Human Flourishing | Psychology of Wellness | Hidden Beliefs
Uncovering Hidden Beliefs
Albert Ellis's ABC Model
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | May 2016
We react to beliefs that we don't consciously recognize. They silently, but powerfully, direct behavior. Discovering hidden beliefs frees us to make better choices.
During the years of therapy, Jean slowly amassed enough courage to leave her abusive husband. In a tremendous act of bravery, she finally—with the help of friends and family—escaped. After a few glorious months of freedom, Michael moved in. Michael was worse. These heartbreaking stories are all too common. The sorrowful stories of victimhood leave us dumbfounded. Are they just prone to bad luck or is there something more sinister motivating poor choices? The pattern is not confined to abusive domestic relationships, we reach the crest, escaping the past, the future looks bright, and then we foolishly jump right back into despair. Beneath consciousness, we have hidden beliefs pushing us back to the mire that disrupts peace, spoils plans, and destroys relationships.
Beliefs create a framework for interpreting experiences and responding. We don’t feel experience; we feel our interpretation of experience. Beliefs give stability to events. We create a hypothesis to explain everything. The meaning we give events forms the beliefs; and the beliefs form the meaning. Both meaning and belief supporting the other, building an impenetrable wall of self-deceit. We lean on a complex construction of beliefs to explain the world.
"Believing that emotions are generally helpful, but can be changed when problematic, may help us recover better from emotional upset and prevent us from falling into depression and anxiety."
Recognized associations between cause and effect assist with predicting, preparing and even manipulating the future. Hidden beliefs are more foundational to are actions than overtly proclaimed beliefs; many of these constructions—associations of cause and effect—function undetected, spurring emotion and motivating action, we are just along for the ride.
Francis Bacon proclaimed, “Man prefers to believe, what he prefers to believe.
Harmful Beliefs are beliefs that influence thoughts and behaviors that negatively impact our wellbeing.
We gratefully embrace comforting beliefs. If an explanation feels good, we latch onto it and fight against any refuting evidence. We don’t want to the disrupting evidence to wrench the enabling belief from our biased hands. Unconscious beliefs work a little different. They might not even be comforting. Our minds still devote great energy to keeping misguided beliefs alive. Bubbling beneath the surface, faulty beliefs trigger emotions, and drive actions that may conflict with our goals.
“Man prefers to believe, what he prefers to believe.”
Impact of Beliefs
Lucid contemplation, self-reflection, and therapy are designed to expose disruptive hidden forces driving destructive motivations. When beliefs remain hidden, we project and justify behaviors instead of owning the action and seeking correct responses.
The justifications motivated by the unseen beliefs are experienced as reality. We feel strongly therefore the reactionary behavior is justified; but it isn’t. We feel strongly because a misconstrued interpretation creates catastrophe out of an otherwise mundane event. These pesky beliefs motivate emotions that demand action.
The strength of the unseen force then subsequently restricts conscious processing, suppressing contradicting information, and sabotaging healthy behaviors, continuing to engage in future destroying action, hurting relationships, endeavors and self-confidence.
A few harmful beliefs:
"Thoughts such as 'I can’t' or 'no way' are often dismissed as quickly as they arise in consciousness… perhaps they seem unimportant in some way. In fact, these types of cognitions are often telling you something important about your basic response to a given situation. If you learn to become mindful of these thoughts, rather than avoid them, you are allowing the opportunity for personal growth."
Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC
We All Have Some Destructive Beliefs
We all have a few destructive beliefs—maybe one of these, maybe something else. We invest in these beliefs because they are part of our reality. We internalized explanations for many reasons. Some ideas are passed down neatly packaged from social learning, other beliefs provided a protective escape from harsh realities. The belief, at some point, helped explain difficult events—failure, rejection, unpredictability. Soothing the soul, the belief is embraced. Rigid belief systems protect against uncertainty. They became the hypothesis for experience; they became reality.
Without discernment, flawed notions convolute thinking. They intrude on rational explanations. We base actions on false premises, remaining invested in the security that the sameness provides. All things the same, the self strives to be consistent.
We examine new experience from the foundations of the past. This consistency, when beliefs formed to combat difficult pasts, lead to self-damaging choices in the present. We act in ways to support the hidden beliefs, creating a reality that is self-fulfilling strengthening the unshakable belief.
"Thoughts and emotions have a profound effect on one another. Thoughts can trigger emotions (worrying about an upcoming job interview may cause fear) and also serve as an appraisal of that emotion (“this isn’t a realistic fear”). In addition, how we attend to and appraise our lives has an effect on how we feel."
Karen Lawson, MD
Albert Ellis's ABC Model
We don’t need to rest on a Freudian couch to discover destructive beliefs but professional help with a competent therapist may help. We can purposely slow the mind and reflect on our emotional outbursts and the surrounding triggers, gaining deeper insights that we previously missed.
Albert Ellis taught an ABC model to address the faulty beliefs. His method is based on Activating Events (A), Beliefs associated with Activating event (B) create the Consequential Emotion (C). When the beliefs are irrational, our emotions are out of line with the reality of the experience.
See ABC Therapist Worksheet.
"Underlying assumptions operate beneath the surface of automatic thoughts and can be considered an individual’s 'rules for life'"
At first, insights emerge slowly, as we fight through multiple layers of beliefs and distorted realities; but if we continue with healthy reflection, the obscured emotions, thoughts and behaviors begin to march into the open with a continuous flow. Growth, slow at first, picks up speed, inviting illuminating lights on the dark corners of our souls.
We may erroneously hope this is a passage to the perfect world of uninterrupted happiness; but that world doesn’t exist. Self-discovery isn’t the doorway to pain free living. But the treasured discoveries improve the circumstances of our lives and the world around us. We pass greater blessing on to our progeny that they can expand and pass to their children.
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