There's a simplistic view that we can just eliminate our negative beliefs and/or replace them with positive ones. But the fact that we even want to amputate or replace the beliefs that we deem "negative" is in some ways a denial of our humanity and the journey we each walk in our development and maturation. As Bill Harris, president and director of Centerpointe Research Institute, says so well:
Human beings are caught in several double binds (damned if you do/damned if you don't conditions). One regards beliefs. Beliefs are the result of making an internal map of reality, which we need in order to survive. You would have no way to navigate yourself around without that map (unless you want to live on instinct, like a cat, or be with the most minor ability to respond to your environment, such as the way an earthworm can go toward or away from light, but not much more). On the other hand, beliefs are always false in the strictest sense of the word—they approximate truth at best.
And, once you believe something you will unconsciously attract or create more "evidence" that you are right, and delete or distort anything that disagrees with your belief, unless life totally hits you over the head with conflicting evidence, in which case you MIGHT change your mind. And that just leaves you with another semi-truth, which will have its own drawbacks and consequences.
My point is that since all beliefs are half-truths, as Harris says, a change of beliefs will not necessarily produce a change in ourselves. In my own path of healing and personal growth, the one thing I know for sure is that I don't know. What I know this minute, or what I believe right now, is incomplete and always evolving. And each new insight or shift in my beliefs introduces a whole new set of opportunities and challenges to learn and grow.
For instance, when I began to understand and shift how much I gave myself up through seeking to please others and began to really take care of myself and give from a much freer place, I was greatly challenged. I had never exercised the muscle of saying "no," and I knew absolutely nothing about setting boundaries for others. Nor was I prepared for the displeasure and anger that came back to me when I didn't help others in the way they had begun to take for granted.
There is a common belief that goes something like this: "All you need to do is change your beliefs!" Wow! If it were only that simple!
If you want to change a belief, you can change a belief. But our whole map of reality is structured around a complex structure of myriad beliefs. It is merciless (and ineffective) to strip ourselves of the old beliefs without understanding what needs we were trying to meet in the first place. Otherwise chaos can ensue. It's like pick-up-sticks: if you move one stick (or belief) too quickly or carelessly, they all move.
Limiting beliefs that have kept us safe and sane are not to be treated so casually as I have seen with some programs and recommendations. We absolutely need beliefs—whether negative or positive—to navigate the complexity of life, love, and relationships. Being human means that no belief is bad or negative, because every belief is formed to keep us safe. Survival is king (and queen). When our behavior seems bad or unloving, we are simply responding or reacting from past beliefs formed when we were unable to respond to life's challenges in a more loving or productive way or we just didn't know a better way to keep ourselves safe.
Our old beliefs give us a road map back to what really matters to us, if we listen to their wisdom. They hold so many keys and gems of our true essence and selfhood! If we just replace them or get rid of them because they are "bad" or "limiting" or "negative," we end up with just another view of the world with different filters in place (as Harris suggests). This approach slows down our growth considerably.
We are human, with limitations and a high need for safety, and simultaneously we are connected spiritually to a power that is limitless and is continually seeking to transcend past limitations. It is far more effective to develop the habit of mindfulness and compassion toward ourselves than to seek to change beliefs. In this gentle preparation of our minds and emotions, beliefs organically give way to a natural propelling toward greatness, like a plant rising to the sun.
I think inner peace and authentic transformation that truly lasts come not so much from changing beliefs but from a daily and consistent practice of living forward, like this:
- Develop the habit of being curious (without judgment) about what you believe and why.
- Compassionately acknowledge that you had really good reasons for forming the beliefs in the first place.
- Passionately detach from the need to defend what you believe.
- Identify the resistance within yourself, but rather than fight or overpower it, listen to the need just underneath asking to be honored.
- Partner with your subconscious wisdom as you would with a gracious friend (rather than view it as a troublesome force seeking to sabotage your goals).
- Consciously choose and commit to the part of your true self you want to assert and integrate more fully.
So instead of arbitrarily changing beliefs you may not like, allow your inner truth to guide you. Instead of seeking to become something else that is still imperfect, beat the double bind by enjoying and relaxing into the journey of growth. Compassionate awareness precedes real change. Loving acceptance opens the door to transformation, and responsibility seals and makes change permanent.