“We Don’t See Things As They Are, We See Them As We Are”
This has been credited to Anaïs Nin, but supposedly found in other, earlier texts, too. I like it because it captures something fundamental about ourselves and the world. It reminds me that we see everything around us through a subjective lens, which has become such a part of who we are that we rarely reflect on it, let alone question it.
Part of counselling is about increasing our awareness of how that lens (or how our set of beliefs) affect the way that we interpret the world and see people’s actions. I often use the example of a friend walking past me and not stopping to talk. I could interpret that as my friend not liking me (if I believed I was unlikeable, or that others only spend time with me when it is convenient for them), or I could interpret it as them being so busy they didn’t see me (if I believe other people to be fundamentally good, and that I am not always at the forefront of people’s awareness). Same event, different interpretations.
How we interpret things is based on what happened to us when we were younger. Counselling is where you can identify those beliefs but it is also possible to do at home. The beliefs can be grouped into three areas.
The first set of beliefs is how we see ourselves. We can explore this through completing statements such as:
I am… (good, kind, bad, a hindrance)
I deserve… (good things, bad things, to be ignored, to be hurt, to be loved)
I should… (always try my hardest, come first place, love myself, put my feelings first)
I can… (do anything, try harder)
The second set of beliefs is about other people. Think about things such as ;
Other people are… (untrustworthy, reliable, unsafe, unpredictable, mean)
Other people should… (leave me alone, put my needs first, trust me)
Other people will… (let me down, betray me, see that I’m a fake, get it wrong)
The third set of beliefs is about the world and is more abstract - there is also a lot of crossover to the other areas. It’s best to reflect on the views of ‘the world’ without any specific statements or restrictions. It could be that the world is safe or terrifying; predictable or chaotic; confusing or reassuring; neutral or biased; free or determined. It might be that karma features in how the world is perceived, or that actions have consequences; it could be that the world is interconnected or completely separated. This helps to put context to the behaviour of the people in it, especially if there is a significant overriding ‘rule’ or set of expectations.
Once a set of beliefs has been established, it is worth spending some time looking at each of them and deciding whether those beliefs are helpful or a hindrance; healthy or damaging; accurate or outdated/biased. Focus on those three areas.
Questions you might ask could be;
Is this helpful to me / my well-being? Is it in my best interest?
What is this based on? Is there any evidence for this belief?
Is this my belief, or have I internalised this from someone else?
Was this true at one point but now needs updating / changing?
You will then have a set of beliefs that you are happy to maintain, and a set of beliefs you want to let go of or uproot. This is your plan of action. Work at it in whatever way suits you. You could focus on the positive ones, and keep repeating them; keep doing things that reaffirm those beliefs; give yourself mantras to repeat throughout the day. Or you could notice every time you think something that triggers one of the unhelpful beliefs, and ask yourself those questions - is this thought or belief helpful, accurate, healthy?
Counselling can be about exploring where those beliefs came from and it can be about challenging and replacing those sets of beliefs that are holding you back. I believe each and every one of us has the ability to choose how they would like to live by increasing awareness of how we live and taking small actions that move us closer to feeling better.
As always, get in touch if you want to talk about how counselling can help you identify those beliefs that are unhelpful, or to introduce more helpful beliefs.