Last week I blogged about how you satisfy needs when your beliefs are in line with reality. This week is about the flip side of that. Beliefs we have that are not in line with reality are “incorrect.” Now I want to be clear and careful with that statement: We all, to some degree, are navigating our lives with ‘busted maps’. That does not make the person wrong. I believe Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis goes east-west. And that’s true, except on the west side where it goes north-south. My mental map may be off, and that has gotten me lost more than one time. That does not make me wrong as a person. We are not the same thing as our beliefs, though at times we have an awful lot invested in them.
Let’s look at an example of how culturally-held beliefs can lead to negative behavior: the not-too-distant belief that people in this country of pink skin held that they were superior to humans of dark skin. In fact, there were many African-Americans who had internalized this oppressive message and bought into it. Many negative behaviors came out of this incorrect belief, from lynchings and segregation to disenfranchisement, and the patronizing attitudes of whites toward blacks. And it worked the other way as well, with most people of color believing they were inferior in intelligence, physically superior in strength and endurance, and that ‘it’s a white man’s world’, justifying their personal lack of ambition and victimization. We can look back on that now and see that there is no such difference between what we call ‘races’ of people. We collectively created a virtual reality that is not true, and caused all much suffering and separation.
On a personal level, we all hold some patterns of belief towards others that are incorrect, and lead to negative behaviors. I’ll mention four that are major causes of personal conflict and misery:
I’m better than: This incorrect belief that I am somehow superior because of my differences to another allows me to treat others, whom I feel superior to, as objects. In fact, all of the misbeliefs I will mention have this in common: objectifying others and making them to be something less than human. I feel I am in the right, and whatever my sins, they are excusable because of my superiority. I see (some) others as inferior to me; I feel disdainful of them. I think they are wrong. I may pity others, or feel disgust and loathing for them. My world view is one of competitiveness, keeping score. The world is troubled, and it needs me.
I’m Deserve: In this misbelief, I view myself as entitled, deserving of special treatment. I often feel mistreated and victimized. I may feel unappreciated for who I am. I view others as mistaken, ungrateful and they mistreat me. I feel deprived, and am resentful of being denied what I am entitled to. I view the world as unfair, unjust, and that life owes me more than what I have.
I Must be Seen as: This one covers a lot of ground, and includes the reverse, ‘I must NOT be seen as…’. Here you can fill in the blank: I must be seen as… smart, happy, engaged, competent, sexy, authentic, caring, etc. Or, I must not be seen as…uncaring, angry, foolish, weak, stupid, greedy, etc. (think here what might apply to you). While I carry this belief around, I see others as threatening and judgmental, or alternately, they are my audience. I may feel anxious and afraid, or needy and stressed, or just plain overwhelmed. The world from this perspective seems dangerous, watching me, and judging me.
I’m Worse Than: This is the world of the victim. I view myself as not as good as others, broken or deficient in some way, fated and cursed in life. I see others around me as privileged, blessed, having advantages I don’t possess. People are seen as separate from me because of their advantages. I feel helpless, and I will fail to engage in the world. I may feel bitter, resentful and jealous. Or I may feel, or be, depressed. The world seems impossibly hard, stacked against me, or that I am ignored.
These four incorrect beliefs cover most of our consequent negative behaviors. If we can replace these and other incorrect beliefs with others more aligned with reality, these negative behaviors will change. So what can we replace these with that is better and truer to what is real? As a coach, I don’t try to persuade others to believe something that I hold, just because it works for me. So I won’t tell you what to believe, but leave you with this inquiry: If your beliefs (above) are no longer serving you, it is time to try a new belief on for fit with your core values. What is in the deepest part of your heart that is true about you and your world? If you are ready to take a courageous and truth-seeking look into this, you may be ready to hire a life coach. He or she will ask those penetrating questions, and help frame your answers in ways that serve you to be more, give more, and align with your authentic self. Find a coach.
Next week: Law #9: Your self-esteem must ultimately come from within.