September 22, 2009

Why We Believe, Part 1: Are You Being Served?

In question number three of The Work of Byron Katie, "How do you react when you believe this thought?" we sometimes use a subquestion, "Why do you hold this (stressful) belief?" In other words, what is the payoff for holding that belief? How is that belief serving you? Is there a peaceful reason to keep this thought, one that does not bring you stress, suffering or pain?

Many times, a client's initial response to this subquestion is, "There is no payoff; it's not serving me." When I hear that, I ask the client to sit with that question for few moments and see if anything comes to them.

In my experience, we never attach to a stressful thought unless we believe it is going to do something for us. That "something" might not be a very good benefit, or it may be outmoded...but there always is some reason why we continue to believe what we believe, even if it feels terrible.

Here are some motives for keeping a stressful thought: (You may have others; if you do, and you'd like to share them, please write your motives in the comments.)

-I get to be right.
-I get to feel superior.
-I get a sense of control (over a person, a situation, the universe).
-I get to blame someone or something else for my unhappiness.
-I don't have to look at my part in the problem.
-I don't have to change.
-I get a sense of security or safety.
-I don't have to take responsibility.
-I get a purpose in life.
-I get to keep a familiar identity, a "me" by which I have always defined myself.
-I get to know something.
-I am protecting myself from future disappointment.
-I get an escape clause; I'm out of here!
-The thought may motivate me to do something. (Example: I think that believing "I am too fat" will motivate me to lose weight.)
-I will avoid further pain and suffering.

Some people don't like the word "motive." They think it is a "negative" word. I want to point out that I don't think having motives is inherently bad—a motive can certainly be sincere or for a seemingly kind reason—but it might also cause unnecessary stress.

In pointing out these underlying motives to the client (or to yourself, if you are doing The Work yourself), we are not setting out to make the client wrong for having them. A belief that no longer serves could well have served the client in the past. It may have been a matter of survival to believe, for example, "I'm not safe" if, as a child, you lived in a high-crime neighborhood, or if your parents were violent towards each other or to you. It probably kept you alert to some real danger. If you're applying it to your life now, when in reality you are just fine—and the belief causes you distress when it comes up as the story of a nonexistent past or future—
you may want to investigate the thought and see if you still need it.

What if you can't identify the perceived payoff? Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series: What We Believe: When the Payoff Is Hard to Find.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.


Bill Reinecke said...

Dear Carol,

Thanks so much for this that you wrote.

In particular, this: "In my experience, we never attach to a stressful thought unless we believe it is going to do something for us." That just startled me. That's it, isn't it?

You asked for other payoffs. Here's three from my bag of purple tricks:

1) I'll never become anybody/somebody or get where I need to get (socially, economically, heroically) without this thought.

2) Pity from others will make everything alright.

3) I can never afford to be as disgracefully inadequate as those I believe to be just that way.

Julie said...

I love that question. My answer is always lately is always, "The idea that...", mainly the idea that I can control things through behavior or fear.

Dale said...

another pay off: what ever the belief is, it gives me a sense of definition. It give me a "me" to identify with. It seems a sense of self accompanies believing. No belief - no self?

Dale said...

oh, now I see you already had that in your list.