Core beliefs

Not infrequently at the end of an NVC process we are left with a ‘core belief’, a negative affirmation about ourselves or about reality which effectively blocks further change. The observation has been clarified, the feelings have been heard, the needs have been identified, but we are actually not much further forward. Tomorrow the same or a similar situation will upset us in the same way. Ideas such as “I always get it wrong”, “Nobody cares about me”, “It’s not safe to be who I really want to be”, “Girls should stay in the background”, “Boys shouldn’t cry” etc tend to paralyse our processes of growth and self-determination because they are held unconsciously. Even when a part of us knows these beliefs are not true, another part holds on to them, and our actions (or inaction) betray the power they still hold.

The part of us which protects the core beliefs is the wounded inner child. For the child, the core belief was a way of making sense of reality and of providing some protection in an unsafe environment. “It’s best to keep quiet and not say what I think” works well for the little girl who gets a slap everytime she opens her mouth. As a grown woman, it doesn’t work so well of course, and gradually other needs than safety come to the surface and struggle to be heard.

Core beliefs are hard to shift not just because they met needs in the original situation but because they were formed when we were just learning about the power of language to form our reality. They are deeply ingrained from this very crucial stage of development time when we were both acquiring verbal reasoning and making our first conclusions about how the world works. Most of them basically come down to a very simple and perfectly logical assumption: “I’m not good enough”. A conclusion which was inevitable when we were found wanting in oh so many ways by our parents and apparently were not accepted as we were. Even as adults determined to reclaim our true identity, and understanding that there was never anything ‘wrong’ with us, the nagging fear can remain buried deep inside  – “maybe they were right, I’m just no good really”. And from there it can sabotage our every effort to step into our full power and live the life that we long for.

I believe that a number of factors have to be in place if we are to effectively deal with the core belief problem. First and foremost – and this is a concept that I have not encountered in NVC circles – is that one thought-form can only be replaced with another thought-form. You can blow off the ‘steam’ that results from the workings of the core belief but you cannot transform it this way. Core beliefs cannot be permanently released on an emotional level, simply because the emotions are only the symptoms, not the cause of the trouble.
Another key recognition is that the old beliefs met important needs for the child who adopted them (often for safety or protection), and strong feelings are tied up with those needs and the situation which brought them to the fore. It takes courage to relinquish such talismanic beliefs without knowing that we can find other ways of being safe. On the other side of the equation – and usually more present to the individual seeking healing –  are all the needs which have been frustrated by the stranglehold of the core belief (often including freedom, connection, and growth). The discomfort caused by the separation from these needs can act as the stimulus we need to start changing the story. But ditching a core belief is not a step to take lightly. It’s like when a hermit crab changes shells. You need to find a new story and test it carefully before abandoning the old one.

The Transforming the Pain of Unmet Needs to the Beauty of the Needs process developed by Robert Gonzales touches on some of these issues, especially in the NVC Dance Floor version created by Gina Lawrie and Bridget Belgrave, where the ‘jackal thoughts’ are brought out into the open right at the start of the process. In this process, the thought processes which trigger the negative emotions (and thus the ‘unmet needs’, in NVC theory) are exposed for what they are (a ‘story‘), and a view is offered of how the world would look without them. (Of course many variations of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) also attempt to work on the level of changing thoughts, but they typically fail to take the feelings and needs into account and so do not bring lasting results). NVC trainers Nicole Leipert-Knaup and Irmtraud Kauschat have gone a step further by developing a very effective ‘dance floor’ called The Transformation of Core Beliefs, which adds the crucial steps of choosing and anchoring a new, life-affirming belief to replace the life-limiting old core belief. Kirsten Kristensen and Farrah Baut-Carlier have a similar but different process. And Byron Katie’s world-renowned Work is powerfully dedicated to exactly the same mission, just using different language.

I have combined what I think is the best of all these processes into a new transforming core beliefs ‘floor map’ which I trialled in 2015 and have been working with since then. It has at its heart the energy forms which we refer to as human needs and it includes the three main centres in the human organism where those energy forms manifest, namely as thoughts, feelings or actions. It celebrates the survival value of the old story and mourns the sacrifices which adopting that story has entailed for us. It loosens the grip of the core belief, puts all the needs on the table and explores alternative ways of meeting them all by creating a new story. In this way the process attempts to cater for all types of human response patterns,  encourages us to include and balance the centres and guides us to making lasting new agreements with ourselves which will better serve our needs.