PART 2 | Beggars DO ride: the power to transform childhood beliefs

Imagine growing up with the underlying assumption that you are a worthy and deserving person. Imagine that your existence is permeated with an unshakeable sense of purpose and rightness—that you know without question that you have a right to BE simply because you ARE. Picture your parents naturally nurturing this feeling of inner worthiness in you because they feel that way about themselves.

Chances are, if you are drawn to read this post you did not grow up feeling this way about yourself. I assume some of you are thinking to yourself right now, but I am not worthy and deserving.

MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE? I am using my megaphone because I think this is so IMPORTANT! I would like you to consider that the only reason you might think you are not a worthy and deserving person with an innate right to be exactly as you are is because you have a belief that says otherwise. And that can be changed. I will repeat myself. Beliefs can be changed. And I have news for you: you are a worthy and deserving person.

Megaphone

As I shared in Part 1, a belief is a generalization about reality that feels true to you. We build our beliefs from our interpretations of events and encounters and this is a very subjective process (rather than objective learning), meaning it is influenced by your feelings, thoughts, expectations, and memories (rather than hard facts).

The first task of transforming obsolete, distorted and limiting beliefs is to find them! Beliefs are often well-hidden in that 90% of the mind that runs the show without our conscious awareness. The nature of beliefs reminds me of the story of the woman who sat in her house and remarked on her new neighbor’s failure to get the laundry truly clean before hanging it out on the line…and then one day she remarked on how suddenly the neighbor’s laundry seemed less dingy and stained, not realizing her husband had washed their windows that morning. Beliefs are like the windows through which we view the world. To notice them, we have to step back with an intention to see differently.

Window of belief

Belief-spotting has become one of my favorite forms of entertainment because the object of the game is to make my life better by exercising my power to change. Here are some of the clues I use for tracking down beliefs:

  1. Look for intense emotions…anxiety, anger, hopelessness. Lurking behind these common feelings are often the distorted self-esteem beliefs like I am never good enough, I am unlovable, it doesn’t do any good to ask for what I need, I don’t deserve good things, I can never win.
  2. Notice repeating patterns of failure and limitation in career, relationships and finances. For me, career and finance patterns are incredible places to look for self-defeating beliefs like the world doesn’t value the kinds of things I’m good at, money and other resources are scarce, money doesn’t really mean that much to me, I’ll never be rich.
  3. Pay attention to statements that shift the responsibility or blame elsewhere. “He/she makes me feel…I can’t change because they won’t let me…as long as I’m stuck with this car, house, job, relationship.” Any excuse or justification that relieves me of responsibility for my own life is hiding a limiting belief of some kind.
  4. Watch for sweeping generalizations like “I always…I never” and pessimistic predictions like “I’ll probably fail…I’ve never been able to…I don’t know how.” These are so common that once I started looking for them, I was shocked to see how daily conversations are permeated by negative expectations built upon faulty beliefs.

An important component of successfully uncovering and challenging these unhelpful beliefs is to become gradually more aware and begin noticing where these old ideas are embedded. It is essential to do this in a kind and gentle manner, not like a hardass security guard keeping vigilant watch and pointing a mean finger at infractions, but like a benevolent grandmother who says, “Ah, there, my darling. There’s one to notice.”

Noticing

Along the same lines, remember that you are working with beliefs formed when you were a small child, so treat yourself as you would a beloved child or grandchild. Be patient, sweet, forgiving and encouraging.

Using this approach has allowed me to radically shift my self-esteem beliefs, resulting in enormous improvements in my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. In Part 3 I’ll share about my eye-opening journey to change a cluster of self-defeating beliefs that I’ve held for 50 years.

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Will the real healer please stand up?

From the first skinned knee or cut finger and the first band-aid, we are led to assume that healing comes from outside ourselves. The magic appears to be delivered via an adult’s caring kiss, the startling sting of the antiseptic spray, or some mystic property of the sterile strip. Each of us assigns power and builds beliefs based on which remedies our caregivers trust and what seems to work most reliably.

At the physical level, what’s really going on is much more remarkable and complex than any magician’s conjuring act. With no conscious guidance or even awareness from us, a team of platelets adheres to the site within minutes, activating coagulation and clotting, launching invisible processes that result in a marvelous skin remodeling project taking place at miraculously high speeds without your conscious supervision.

Healing is one of our deepest instincts. How differently might we behave if we believed this?

Who is the healer? Many of us are taught by example, experience and advertising that if we are wounded or ill, we need an authority or expert to heal our bodies and minds. We expect a diagnosis, medication, surgery, therapy, nutritional guidelines, some kind of fix. Often we unconsciously relinquish power and authority over our own well-being as we hand ourselves into another’s care or trust someone’s recommendation.

Most of us think of these experts as healers and their tools as healing, but no matter what anyone else does for you, they can, at best, simply support a process that only you can undertake. You are always the healer.

You are always the healer.

This is fairly new news for me, although in hindsight I can see I’ve been playing it out in my life in quite dramatic ways. I started noticing that my beliefs tended to prove true in my experience. When I believed I was irreparably flawed and shameful, my life mirrored that. When I glimpsed a different angle and began to entertain a new possibility, my experiences started reflecting my realignment.

An experiment in belief. Just over a year ago, I decided to test a new belief: returning to wholeness and balance is my body and mind’s natural inclination. This is the sort of thing I might have believed without question if my mom had known how to explain the natural process of wound repair to me as a child instead of teaching me to believe in the magic of band-aids. I’d read about this basic concept in placebo studies and other experimental inquiries into the power of beliefs. I decided to undertake my own experiment to see if mind over matter was a positive-thinking fantasy or the real deal.

I picked something visible and chronic as my proving-ground. For 30 years I’d been dependent on chiropractors to address my back problems, a condition I’d assumed was partially inherited from my dad and the rest a cost of heavy lifting in a factory in my 20s. Since the 1980s I’d had regular discomfort and occasionally severe misalignments that immobilized me in excruciating pain. I’d come to depend on regular chiropractic adjustments, usually at least monthly, sometimes more often.

For decades I’d repeated the story that I had a “bad back” and needed support for optimum functioning. For years I’d validated the belief, often at exceedingly inconvenient times, like on vacation or in the middle of an important project, when I would suddenly become disabled.

In October of 2013, I saw my chiropractor for the last time. I took as my mental refrain the belief that my back would love to support me and is naturally inclined to return to alignment. I paid attention to my thoughts and chose again and again to trust my body’s wisdom. I was willing to let something new and wonderful be true. I literally and symbolically “took back” my authority as a healer.

Conscious healership. This return to conscious healership actually began 20 years earlier when I awakened suddenly as if from a lengthy and nightmarish sleep and realized I was self-destructing at a painfully slow pace. Seemingly against the odds, I realized I wanted to live, wanted to get to the bottom of my despair, wanted to understand why I was in chronic emotional pain.

The details are a story for another day. What’s important to know today is that some inner grace awakened me, my natural instincts toward healing led me forward flawlessly, and I believe I am alive because I trusted them.

A therapist helped me process my feelings and reconstruct my trauma story in a way that brought it out of the shadows and into the light for resolution. A therapy group, a self-help group and laboriously building a diverse resource network helped me grow by quantum leaps. But this I now realize: every single step of the way, I was the healer.

Wounded healers. I will confess without apology to living a good share of my adulthood as a wounded healer. There are many different ways of defining or explaining the term, but the resolution comes down, I think, to this matter of recognizing who the real healer is.

If I know you are the healer of you and I am the healer of myself, we will relate much differently. I will not try to save you and tell you what to do as a distraction from my own work.

That is where I live now, bringing my own self-healing into community and being willing to support others as they do the same.