Beliefs Behaving Badly
A few days ago I had a meltdown. Not loud or violent, but a meltdown, nonetheless. This meltdown happened when I got my nose shoved, hard, against an invisible wall of my maze, a belief was challenged. As I said in The Maze, a belief is something what we have decided and no long have to think about. Which all sounds well and good, until emotions get attached, and then, as they say, things get interesting. Emotion gives a decision weight, authority, Truth. I feel this is true, therefor it is, I believe it, facts be damned! If knowledge is what we do know, then beliefs are about what we can know. Beliefs define, and defend, the world we live in. Say What? Think about it, having beliefs wouldn’t mean much if we could just change them whenever we felt like it.
I my case, I was venting about some of my frustrations about my life, and my friends tried to help. I didn’t want help, I just wanted sympathy. I wanted permission and justification to feel bad, and I wasn’t getting it! I didn’t see all that at the time, of course, I just felt frustrated, disappointed and angry. So, I withdrew, put on my “happy face” and finished up the call.
It wasn’t until later that I realized what was going on. That I wanted to feel helpless, but, by giving me options, my friends showed me I could do something about it, so my issues were All My Fault after all. “It’s your own stupid fault!” is a belief, from deep my childhood, with lots of associated guilt, shame and fear, all of which are ready to leap into action, automatically, whenever it seems I might be wrong or have made a mistake. The more important the mistake, the stronger the feelings.
This completely defines my world view. Nobody wants to feel guilt same or fear, right? So I developed many strategies to prevent and deal with these feelings. I saw the entire world through the lens of right vs. wrong, black and white, threat vs. no threat. I assumed that everyone thought the same way, that any problem could be solved by simply showing the others the facts and they would agree. I made it my job to obsessively know as much about everything as possible. To know every rule, guideline, and suggestion, to the last decimal point, so I could justify everything I did and, in that way, avoid mistakes and, if necessary, responsibility. Check, double check, and triple check every result, to be absolutely sure, no matter how long it took. These things helped me feel safe, but the world can’t be controlled, and I could easily go into panic mode if the rules, instructions or information was not clear enough. Not knowing the “right” answer could keep me awake for nights on end.
Sound like obsessive-compulsive disorder? You’re right. I believe that the only difference between an excellent techie and someone with a clinical disorder is the strength of their beliefs, and their current environment. After decades in the industry, I am sure that a large proportion of techs and engineers are in the field because they want to be in a world they can control. A place with rigid and precise rules, where they could know and obey and be safe.
To all of you who are thinking about how glad you are that you don’t have these kinds of issues, I respectfully cry “Bullshit!” We all are have been programed by our upbringing, and are driven by emotions to obey. Lust, shame, fear, guilt, greed, embarrassment, envy, you name it, it’s in there. But the most common is, though, is fear: Fear of missing out, fear of not having, fear of having too much, fear of punishment, fear of being noticed, fear of being ignored, fear of being wrong, fear of responsibility, fear of sex, fear of not having sex, fear of women, fear of men, the list goes on and on. That’s the bad news, the good news is that this is not fate! Just by knowing these emotions are there, we can short-circuit our responses, to gain control in the moment, and in the long term, deprogram ourselves and finally step off the whole marry-go-round. In this instalment of Mysterious Universe, Scott Carney discusses some of these issues and his newest book, The Wedge, which is about exactly what I am talking about.
Sounds like a lot of work? My life’s good enough, why should I bother? I get it, when things are going fine, why rock the boat? Well, let me share just one more story, about how profoundly hidden beliefs act behinds the scenes to control our actions.
I had a client, some years ago, who came to me to quit smoking. She was middle-aged, had smoked for many years, and had quit many times before, always to restart, sometimes after many months. Knowing her history, I took the unconventional approach of finding out why she continued to smoke, even though she said didn’t want to. Long story short: She “believed” that her only purpose in life was to serve and “be there” for everybody else. At home, she was available to her kids, 24-7, no matter what, and at her husband’s business, she worked straight through, every day, no breaks, food at her desk. She wasn’t required to do any of this, she just considered it totally normal.
So, why did she smoke? Her unconscious was using smoking as a way to force her to take breaks. She couldn’t smoke inside at work, or in the house at home, so she had to stop, every hour or so, to go outside and take a smoke break. This way she could justify taking a break, taking some “me” time, even though she felt i.e. believed it was was wrong. At this point treatment ended and I never saw her again. I have no idea what she ultimately chose to do.
This woman felt that taking any time for yourself was bad. And, because she felt it, it was unquestionable and affected every decision she made, even though the belief itself was completely invisible to her.
I look at these things and I have to ask myself, how much of what I know about the world, about people, about my life, is just made up of things I assume to be true only because I feel as though they are? That I continue to rely on, no matter how many times they let me down? I mean, doesn’t the fact that I feel fear and panic, prove that it’s All My Fault? That’s where we go next.
As always, comments and respectful discussions are welcome.