The Power Of The Verb To Be: How Core Beliefs Are Built In Childhood

The Power of the Verb To Be: How Core Beliefs are Built in Childhood

by Ismini Apostoli

What are core beliefs? How do they end up playing such an important role in who we are and in our lives? How do we get them? Do we have access to them? Are we aware of them? Is it within our power to discard the ones that do not serve us?

This topic is really inexhaustible, but, in this article, I will touch upon some basic processes. Beginning in infancy, and early childhood two main processes are responsible for the way we view ourselves, our world, our place in it and our relationship to it: our personal observations, through our senses and autonomous thinking processes, and the influence of others.

As far as our sense of self is concerned, initially, we develop and build up our “I” through a mirroring process of what others tell us about us. “You are so pretty!” “You are a bad boy.” “You are stupid.” “You are lazy”. “You are just like your father”. “You’re like me, hopeless in math”. In conversations among grownups which we happen to eavesdrop on we hear: “Oh I don’t know what to do with her she is such a jealous child”. “He is my nightmare, I can’t wait for his bedtime so I can rest a bit”. “She’s chubby, but it runs in the family”. The “you are’s” and “he/she is’s” that we have heard in our childhood alone are countless. Some, to be sure, were circumstantial, although that says nothing about how one comment, one word spoken only once, one glance may have branded us for life. Others were repeatedly hurled at us. Some were not even necessarily “bad”, for instance: “she is so sweet and well-mannered”. “He always does what I tell him to do, he is so obedient.” These are “good” things, from a grownup’s point of view, right?

So, you may ask, does what we are told really determine who we are? The answer is no. It does not determine who we are, but it determines who we think we are. If the influences are strong, persistent, repetitive, we may grow without having even an inkling of who we really are. We have become a conglomerate of our parents’ most exacting expectations and worst fears. What’s worse is that we believe in this conglomerate as being our own true self.

You become hopeless in math. You become an overweight person. You become lazy. You become too obedient and compliant for your own good. You become so sweet and well-mannered that you do not react when people step all over you. You become what you repeatedly heard others say about you. All the countless “you are’s” and “he/she is’s” comprise what you call your Self. Isn’t there just a tiny bit of some authentic stuff in me, you may ask, is all of it conditioned in, drilled in, has not something of the realer me been retained? And you are right, there is, and bits and parts of you have indeed been retained. Those are the parts that eventually may urge you to seek some form of therapy, those are the parts that may erupt in unruly behavior, those are the parts that are extremely sensitive to criticism, to labeling, even to praise, because “praise” can be another victimizing behavior by shrewd adults and it is very widely used: “oh, I count on you to be mature and not hit your little sister when she ruins your school project you have been working on all week”.

Later on, more autonomous processes are at play, to be sure. Our own personal observations, our own identifications, choices and modeling of others, and various events that may leave a positive or negative mark – these are all ways of how the “I am” of each one of us is formed, influenced, empowered or disempowered. As we grow up, go to school, we develop our own “I am’s and am nots”. But by the time we are able to form our own opinions about our self and others, not only do we already carry some “baggage” of other’s people’s opinions of us, but we have also “inherited” a way of formulating, assessing and storing these personal opinions.

What I am trying to point out in this article is a subtle yet very powerful factor that is really responsible for a lot of damage, particularly if the outside influences or our own conclusions about ourselves are negative and self-sabotaging. Language is very important as a thinking tool, in fact there can be no thinking without language, except in very rudimentary forms. And we all make a small linguistic mistake which may have tremendous cognitive and emotional consequences: the erroneous use of the verb to be.

To make this point clear, compare these two sentences: What you did was (bad, rude, inconsiderate, wonderful, clever, stupid, etc.) You are (bad, rude, inconsiderate, wonderful, clever, stupid, etc.)

Unfortunately, this fatal linguistic mistake is very commonly made in our culture, and it affects very powerfully our cognitive processes, by leading us to conclusions that are over-generalized, absolutist, rigid, all-inclusive and permanent. Once all these various “you are’s” and “I am’s” are programmed into your basic programming, your self structure, you function automatically because your subconscious has accepted these conclusions as truths and as instructions that will automatically guide your action, your sense of self, and your presence in and interaction with the world.

This same process and the same linguistic and cognitive mistake is repeated also at a wider scale. Consider:

They (as a social class, a religious group, a racial group, an ethnic group) are…

We, in our family are….

Women are…

Men are…

The world is ….

Life is ….

So, you can see how powerful this little verb can be…Perhaps, while reading this article you remembered the “you are” gifts you received in your childhood, the “I am” gifts you have given yourself since.

Take a few moments to reflect on the following questions:

Which “you are’s” and “I am’s” in your experience do you find dysfunctional for you and would like to eliminate from your self-concept?

What core beliefs about you and the world do you believe are hindering instead of encouraging your development and prevent you from realizing your highest potential?

Which of your core beliefs are constructive and conducive to a healthy and happy life?

Copyright (c) 2008 Ismini Apostoli

Hi, I am Ismini Apostoli and I am a psychotherapist working in Greece. In addition to in-office treatment, my services are open to people from all over the world, through online therapy by email.

I invite you to visit my site at http://www.yourempowermenttherapist.com find out more about me and read some more of my articles. Hope you stop by!

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