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Our experience of reality is determined by the beliefs that we hold about ourselves and the world. Beliefs are like spectacles through which we see, or like boundaries around us which represent the limits of our experience. Our emotions and behaviors are deeply influenced by the ideas and beliefs that we hold to be true.

Many of our beliefs represent our acceptance of positions that do not result from personal experience but are the product of suggestions made by our parents and/or society. In our learning process, we may accept many ideas and rules that may not be in harmony with our inner nature; these beliefs may not be the result of our choice. These beliefs may be unconscious and continue to affect the way we think and feel. They then control our lives without us knowing it; we may just be barely aware of some internal conflict, pain, health problem, etc. Even though they may be false or limiting, we still continue to indoctrinate ourselves into believing them. The responsibility to change them is ours. We often see these beliefs as a fact of life, and not as beliefs about life.

Some beliefs are interconnected, forming complex structures. These are core beliefs or strong ideas about our experience. This complex structure or belief system forms our self-concept and our world view. Many of our beliefs can generate negative emotions. These same beliefs can cause illness as well. These beliefs may include over generalizations, denial of self-worth, faulty values, and impossible goals, etc. Here are a few examples of limiting beliefs : I am sick and always will be, people dislike me, you can’t trust people, I can never do what I want to do, human nature is evil, I am not good, what I do is meaningless, it’s a dog eat dog world, etc. By becoming conscious of our beliefs we can then choose to retain a belief, change it or totally discard it. This gives us a greater sense of control, responsibility and freedom for our lives. It may also provide us with the necessary impetus to heal an illness or even redirect the course of our lives.

So many of the difficulties for which people seek individual counseling are rooted in beliefs that are limiting or dysfunctional. I recently started seeing a woman (let’s call her Leah) who was having difficulties in her intimate relationship. Leah is smart, capable, warm, and caring, but she was lacking confidence in her intimate relationship and at work. Leah said “I always have been too nice; I like to please people and put others first.” I found out that she was afraid of conflict in her relationship, in her family, and at work. Her strong desire for approval prevented her from confronting her boyfriend when he treated her disrespectfully, and at work she was afraid to stand up and defend her ideas. In counseling sessions we explored these issues and sifted through layers of personal beliefs, she realized that underneath her desire for approval was a feeling of shame and a belief that she was not good enough, not worthy. Leah began to see how she viewed herself, her relationship and her work through those glasses; these filters not only created a great deal of suffering but also prevented her from seeing the riches within herself.

Individual counseling and psychotherapy services are offered by Carlos Durana Ph.D., M.Ac. in Bethesda, Maryland, Reston, Virginia, and Washington, DC.