Written by therapist Melissa Del Carmen
Perhaps you have previously heard the phrase, “What you perceive is what you believe.” Time and time again, this statement has changed my perspective of how I looked at my own thoughts. When I noticed one of my thoughts and paid attention to it, I’d find myself naturally wondering about it and then somehow get lost in the process of thinking about my thoughts. It can be confusing to even conceptualize thoughts, I know. Some thoughts that come to my mind are: Did I always believe the first thought that popped into my head? This thought wasn’t very nice, is this true about me? This other thought makes me feel insecure. Is this how other people see me? Why am I thinking this way?
If you have ever gotten lost in your thoughts, maybe you have also experienced how they can go on and on without notice. We tend to get into a “trance” like state, not realizing how the non-stop train of thoughts are affecting us. This trance can trigger subconscious reactions that put us on autopilot as we live throughout our day. But what is to say that those thoughts and perceptions are always true? Should we always believe what we perceive?
Noticing Our Perceptions
What happens when there is one person who perceives life from a, “half glass empty,” perspective and another perceives it from a, “half glass full?” People can function from different perspectives. Our perspectives tend to work from a set of schemas that we have developed throughout our life. A schema is a framework for how you see yourself, others, as well as the events and situations around you. This framework is formed by former experiences and adjusts according to newer experiences.
Two people can view the same situation and yet have very different interpretations of what happened. The same glass of water can be seen in two totally different ways. This is where the idea of core beliefs play in. Core beliefs are the assumptions that influence how we interpret our experiences and react to them. A helpful way to think about core beliefs is like having on a pair of sunglasses that give us a lens for how we see the world. Some of your core beliefs may be helpful! Some may limit yourself and the perspective you might have.
Take this for example, say you meet a new person and think about asking them to grab lunch. If someone holds the core belief of, “I’m boring,” their thoughts will function from that lens and think, “why would they want to hang out with me?” This might then lead to the behavior of not wanting to ask that person out to lunch. The perception of, “being boring,” discouraged an opportunity for connection. Other examples of core self-limiting beliefs might sound like, “I’m unlovable,” or, “I can’t trust myself.” Similar to the glass half empty/full perspective, we can have core beliefs about others and situations such as, “most people can be trusted,” or, “the worst is bound to happen.”
So what do we do? Well, let’s first remember that our thoughts are not always true. Our thoughts are not always facts. Our thoughts can be subjective (functioning from our schemas and core beliefs). The next time you start to notice an unhelpful thought, examine it before it spirals into the deep roots of unhelpful core beliefs. Ask yourself, “what emotion is this thought bringing up for me?” and, “If I believed this thought, how might I behave in response?” There are different ways you can begin to build your awareness of your schemas, core beliefs, and how they’re playing a part in your everyday life. Thoughts have the power to influence how we feel and behave. Being aware of them, and also being able to identify them, is a great first step in understanding why our thoughts seem to be the way that they are.
Our thoughts can be precious to us. At times it takes vulnerability and trust to know if it’s even safe to share our honest thoughts. If you’d like to begin to notice and grow your awareness of your natural perspectives and core beliefs, please reach out to myself or one of the therapists here at Optimum Joy today!