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How Our Beliefs Affect Our Lives

by Penny Parks(more info)

listed in mind matters, originally published in issue 90 - July 2003


Humans differ from the animal world in many ways, but there is one major way that influences our lives dramatically. Humans have to make meaning of the things they do and the events around them, whereas animals simply function on instinct. You will not find a dog wondering 'why' he chewed a slipper or a cat trying to understand 'why' she likes to lie in the sun, but you will find all humans posing similar questions about the behaviour of themselves, others and about the world around them. We compulsively make meaning of our experiences and we start this process from the moment we exist.

When we have made the same meaning a few times about a repeated experience (or just once if the experience was traumatic), and have no new or conflicting information to compare our meaning to, our meaning then turns into a belief. Obviously the younger we are, the less information we have and the more likely it is that our beliefs will be incorrect and probably rather limiting.

The Author pictured with Rescuing the Inner Child
The Author pictured with
Rescuing the Inner Child

What you Believe is What You Get!

The mind has an interesting way of sorting information so that events are always matched to our resident beliefs to assist us to make sense of life. Therefore, on any given day, our brain is scanning every experience we have (down to the smallest details) searching for anything that could possibly match up with our existing beliefs. All information will be sifted, weighed and valued in a precise search for the material that gives emphasis or confirmation to our present beliefs. When a match is identified ("There's one!!") the brain collects it and accepts it as truth. Other information that doesn't fit is distorted or deleted.

Limiting or mistaken beliefs are nurtured and verified in the same way as good or helpful beliefs. If you have a belief running that states "I don't deserve happiness" then life will always seem to put happiness out of reach. Positive beliefs offer opposite results, where life seems to be handing out 'good luck'. Life is doing nothing more than giving us what we believe, our beliefs are creating good or bad 'luck' by getting us to notice the information that matches our belief and discounting the rest. Our beliefs create our reality, so basically we are creating our own 'luck'.

For instance, when someone believes "I am not good enough", every small or large criticism is immediately taken as a complete truth rather than just another's opinion. Even a raised brow can be interpreted as "They think I'm not good enough" rather than, "Hmm, I wonder if they have a query?" Every mistake is seen as evidence of 'not good enough' rather than simply an opportunity to learn. The brain is constantly saying, "There's one! See you are not good enough."

The good news is that the brain does the same diligent job with positive beliefs. So if you had the positive belief "I am successful", the brain would search out anything that could possibly fit in with that belief. Phrases such as, "You can do anything you set your mind to" would be eligible to match up. Of course, any direct positive comment will also be recognized by the brain as a match, "You've done well"; "That was a good try"; "You really have a natural ability for that". The brain says, "There's one!! That person thinks you are successful."

Creating a Belief and Matching

When Bill was a young child his mother, who had little patience and lots of pressures, would shout repeatedly, "Look what you've done now!"; "What on earth have you done that for?"; "How many times do I have to tell you…?!"; "Can't you get anything right?" With the insight and understanding we have as adults, it is easy to see that Bill's mother was probably taking out her frustrations on the natural mistakes any small child makes, perhaps simply demonstrating her own lack of inner harmony or useful parenting skills. From an adult perspective, we can see that Bill's mother is making a mistake.

Bill, on the other hand, is three years old and he does not have the information or knowledge available to adults. It never occurs to him that his mother might be wrong. So he makes what meaning he can from the experience – perhaps Bill reckons it means, "I can't get anything right". (He could just as easily have made a number of similar meanings, such as; I'm stupid; I'm always wrong; I'm not good enough; etc.) After a few repeats of the experience, the meaning becomes a belief, and, in this case, it is about Bill's identity because it includes the word 'I'. "I can't get anything right." Beliefs can be about identity (I can't…), or others (People don't like me) or the world around us (There is no safety).

As soon as it is a belief, Bill's brain starts to work to match up other experiences to the existing belief. Of course, since Bill's mother probably continues to demonstrate the same unhelpful behaviour, it is not difficult for the brain to find quick matches. However, the brain does not stop there. It searches out matches in any situation, so when other adults make comments or ask questions such as, "Bill, are you sure you want to go to the park? How would you like go to the lake instead where we can feed the ducks?", Bill's brain says, "There's one!! They are saying you can't get anything right." If Bill sees someone furrow their brow when looking at his jumper, his brain is likely to say, "There's one!! That person is thinking 'He can't get anything right. Look at the way he is dressed'." In reality, the person may have been innocently thinking, "my nephew has a jumper like that." That example may seem to be too vague for the brain to make a match with, but the brain is only looking for matches that can possibly fit in with the belief, it is not searching for facts. So, Bill's brain has done its job well by matching up his life experiences to his existing belief.

What the Brain Does with Information that Doesn't Match

Whatever doesn't match is simply discarded, the brain says ismissively, "That's not one", and throws it away. Imagine for the moment someone with the belief, "I'm not good enough". When the person hears the boss say, "You did well on that report"; or their partner say, "Dinner was really good"; the brain has to discard those messages because they don't match up with the resident belief. The brain says, "That's not one". That process is usually accompanied with justification thoughts such as, "He doesn't really think that"; "He's just saying that to be nice, he doesn't mean it"; "He only feels sorry for you"; "He says that this time but that doesn't count because he normally doesn't like it". There will be numerous reasons produced to show that the positive statement does not match.

You can imagine the frustration felt by those people who are genuinely giving positive statements to someone who will not believe they mean it. It is like talking to a wall. One woman's exasperated husband said, "Why are you so quick to interpret everything I say as something negative about you, but you won't ever believe the positive things I say and do?" It's because those positive things don't match her beliefs and her brain has to discard them.

Beliefs Take Us Forward or Hold Us Back

All of us have known individuals who seem to have most things needed to make a success of their life – intelligence, talent, humour, creativity – they may even have money. However, they never seem to get anywhere – we often scratch our heads in confusion and wonder why so much potential is never utilized. Nothing can stop us but our beliefs – when people have limiting beliefs they are unable to be pushed forward by their own attributes, instead they experience the old 'Yes, but…' syndrome. "Yes, but I still can't do it."

On the flip side of that, all of us have known of individuals who seem to have most counts against them – lesser intelligence, not particularly witty, lesser creativity, maybe they have poor health or a physical impairment and no money. However, when we see that individual get ahead in life – we often scratch our heads in awe and wonder how a person with so many strikes against him/her has accomplished so much. Nothing can stop us when our beliefs are positive – when people have positive beliefs they are unable to be stopped by their own drawbacks, instead they experience the 'Yes, but…' syndrome in reverse. "Yes, but I can do it in spite of my problems."

Negative Feelings

Most people think that their negative feelings are statements about reality, or facts, but feeling is not a statement of fact, only of emotion. Experiencing your emotions is not the same as accepting them as statements of fact about your own identity. Feelings express emotional reactions to beliefs. If one feels inadequate, for example, one can actively experience that feeling, realizing that even though one feels inadequate this does not mean that one is inadequate in every aspect of life. It would be more appropriate to say, "I feel inadequate," rather than "I am inadequate" for negative feelings are not a statement of fact, only of emotion. What you feel is not your identity – it is only who you feel/believe/think yourself to be at that moment. If a person were to suddenly allow all negative beliefs to dissolve, what would remain is who they really are – a rather magnificent being.

Negative beliefs that we have not sorted through our adult logic and reason will have been created/collected in our early years of life before we were able to discern that we were accepting something untrue and restricting.

So, if feelings express emotional reactions to beliefs, we can give our attention to negative feelings to discover our limiting beliefs. We could ask, "What belief might match up with those feelings?" or "What might a person believe about his or herself to generate such feelings?", "What does that feeling say about me?", "What meaning, about myself, do I give that feeling?"

Negative feelings can be signposts to limiting beliefs. Once limiting beliefs are discovered you are in a position to remove them. Once limiting beliefs are removed an individual is free to be who s/he really is – the person s/he would have been if limiting beliefs had not been created, accepted or implanted during childhood – for each of us was meant to be a person free to explore and expand our own personal potential.

Identifying Mistaken Beliefs

Being able to identify mistaken/limiting belief statements is of prime importance to anyone wishing to facilitate change in behaviour. To change unwanted habits or low self-esteem, to change lifestyle, to take responsibility for one's own health or to reduce stress responses, will probably need some sort of belief change, because what we believe creates the reality we experience. To change limiting beliefs which are deep seated, we are generally dealing with an area of great significance and meaning, and thus can be both fearful and wondrous at the same time.

Typical Mistaken Belief Statements

A small sample of limiting belief statements we say to ourselves in our thoughts.

No one really likes me.
I can't do anything right.
Settle for whatever you get.
I'm a bother.
People are laughing at me.
I'll never be happy.
Everything I do goes wrong.
I don't look right.
I look stupid.
I'm lazy, I never do anything.
Things have to be just right.
I'm unlovable.
I'm not good enough.
My feelings aren't important.
I will always be alone.
I'm not important.
I can never be safe.
No one can be trusted.
Feelings are unsafe.
My body is bad (dirty, ruined, etc.)
What others say is more important than what I think.
I'll never be anything.
Nothing good will last.
I shouldn't exist.
Rich people are never happy.
If I disagree no one will like me.
Only people who are really good get what they want.

Changing Beliefs

There are times when we experience a sudden and profound change in understanding and perception about a limiting belief we have held – 'the penny drops'. We think, "Oh, so that what it's really like." It may well be that some essential piece of information was missing and, when it was provided, the limiting belief automatically changed to something more helpful. Some limiting/mistaken beliefs just disappear in that manner.

However, many beliefs are not so readily changed. These are often deep-seated core beliefs around which we have built an elaborate system of other beliefs. These types of beliefs carry on through a person's life, holding you back from being who you would like to be and are a constant source of distress. Limiting beliefs cause anything from mild discomfort to extreme disruption.

There are different approaches directed towards changing beliefs. One common method is affirmation work. Frequently repeating positive affirmations to counteract the usual negative self-talk that accompanies mistaken/limiting beliefs. This can be very useful, but does require a lengthy space of time to complete the process. Other methods, generally found in counselling, focus towards giving information to the client about more positive ways of thinking or viewing their life or self. This too can be useful, but again, may take a lengthy space of time. When a client is unable to quickly apply what they have learned it can be very frustrating and can turn to self-blame (which probably fits right in with beliefs such as, "I can't get anything right" or "I'm not good enough"). It is important to remember that patience and perseverance will pay off and it is vital to be kind to one's self during the process.

As already stated, beliefs that we have not sorted with our adult reason and logic are beliefs that will have been learned in childhood. They are deep-seated beliefs that don't readily respond to 'adult action' methods, they remain in the 'child' part of us, and because they started fairly early on, often seem invisible to us. In other words, we wouldn't think of them as 'beliefs', instead we would think, "That's just how I am – that's just me."


Louise, aged 47, works at a Complementary Health Centre. She had experiences during childhood that left her with a cluster of limiting beliefs centred around the theme – "I'm not as good as others, I shouldn't expect to be really successful". Although she had a very sound and loving relationship, her professional life was not going the way she desired. For years she had worked to a much lower level of achievement than she and others could see she was capable of. She had dreams of what she would like to achieve, but was never able to put the dreams into action. She thought, "That's just the way I am".

After recognizing and changing her limiting beliefs through Parks Inner Child Therapy (PICT) therapy she has gone from strength to strength. She is now a busy practitioner, as well as a trainer and speaker. She and her partner are enjoying a new home with additional office space to keep up with her thriving business. Louise sums it up, "Getting rid of the limiting beliefs that kept me held back for so long is the best thing that has happened to me. I feel like I am now the person I had always wanted to be – happy, centred, strong and successful. I always knew I shouldn't feel like I used to, but I couldn't seem to stop it and thought that it must just be my lot in life. That is all gone now and I know that I can achieve anything I set my mind towards."

Inner Child Work

One common phrase we use that is an excellent give away that a mistaken belief is holding us back is: "I know I shouldn't feel (think, do) this way, but I do!" It is our adult logic (I know I shouldn't) at odds with our inner child feelings (but I do). When we make that statement we are feeling trapped with a feeling, thought pattern or behaviour that we can't seem to stop, even though we can clearly understand it isn't useful for us. At that point we generally heap a load of self-blame upon ourselves.

This is where 'inner child' work comes in handy. With specifically structured visualization techniques designed to address the child part, deep-seated beliefs can be quickly and easily changed. This method is the foundation of Parks Inner Child Therapy (PICT). Although originally created to address childhood abuse issues, PICT has become a useful therapy model for many emotional based problems – from simple belief changes to resolving major issues such as eating disorders, self-harm, compulsive behaviour disorders, etc. Therapists have benefited from the specialist skills available in The PICT Advanced Practitioner Training and members of the public have enjoyed the Changing Mistaken Beliefs workshop – learning a simple and applicable technique to assist their personal development.

Usually when we experience a reoccurring negative situation, feeling or unwanted behaviour in our life, it indicates that a mistaken belief is present and holding us back from being all we are meant to be. A mistaken belief may be contributing to our lack of self-esteem (I'm not good enough), our prosperity (Money is hard to get hold of), our relationships (I'll always be on the outside looking in), our success (I'll never be as good at this as others are), our support (I'll always have to do things on my own), our rewards (I shouldn't think too highly of myself), our friendships (People don't really like me) or any aspect of our lives where there is a repeating negative pattern.

Being able to notice that a mistaken belief is present is the first step to disconnecting it, because you immediately realize that it isn't yours – it is 'mistaken' not the truth. You may want to utilize affirmation work to shift from the mistaken belief phrase to a new positive belief phrase. That process will need repeating over time, but the results of changing a limiting belief are worth the effort. Of course, should you decide you would like assistance to work more quickly, there are PICT therapists and other counsellors/therapists available who work in different ways to change beliefs.


  1. Christopher Hill said..

    This is soulful information that needs to be soaked in and taking heed too.

  2. Jonah-B said..

    My college instructor linked me to this article, and I have to say that this is a wonderfully written and helpful piece! Every human being should know and understand the concepts you've beautifully articulated here.

  3. Christopher H, said..

    Reading this gives me hope that I can change the way I've felt about myself since I was a child. I'm glad to have read it.

  4. Cole Langenfeld said..

    I vacillate between the two worlds presented. This makes me see things in a different light.

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About Penny Parks

Penny Parks is a pioneer and expert in the field of childhood abuse, she is an American who has lived in the UK since 1982. Her work with survivors in England evolved into two popular books, Rescuing the 'Inner Child' (1990, Souvenir Press) a self-help book and The Counsellor's Guide To Parks Inner Child Therapy (1994, Souvenir Press). Her professional time is primarily spent training, presenting seminars and workshops, public speaking, life coaching and providing PICT Quick Change Therapy for individual clients. Mrs Parks teaches the PICT Advanced Practitioner Training to qualified counsellors or therapists desiring specialist skills to deal more quickly, effectively and humanely with trauma issues or emotional problems. She can be contacted at

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