they need or anything they want to say or share. Sometimes having a dialogue from your now much older and wiser self with the younger you can be helpful in releasing the hold of this old program/belief, as you can share a bigger picture perspective. If the younger self asks for something they need (whether it makes sense or not) imagine your adult self giving it to them. It is about empowering the younger self and letting them know they are not alone. This act can help to release the underlying patterns that are still operating in present day as a result of those earlier experiences.
Once your loving connection and/or dialogue with the younger you feels complete, you can tuck that younger version into your heart. You may choose to come back and engage with that younger you again at a later time. It may take a bit of time and a few such encounters for the core belief to start to shift or it may happen after one experience. I've witnessed both.
Afterward, come back to that loving & compassionate presence with your adult self and take a moment to orient to the present by connecting with your breath and slowly looking around the room and taking in what you notice. If your limbic system is activated from the encounter, follow up with a round of practice or something to elevate your emotional state. If you come out of the encounter in a tender, loving or elevated state, take a moment to breathe it in to all of your cells and savour it.
This type of work is quite advanced, so if you are not feeling comfortable with doing the inner child piece yourself, consider working with someone else to support you in this, or simply continue to cultivate self compassion and detachment from the beliefs each time they arise. This will also help to shift your association with them over time.
I ended up having more to say on this topic than I originally anticipated, so I will save the question on releasing emotions versus negating them for next time :)
If you have a question, please email me at email@example.com
Candy Widdifield is Registered Clinical Counsellor, Wellness Coach, and Registered Reiki Master Teacher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. Her modalities include coaching, therapy, Reiki and the Safe & Sound Protocol. More information about Candy can be found at www.candywiddifield.com