You know the voice in your head? The one that provides a running commentary about what you are doing, how you are doing it, what’s happening to you, who you are, etc.? This running commentary (often made up primarily of judgments) comes from your mindset.
Your mindset is the set of core beliefs you hold about yourself and the world around you. And it is the biggest factor informing how you act and behave in the world, both in terms of how you treat yourself and how you treat other people. If we listen to what this radio station in our heads is broadcasting, it tells us all we need to know about our deepest beliefs about ourselves and others.
Referencing Our Beliefs
Our mindset doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. It is shaped by the events of our lives. These events either cement our existing mindset into place even further, reinforcing what we already believe to be true, or alter our mindset by introducing a new way of perceiving ourselves or others.
When we have a core belief that is embedded in our thought process, we automatically begin to screen the things that are happening to us through this belief. We automatically and unconsciously provide what are called references to support the thing we already believe to be true. Let me give you an example.
Perhaps you grew up in a family where many of your emotional needs went unmet and when you expressed a need, you were actively shamed for it and shut down. Over time, this created a core belief that it is shameful to need and that any needs you have make you worthless and unlovable.
You then carry this core belief out into a world full of people who have varying abilities to be responsive to the needs of others. As you go through this world, you have times where others are incredibly responsive to your needs. They are dependable and welcoming when you give them opportunities to support you. You also encounter relationships where others are not able to meet your needs, or your needs get ignored.
Which of these experiences do you think you remember? Which of these experiences do you take in as the most true? Most people will remember and give credibility to the events that reinforce their previously held belief – that is it shameful to have needs, and you are not supposed to need from others.
This is called referencing your belief because you are adding references that support and reinforce the belief you hold. When someone is unresponsive to your needs, you take that in as a reference. Their unresponsiveness reinforces your existing belief. This experience therefore feels like the truest truth about you and your needs.
The experiences where others meet your needs or welcome the opportunity to support you don’t count nearly as much. They do not reinforce your embedded core belief, so they are easily dismissed. On an emotional level, they do not feel as true, so they are overlooked.
Our Brain’s Bias
Unfortunately, as human beings we will, at times, not even see the positive events that are happening because we are so wired to look for references that confirm the negative biases we already hold. Worse still, our biases toward negative thoughts and beliefs are much stronger and more potent than our biases toward positive thoughts and beliefs.
This is because the threat center of the brain (the amygdala) is the alpha of the brain. Every other part of the brain is submissive to the threat center. When the threat center is active, all other parts of the brain say, “Yes ma’am,” and submit to the threat center’s orders because the threat center is in charge of keeping us alive.
Because the job of the amygdala is to keep us safe and alive, it is always scanning our environment for danger, negativity, or anything that might be perceived as threatening. As a result, our brains are hardwired to notice and remember negative events over positive events.
The sad but true reality is that you can stay safe and alive without ever feeling good. You can live a long life without joy or happiness. As a result, moments that prove that you are worthy, loveable, you matter, and are important are not as “sticky” for the brain as negative cognitions such as, “I’m worthless, I am not important, I don’t matter, I am not lovable.” These negative cognitions contain a sense of danger or threat to our well-being and that is what makes them more “sticky”.
That said, your brain does like and respond to positive thoughts and emotions. We will circle back around to that thought in a later post in this series. For now, we are focused on the fact that the threat center in your brain is biased toward negative interpretations of life events because its job is to help you survive.
You see where I’m going with this, yes? Sexual betrayal is an experience that is charged with negative emotions and a profound loss of safety that threatens our sense of survival. This makes it an incredibly “sticky” event that activates the threat center repeatedly. In next week’s post, we are going to look at how the brain responds to sexual betrayal, how that impacts our mindset and what we can do to help ourselves heal.
Braving Hope offers intensive help and support to address your mindset. Move from a state of powerlessness into a state of empowerment, and transform your relationship with yourself and others. Schedule a call to gain clarity in your recovery and explore whether Braving Hope is right for you.
About the Author:
Michelle Mays, LPC, CSAT-S is the Founder of PartnerHope.com and the Center for Relational Recovery, an outpatient treatment center located in Northern Virginia. She has helped hundreds of betrayed partners and sexually addicted clients transform their lives and relationships. Michelle is the author of The Aftermath of Betrayal and When It All Breaks Bad and leads the field in identifying and crafting effective treatment strategies for betrayed partners.
Braving Hope is a ground-breaking coaching intensive for betrayed partners around the world. Working with Michelle will help you to move out of the devastation of betrayal, relieve your trauma symptoms and reclaim your life.