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Down to the Very Core


“At the core of all well-founded belief lies belief that is unfounded.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty

At the core of each of us is a set of beliefs --"a repeating pattern of thought and behavior defined by our various assumptions and expectations, as well as our ideas about the way the world works, collected over time."[1]  These beliefs were formed in childhood, and throughout life we generally seek out situations where our actions reinforce our core beliefs --- which in turn, provides us with proof that our core beliefs are true --which reinforces the belief. It is a self-feeding cycle.

Core beliefs are elusive---they are in our subconscious--quietly feeding our feelings (which are a bit more easy to identify) information mixed in with so much misinformation you can not longer tell what is real.

Let me walk you through something that recently happened to me to help shed some light on one particular core belief I have been struggling with.  I have what I think of as a social anxiety and often feel anxious at the thought of having someone come to my house.  My hear rate increase, I feel irritable  and "snappy" with my kids and I suddenly notice every little thing that is out of place and rush to clean the walls or cupboards or whatever it is that I think will demonstrate I keep a clean house.  When they arrive I feel nervous and can't focus and when they leave I am utterly exhausted.  As a result of my anxiety, I don't have people over.....almost never.....as I want to avoid feeling anxious. I thought that it was pretty straight forward.

In therapy, my counsellor has been working with me, digging in to the dirt....trying to get to the core belief behind these feelings.  We started to work through my childhood and I recalled vivid memories of growing up in a very clean and orderly house. Not to say we didn't have a junk drawer or two and we certainly didn't have plastic over our furniture....but appearances were always very important.  Often, I would be asked to climb under our  substantial mahogany dining room table to polish the heavily ornamented legs.  I took such pride in polishing them to a shine every time company was coming for dinner.  As I got older, I learned to clean the hutch, the buffet, run the vacuum so that no footprints showed.  I took a lot of pride in how everything looked and I received encouragement from my mother and praise when I was done--unless I had done a rushed job--at which point I would receive criticism and disappointment. There were some days when I would clean the entire house and my mother would walk in and comment on the one thing not done "correctly" and I would feel my entire efforts were wasted.  
 
I watched my mom run a house, keep herself looking good, raise two kids (coach baseball, take us fishing, drive us to ballet or whatever else we were taking) while always having dinner on the table for my dad.  She visited friends, baked, cooked, preserved, played tennis, hosted parties, attended parties, had nice clothes and keep a very tidy house. She liked being the "cool mom" in the neighbourhood --and we always had and extra kid in our pool, great snacks, sleepovers,  and I could come home every day for lunch if I wanted.  She was (and still is) very proud of all her work to maintain her role as daughter and daughter-in-law and comments to me regularly on how highly she is spoken of by others regarding her home/clothes/appearance/generosity of her time to others.   I remember she hosted a party at her house 2 days before I got married and she got a new roof put on the house and had two bedrooms painted -- to ensure no one had anything negative to say about the place. (Funny story here about how my uncle went in to use the powder room and finding it occupied, travelled further into out house to find the second bathroom.  The door knob came off in his hand and he ended up locked in there yelling for help for 15 minutes until I found him. See, you can't think of everything..... )
 
Core Belief: Your value/worth is directly proportionate to how you think others see you

Just the other day I was visiting my mom after she returned from her 4 month stay in Florida. Having turned 70 this past December (much to her frustration and dismay)  there are things that get a little tougher to do when it comes to cleaning your house after it has sat empty over the winter.  For example, cleaning ceiling fans.  There are five of them in her house and while I was there I offered to clean them all.  When I was done my mom was very pleased and thanked me for the efforts.

Later that week we spoke on the phone:
"Thanks again for cleaning the ceiling fans."
"No problem."
 "I don't know why it was bothering me so much.  I mean it is not like people can even see dust on the top of the blades.  But, I guess I just know it is there and it will bother me."
"Yeah, I get it. I am a lot like that. But I guess I know where I get it!"
"Yeah I guess you come by it as honestly as me.  I got it from my mother."
"Really?" (You have to understand, my grandmother was 60 when I was born so I only knew her as this soft round woman who taught me to bake cakes and fed me peanut butter and marmalade sandwiches on brown bread.)
"Oh yes!  Grandma always said you should always have a tidy house, and keep yourself looking nice for your husband. She taught me to iron the pillow cases into small rectangles and told me never leave the house without your hair done.  She attended a finishing school for girls you know. 
And don't complain about your day when your husband gets home.  I mean, I used to have the gin and martini glass chilled waiting for your father when he came through the door."
 
My normal inclination at this point in the conversation would be to say as little as possible hoping it was not going to turn into a diatribe about my dad (they got divorced).  But here is where the backhoe showed up.
 
"So there were a lot of expectations to have everything just so?"
"Oh yes."
"And since you were a stay home mom, at a time when many women were starting to work more outside the home you must have felt the pressure to get it perfect!  After all, you had no excuse right?  You were at home all..... day."
"Exactly! I was at home for 26 years.  I had to have it all and do it well."

My core belief was that if I didn't have it all together...in particular a clean house...someone might notice and would judge me as incompetent and therefore I would have no value. 
 
Changing a core belief can only happen by shifting your point of view and through this conversation I was able to step back from my belief and look at the situation from the outside.  I could see that these were my mothers beliefs and her mother's before her.  My mom was the victim as much as I was.  And she passed on to me the only value system that she knew...the one she grew up with. 

“A daughter is a mother's gender partner, her closest ally in the family confederacy, an extension of her self. And mothers are their daughters' role model, their biological and emotional road map, the arbiter of all their relationships.”
Victoria Secunda
 
Suddenly I felt bad for my mom (not a common thing for me) and I could see how hard it must have been to try to meet these expectations herself (and she certainly had her own coping mechanisms) and they really are HER beliefs (or really her  mother's) that got passed on to her.  They don't have to be mine. 
 
When something is a core belief though, it is not so easily put aside.  It will continue to pour negative self-talk into your subconscious where it is hard to find.  Next step is how to face this challenge with more than just my shovel.   
 
So I am thankful for the occasional backhoe to give me a fighting chance.  And the fact that I could see it coming, recognize it and see it for what it is--the flicker of understanding.  And I will keep on digging.....
 
 

 

 

 

 

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