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Transforming the Mind ~ by Peter Shepherd

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Primary Beliefs


The child's first transactions are with its parents, and having laid down the first 'reach and withdraw' bio-survival program with its mother, the second emotional-territorial program is imprinted at crucial moments of involvement with the father and others, mapping out the territory and who rules it, and the child's role in a hierarchy of authority. Future mastery and sympathy inclinations are developed and learning-cycles are begun. These first COEXs then, build on innate dispositions (the genetic 'archetypes' for activation of the neurological programs) with new learned adaptations to the infant's environment. The young child builds further on this start and attempts to get its needs met in a world that often seems hostile or unaccomodating to its needs. Because, often, those needs were not met, the child represses the feelings that accompanied them, and uses other strategies. The child is literally composing the script for its life when it forms these strategies into a belief structure, its own solutions and adaptations to the challenges of life.

In adulthood these largely unverbalized primary beliefs remain, but are repressed beneath a secondary belief structure, built up in later years (when language and the third semantic program have been imprinted) as new learning and perspectives exposed the shortcomings of behavior based on the primary beliefs.

When under stress, the person may begin thinking and acting in ways that are a response to primary and early secondary beliefs, rather than to here-and-now reality. Under stress, the repressive defenses of the upper 'thinking' brain (containing secondary beliefs) against the lower 'feeling' brain (containing the primary beliefs) tend to break down. Via the right-hemisphere, the primary beliefs are expressed in unverbalized emotions; in the left-hemisphere they are expressed symbolically, i.e. with deluded rationalizations, distortions and substitutions, inserted into the person's train of thought.

Outside of counseling, the feelings are unlikely to be released enough for a direct (unsymbolised) expression; also most people have less than full communication between the hemispheres to associate the emotional and symbolical expressions. In this way, the primary beliefs become activated but their expression remains outside unconscious; the person meanwhile cannot account for repetitive patterns of mal-adaptive behavior, thoughts and feelings caused by these negative COEXs (of associated primary and secondary beliefs, condensed experiences and disturbances).

“This is the way through to the spiritual path, and those who want to tread that path must at critical junctures have courage, and make the necessary effort.”

Because the infant forms its decisions mainly without words (except for 'imprinted' parental injunctions) any verbal descriptions can only be an approximation to the infant's actual experience: vague, changeable images, charged with emotion and unconcerned with the logic of adult waking life. Early decisions are made on the basis of concrete and magical thinking, rather than the conceptual and cause-and-effect thinking of the older child. They tend to be global and sweeping, of catastrophic importance, on the issues of survival, self-worth and keeping the love and attention of parents. When made under traumatic circumstances, the core of these beliefs tend to be such as:

I mustn't exist

I mustn't be myself

I mustn't demand

I mustn't say

I mustn't trust

I mustn't play

I mustn't be noticed

I mustn't be wrong

I mustn't get close

I mustn't feel

I mustn't refuse

I mustn't take

Fortunately a small infant cannot act on these beliefs and bring about the tragic outcome that a belief like 'I mustn't exist' would imply; however a child could do so, and the primary beliefs are therefore repressed by the child, and he incorporates in his secondary belief system, defenses and checks to prevent himself acting on the primary beliefs. A secondary belief is often a combination of two primary beliefs, with one keeping the other in check, e.g. 'I mustn't exist' combined with 'I mustn't get close', to give the compound belief 'It's OK for me to carry on, so long as I don't get to depend on anybody'. We need to be able to confront and accept (rather than resist) the charge involved; this is the way through to the spiritual path, and those who want to tread that path must at critical junctures have courage, and make the necessary effort.

Secondary beliefs are made within the third-program semantic mind (from about 4 or 5 years of age) and are therefore primarily verbal. Typically this belief system contains a huge collection of slogans, mottoes, generalizations, definitions, fictions and value-judgments that have been picked-up from parents or parent-figures and were either uncritically accepted or accepted under duress or at times of vulnerability. They may contain assertions that were either true or false, then or now, but may be untestable. A person's belief system reflects his cultural background as well as his own parenting and schooling; this may incur racial, social and sexual stereotypes, as well as a whole host of behavioral norms that differ from culture to culture. Importantly also, the person's installed 'script' also contains a set of performance demands, 'do's and 'don'ts that were imposed by the parents or parent-figures. The underlying Child motivation is to stay acceptable to the internalized Parent.

While much of this belief system may be valuable information and programming, some of it usually is not. When the grown-up person makes any move that would contradict one of the demands, he will often be able to hear in his head the scolding he would have received as a child had he disobeyed the original demand ('No, no! Only bad boys do that!'). Sometimes the person identifies with the Parent and projects this demand onto others ('Masturbation is immoral'). When someone says 'you' and means 'I', then what follows is often a statement from the person's belief system ('If you don't get it right first time, you should keep on trying, shouldn't you?').

Demands on a person and demands he makes on others are seen as ideals to which he feels obliged to conform. When such an ideal conflicts with a basic belief the person has about himself, then a structural conflict results: 'I should be powerful; I am powerless'. The person oscillates back and forth, persuading himself that he is powerful, failing in some way to prove that and then returning to that belief. Very often the belief is too painful to confront, so the person rationalizes and considers it is reality that conflicts with the ideal, not him - that he is a victim of circumstances and the effect of others. To get around this, he attempts to manipulate and control reality (his own behavior and that of others) either to prove that the ideal is true, or to prove that it is not his fault if he cannot match the ideal. The problem is not the belief itself, but the refusal to accept it and the painful manipulative strategies that result. In fact the only solution is to learn the objective reality and accept the belief; without its attached charge (efforts to resist) it is powerless. The effort to resist something gives it implicit power and persistence.

The following are examples of (usually repressed) beliefs, and strategies the person may enact to reduce the conflict:


I am powerless. Set it up so as to be a victim.

Overpower people; get them before they get you.

Assign power to others; I can't do it.

Manipulate people (they have the power) so you get what you want.

I need to control myself Limit feelings, thoughts and actions

Get others to control you by acting out of control.

Live according to lots of rules - don'ts and shoulds.

Create visions of terrible consequences of your actions.

I am unworthy. Seek approval; do things a worthy person would do.

(Subconsciously) arrange to be rejected.

Call attention to your own faults.

Become center of controversy - how do people accept you?

Leave situations before others find out you are unworthy.

Interpret things as being 'about you'.

I can't trust. Go it alone; make things predictable; demand guarantees.

Be very careful; make rules.

Cheat. Set-up others to fail.

Set-up something to destroy it or test it.

Look for ways that someone is untrustworthy.

I don't belong. Be odd, weird or objectionable.

Make sure you have a place and a role.

Be conformist; do things so you won't be thrown out.

Be a hermit even among other people.

Act like a jerk, so you're no threat.

Cling to a group; consider outsiders 'not like us'.

I don't have the capacity. Build up an enormous amount of work to do.

Only try things that you know you can do.

I'm not good enough. Don't try. Over-achieve (e.g. 3 or 4 Ph.D. degrees).

Dismiss acknowledgement as not being true.

Suspect any achievements that don't need sweating blood.

I need to be perfect Never begin. Over-prepare for occasions.

Find fault with others, so you're not the only one.

Only my way is right. Rigid commitment to one way of doing things

Promote a belief to save other people

Do it another's way and fail, so have an excuse.

Concentrate on how it's being done rather than whether.

One of the pitfalls of therapy is that the client may feel an obligation to change himself in this way, to match an ideal or 'hidden standard' that conflicts with an underlying belief about himself or idealization - a 'hidden standard'. Until this standard is exposed his gains will be short-lived, as manipulative strategies (reversing from one side of the conflict to the other) will undermine them.

The imposition of such standards and ideals is often the result of another determinism affecting the person - he is identifying with another's view of the way he should be, the things he should do, or what he should be aiming for. The other person may mean well, but effectively the identity of the person affected is being suppressed. He is not self-directed and wholehearted, working towards goals that are genuinely expressive, but nevertheless he feels pressured to match-up to the ideal set for him, so he is likely to remain in the telic mode and become anxious easily when problems arise.

To get out of a problem situation, because he has a conflict of interests, he may find himself mishandling the situation and effectively committing what he feels to be bad actions. These are then kept secret, causing further alienation, and he then feels the need to find motives for his actions (or lack of action) that he can justify. If the justification is dubious, he has now backed himself into a corner and as a solution, adopts the viewpoint of himself being right and the others being wrong. He believes this himself and the justification becomes a fixed idea, a solution he can use repeatedly if necessary, and a new part of his belief system.

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