Creating a new theory or change technique is an interesting process for me.
I usually first get only a very vague sense of an entire idea. I can barely grasp it; I just have a sense of it, like an object in the fog where I sense “something out there,” but the outlines and details of that “something” are very vague. I have an intuitive sense that there’s something useful there, but I’m not sure precisely what it is.
Then, over time, little by little the fog starts to clear away until I am able to distinguish aspects of the whole “thing” more clearly; eventually I can see the entire “something” clearly.
That’s how it was when I first created the Lefkoe Belief Process (LBP) almost 30 years ago. I knew that if I asked someone specific questions, his long-held beliefs would be eliminated. But I didn’t know why the LBP worked and how beliefs were formed or why they normally were so difficult to eliminate. That took many additional years.
About five years ago I realized that the meaning we attributed to individual events determined how those events occurred to us. And these occurrings were not the same thing as beliefs. But I didn’t understand the relationship between our occurrings and our beliefs.
What’s the precise relationship between
beliefs and occurrings?
I now have a much better sense of how they relate to each other.
In the beginning I had a vague sense that beliefs came from the meaning we give meaningless events becomes beliefs. I realized that single events rarely led to beliefs. But it seemed to me that nothing happened the first few times the event happened, in other words, we didn’t attribute meaning the first few times we encountered an event.
For example, if mom and dad are critical of us because we are not living up to their expectations and they get annoyed or angry at us, it seemed to me that we did not give that type of event any meaning the first few times it happened. But after that same thing happened several times, we usually formed the belief, I’m not good enough.
About 25 years later I realized that we give another type of meaning that is very important in understand our behavior and feelings: How individual events occur to us, moment by moment. How events occur to us is the meaning we gave the events. So until recently I used the term “meaning” as synonymous with the term “occurring.”
I now have a clearer understanding of the distinction between meaning, beliefs, and occurring. Here’s the relationship between them as I understand it at the moment.
How beliefs are formed
During the first six years or so, before we have many beliefs, we unconsciously and automatically give meaning to most events as they happen. As I’ve explained on many occasions, events have no inherent meaning, so all this meaning is added by us.
What determines the meaning we attribute to meaningless events? Two things.
To some extent we have an evolutionary predisposition to assume the “worst,” to help us survive. Millions of years ago, before we had the ability to use reason, we understood reality via our emotions (the limbic system).
As I said in an earlier post:
Human beings seem to have a hard-wired “meaning making” mechanism that judges almost everything: conducive to my survival or inimical to my survival—for me or against me. One of the first words that children learn, and then repeat incessantly, is “why.” We need to understand what is happening and why so we can better judge the effect it might have on our lives.
When we heard a rustle in the bushes or saw something move on the trail in front of us, if we felt that we were in danger and immediately prepared to fight or run to safety, we had a better chance of surviving than if we waited to investigate. If the fear we experienced was justified because there really was danger, that split second warning might save our lives. If there was no danger and the fear was not justified, we lost nothing. But if we didn’t feel fear when we heard the noise in the bush or the movement on the trail meant nothing to us and there actually was a dangerous animal, the loss of the split second warning could cost us our lives.
So from an evolutionary standpoint, we had nothing to lose and everything to gain by assuming everything was a threat and feeling fear.
At some point we developed the ability to figure things out, and living circumstances evolved for most people in the world today to the point where we don’t need to make split second decisions to survive. Nonetheless, the brain structure that was created million of years ago to help insure our survival still exists.
As a result we still have a tendency to assume our survival is threatened (metaphorically speaking) and give “negative” meanings to moment-to-moment events. (I wrote a blog post years ago that explains how all of our negative emotions can be traced to a real or imagined threat to our physical or psychological survival.)
Our preoperational stage of development
But there is another, even more important, reason why most children tend to blame themselves—in other words, form beliefs that assume whatever happens to them is their fault—and form beliefs like I’m not good enough, I’m not important, and I’m not deserving.
Piaget identified four specific stages of cognitive development in children. The second stage, that he called preoperational, runs roughly from about two to seven years of age. During this stage children have only one point of view: their own. They can’t even imagine someone else having a different pint of view. They are totally egocentric, in other words, they imagine that everything revolves around them. Their motives are everyone else’s motives. As one website described this stage: “Since they know the world only from their limited experience, they make up explanations when they don’t have one.”
Given this stage of cognitive development, if mom and dad aren’t around when the child wants them or if they are physically present but not emotionally available, the unconscious “thought process” of the child is: If they aren’t giving me the attention I want, it’s because of me. If I were important, they would give me attention. If I’m not getting the attention, I guess I’m not important.
This unconscious and automatic process results in mom and dad’s lack of attention occurring to children as: I’m not important.
Initially this is not a belief. This is only the meaning that each individual event has for the child; this is how the events occur to the child.
After a number of similar events that have similar occurrings, children will generalize the individual occurrings (the meaning that a specific event has) into a belief, which is a feeling about “this is the way reality really is.” The belief becomes a filter through which the child views reality forever (or until that belief is unlearned, if ever).
Here’s another example: As a child mom and dad might not give you a lot of the things you want. So each event would occur to you as: I can’t have what I want. Initially this is a meaning you are applying only to each specific event. But after giving that meaning to many individual events, you might form the belief, I’ll never get what I want. This belief is not related to specific events, but is held as a truth about life, about the world.
So we start with occurrings, which ultimate lead to beliefs. Note that the initial occurrings are primarily a function of an early stage of development.
Why do most people have so many “negative” beliefs?
This explanation helps to answer the common question: Why did I give so many “negative” meanings to my parents’ behavior when I was a child. For example, even if my parents were around most of the time, why did I conclude I’m not important when they weren’t around?
Here’s my answer: You didn’t give meanings that are “negative.” To some extent you unconsciously and automatically gave meanings that were consistent with your evolutionary predisposition to assume that many of the events in your life (my parents are angry at me; I can’t get my patents’ attention; I can’t do what my patents expect me to do; etc.) meant your survival was being threatened. Even more so, however, the meanings were consistent with the stage of cognitive development you were at when you gave the meaning. As an adult we might describe I’m not deserving, I’m powerless, and other similar beliefs, as “negative.” They weren’t “negative” for the child; they were just the meaning that made the most sense to her.
Giving meaning as adults
Now we grow up and (hopefully) pass through the concrete operational and formal operational stages of cognitive development. We are now able to take multiple points of view and understand that our motives might not be the same as someone else’s motives; other people can and do view things differently.
As adults, events happen all day and if we look carefully we notice that we are still having occurrings throughout the day. Now, however, instead of the major source of our occurrings being our stage of development, it is our previously-formed beliefs.
For example, imagine that a woman forms the belief: Men are dangerous, based on individual occurrings with specific men as a child. As I said, this belief becomes a filter though which she views all men. Now imagine she is walking down a deserted street one dark night and suddenly a man appears and starts walking toward her. That event will probably occur to her as: He will hurt me. I am in danger.
Her belief about men is responsible for how this specific man and event occur for her.
Occurrings to beliefs to occurrings
So here’s the progression: As children we give meaning to events that determine how those meaningless events occur to us. Eventually we generalize those individual occurrings into beliefs. Then later in life those beliefs are the major determinant of our occurrings.
I now realize that the term meaning is a broader abstraction that applies both to beliefs and occurrings. In other words, beliefs are generalized meanings that filter the way we view all of life. Occurrings are specific meanings we attribute to specific events. Both beliefs and occurrings are meaning.
It is possible to unlearn beliefs using the Lefkoe Belief Process. It is possible to dissolve our occurrings as they happen using the Lefkoe Freedom Process. And because beliefs influence occurrings later in life, if we unlearn beliefs, we can influence our future occurrings.
I’m sure I’ll have additional realizations and make further distinctions in the future, but this is how I see the process today.
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Copyright © 2014 Morty Lefkoe