What does it all Mean?
“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value”
― Hermann Hesse
In an article in October last year, we introduced the concept of ‘locus of control.’
Our locus of control describes to what degree we believe we are in control over what happens to us, how autonomous we are, do we call the shots or not? This is a spectrum from internal to external.
When we have an external locus of control, we have decided that we have no control over what happens and that we are a victim of our circumstances.
When we have a strong internal locus of control, we accept responsibility for what happens to us. We know that we can influence events via our own responses to the external environment. We see adverse events as opportunities rather than as trauma, expressing gratitude for the lessons learned.
Austrian medical doctor and psychotherapist Alfred Adler said:
“We are not determined by our experiences but are self-determined by the meaning we give to them.”
This suggests that we are able to decide either consciously or unconsciously how we interpret events and consequently how they affect us. Most of us are doing this unconsciously all the time. We give meaning to events to make them fit for us.
As we have said many times before, we all have our own unique model of the world which is made up of material from our upbringing, life experience and genetic make-up. Its purpose is to help us to make sense of the world around us. It is also essential to our survival. It is the lens through which we interpret everything that happens to us. It is therefore, bound to hugely influence the meaning that we give to our experiences.
When we view our experiences through this unique lens they are distorted. Within our model of the world are core beliefs about the world and the Self. Because we as children, are hardwired to survive, we are constantly seeking to avoid abandonment. The opposite of this is attention, or better still, approval. This need for approval follows us into adulthood and can present as a need to be liked or to be seen to be the best, prettiest, cleverest, strongest, most empathic, beautiful, creative, sporty, hardworking, talented or courageous. If fact we adopt those characteristics that have helped fulfil this need into our personality. When we carve out roles for ourselves within our ‘tribe’, our place is secured, and we are ‘safe’. This leads to the formation of core beliefs about the Self.
Because we are living it, we believe that we are those things, when in fact they are simply characteristics that we have unconsciously selected because they fit for us.
Among these beliefs about Self are negative core beliefs that are closely linked to fear.
Think of some of the negative things that you say to yourself every day.
I’m terribly lazy, I’m so disorganised, I’m always tired, I’m rubbish, I never learn, nothing goes my way, no-one likes me, I’m socially awkward, I’m clumsy, I’m daft, I’m a pushover, I’ve got no will power.
These are negative core beliefs and every time you say them to yourself, you drive them deeper into your psyche. They are not truths. They suited you because they allowed you to stay in a safe place and they are illusions that you have laboured under up to now. They distort your view.
For the purpose of clarity, we have distilled each of these beliefs into either one of two beliefs that are common to all of us:
I am not worthy of living a good life
I am not whole/I am broken in some way
Reframing core beliefs is extremely rewarding work and can lead to a change in mindset with far reaching positive outcomes:
It is clear that the unique model of the world and individual set of core beliefs held by each of us plays a vital part in our interpretation of events.
When we misinterpret an event to suit our individual belief system, we engage in distorted thinking.
Let us explore some examples of the distorted meanings that we might give to events as they happen to us:
I have a pain in my knee – this means that
· I must have arthritis and will probably eventually need surgery – I hate hospitals
· My other knee is the same age and is going to fail, especially as it is now doing all the work
· I’ll need to start planning my retirement
· I won’t be able to carry on doing my favourite sports
· I won’t be able to look after the grandchildren
· I’m useless
· I’m old and parts of me are starting to give way
· The doctor will put me on medication – I don’t like taking medication
· I’ll need a stair lift
None of these meanings are true. They are all distortions created by those negative core beliefs. Each of them will create an unpleasant stress response within the body which could drive further negative thinking or destructive behaviours. The only truth is that there is a pain in my knee. I can take appropriate action on that.
My best friend has not replied to the message I sent her this morning – this means that
· My best friend is upset with me
· My behaviour last week has upset my best friend
· My best friend is overreacting to something I said last week
· My best friend is fickle and flaky
· My best friend can take a running jump
· My best friend has found better company
· I am not likeable
· I am not best friend material
· I can never hold onto a best friend
· I will die alone!
The fact that my best friend has not replied to my message does not mean any of the above but each of these assumptions is likely to result in some uncomfortable emotional body chemistry and affirmation of those negative core beliefs. Neither of these serve me well.
The only truth here is that my best friend has not replied to my message. It goes without saying that her phone may have run out of charge or that she may have had her own emergency to attend to.
The next time you find yourself unconsciously responding to something that has happened, press pause.
Step into the shoes of your Observer Self.
Remember that this is the part of the psyche that can observe what you are thinking and feeling and what your resulting actions are without doing the thinking, feeling or behaving. It is a way to stand back and survey the situation and your place in within it.
Now describe to yourself exactly what has happened.
Write it down in detail.
Make sure that you are not selective in what you write.
Include all detail.
Avoid making assumptions about what it means for you.
Stick to the facts.
Look at your account of events.
Is it truth?
Is there distortion?
If there is distortion, what message do you take from it about where you need to work?
Is there an issue of self-worth?
Is there an issue of the illusion of brokenness?
Now take action:
What action can be taken to address the event that has truly taken place?
In our first example we might arrange a consultation with a doctor to get a diagnosis and some
In our second example we might message a friend of our fried to check in on them and make sure that they are OK.
Now take action concerning any distorted meaning that we may have been tempted to give to the event. (We are wise if we are grateful for the pointer!)
Let us challenge those negative core beliefs right now:
I am not worthy of living a good life
The concept of worthiness to live is an illusion. Whatever characteristics you deem to render a person worthy of happiness are a construct of your thinking and will therefore be different from everyone else. They are a product of your conditioning. You are here, therefore you are worthy.
I am not whole/broken in some way
How would you define whole? Again, this is a product of thinking and conditioning. Whole is not an illusion but your perceived brokenness is. You were a 100% perfect version of yourself when you were born. You are a perfect version of the you that is here now. There is no-one exactly like you and you are exactly where you need to be. You are whole.
What exercises can you do to improve your self-worth or challenge the illusion that you are not whole?
There are many examples of these on our website, here are just a few:
There are over 60 practical tools and techniques for improving personal resilience in our book: