This is a huge topic, so this blog will be like dipping a toe into an ocean. Understanding our beliefs is fundamental to understanding our experience, but it is not always easy to become aware of them and change those that aren’t serving us well!
Certain core beliefs are essential, because they provide a conceptual framework that helps us make sense of the world. Beliefs can come from family, community, religion, the culture we live and breathe. They can make us feel safe and usually serve us well for a time. The problems arise when they no longer serve us well but have become so much a part of us that we can’t see how they are operating.
One of the things that make beliefs so hard to acknowledge and thus to change is that we don’t see them as beliefs! We see them as “the way things are.” Some core beliefs affect everything, much like wearing invisible prescription glasses. You can’t see or feel them, and since you aren’t aware that they are there, the option of taking them off or getting a new prescription doesn’t even occur to you. You just accept that what you see through those lenses is real and unchangeable.
So the first step is to recognize our core beliefs by being honest with ourselves and cultivating self-awareness. That can be difficult for anyone, but especially for ADHDers for whom self-awareness can be a challenge. But we also know that most ADHDers are up for a challenge!
Usually we can see others’ beliefs more clearly than our own, and that can help us become aware that the similar belief systems must be functioning within us. I vividly recall an incident that alerted me to the fact that what we see is determined by our beliefs: A few years ago I was in a graduate program with much younger students, many from other countries. One day a young man made a point of apologizing to me for offending me during that day’s class. He was clearly concerned.
But I had no recollection of the incident he mentioned or of having any negative sense about his contribution to the class. Since I would usually remember such a thing, I was pretty sure that he had seen something in my expression or body language that triggered one of his beliefs. Perhaps in his family or culture, when an older woman has a certain expression, it means they are upset with you. I tried to explain to him that I didn’t know what he was referring to and had no issue with him, but I’m not sure he believed me. He may have thought I was just being polite.
We are always interpreting what we see and experience through the lenses of our beliefs. It doesn’t seem to be helpful to look at a belief as right or wrong, true or false. A more useful distinction is to notice whether it is serving us well or not.
It is possible to ultimately let go of an old belief that is holding us back when we look squarely at it and see it not as reality but as a perspective that once served us but is doing so no longer. We can then choose to update it or let it go.