We could say that a belief is a generalization about something or someone. Whether they are actually true or not, accurate or inaccurate, empowering or limiting, we could say that beliefs are statements of how we think that someone or something is. Some beliefs might be held individually, and others can be held socially/culturally.
We can have beliefs about many things and areas of our lives, for example: “Dogs are friendly”, “Dogs are scary”, “Money is the root of all evil”, “God exists”, “God doesn’t exist”, “God wants me to…”, “God doesn’t want me to…”, etcetera.
We need many of our beliefs in order to be able to function in the world. For example, If I didn’t believe that, in general, people are going to respect transit rules, then maybe I wouldn’t be able to drive, because it would feel too uncertain or dangerous. Our beliefs especially influence what we do, think and say when we are operating on “automatic pilot”, without paying much conscious attention. They are the lens through which we look at reality.
Some beliefs can have a relatively neutral effect on our lives, such as “if I see dark clouds in the sky, it might mean that it’s going to rain”. Others can have an empowering effect, such as “if I try to pursue my dreams, I’m more likely to attain them than if I don’t try at all”, and others can have a limiting effect, such as: “No matter what I do, I’ll never be happy”.
Beliefs can sometimes act as self-fulfilling prophecies. If I believe that: “What’s the point of even trying? I will never succeed”, then I probably won’t try at all, or if I do, I won’t give it my all or I won’t persist long enough (learning from my mistakes along the way), and then the belief becomes confirmed and reinforced.
When we have limiting beliefs that aren’t really true, they can end up affecting our life negatively. EFT can be used to diminish “how true these beliefs feel”.
We could think of a belief as a tabletop, that’s supported by different table legs of evidence. Each table leg could be thought of as an emotionally charged memory that we interpreted as meaning that the belief was true.
For example, if I have a memory of being the only one to fail a Maths exam when I was in 3rd grade, maybe I interpreted that memory as meaning “I’m not smart enough”. I can use EFT to diminish and release the unpleasant emotional intensity that comes up for me now when thinking about that event. Once that memory stops holding an emotional charge for me, chances are that the belief “I’m not smart enough” won’t feel quite as true anymore.
Perhaps now the new meaning when thinking about that memory is that “it’s not that I wasn’t smart enough, it’s simply that I didn’t study as well as I could have”. So, it’s like we took away one of the supporting table legs for the belief “I’m not smart enough”.
The emotional charge around those “table legs memories” is like the glue that holds that belief glued to “the floor of our minds”. Without addressing that emotional charge, it can be difficult to let go of a limiting belief. It’s not as simple as “deciding not to believe it anymore”.
We don’t need to work on every single “table leg memory” supporting a “tabletop belief”. Thanks to the generalization effect, if we thoroughly work on a certain number of them, eventually the other table legs can collapse as well.
Anyway, how are these beliefs created? One of the typical ways they are created or reinforced is through “significant emotional experiences”, usually from our childhood, but sometimes even from before or after that time period. “Significant emotional experiences” are those experiences that, for any number of reasons, hold an emotional charge.
Beliefs can also be created or reinforced through repetition, for example, hearing an authority figure (a parent, a teacher, a news anchor, a priest, a TV character, etcetera) repetitively state that belief. Our family, culture, community and society also play a role in the creation or reinforcement of these beliefs.
It’s also worth mentioning that people on the receiving end of systemic oppression, such as racism, sexism, discrimination, lack of access to proper healthcare and living conditions, etcetera, are more likely to suffer from limiting beliefs. It’s not about “mindset” and “interpretation”. It’s important to validate those experiences and not dismiss them or attempt to minimise them.