System of Beliefs
What is a System Of Beliefs and how does it relate to anxiety disorder?
Anxiety is caused by apprehensive behavior.
Behavior is defined as: the way a person thinks and acts.
Apprehensive is defined as: fearful that something bad or unpleasant will happen.
If anxiety is caused by apprehensive behavior, what causes a person to behave apprehensively?
To answer this question, we need to provide a little background.
From the moment of conception, the baby's body begins to develop. In as little as three weeks, the baby's brain, spinal cord, heart, and other organs begin to form. At approximately ten weeks, the baby's brain begins to function. It's from this point on that humans begin learning.
Humans are learning machines, and we can learn at a very fast rate, especially during our early years. In fact, research has shown that we begin learning even while in the womb. More on this in a moment. This learning shapes the person (character and personality) we become AND largely determines how we behave.
As we process information, including that from our inner self (thought-life), what we observe and feel in and on the body and through our senses, and the outer world (the environments we live in and the people, situations, and circumstance we encounter and interact with), we shape, what we call, our System Of Beliefs (SOB).
Much like a computer that operates based on how the software’s Operating System (OS) is programmed, humans behave, for the most part, based on how we have programmed our SOB. While computer programmers program a computer’s operating system, which tells the computer how to behave, humans program their System Of Beliefs themselves…as they live.
For simplicity sake, our SOB can be organized into three main categories:
- Attitudes (also referred to as Preferences)
Each of these main categories contains subcategories, which we address in a moment.
Depending on the source, there can be many more main categories and subcategories that make up our SOB. But for this application, we’re going to use only these three.
Values – values are the notions of good and bad/right and wrong. In Values category, we have two subcategories called ‘Good/Right’ and ‘Bad/Wrong.’
Beliefs – beliefs are the notions of true and false. In the Beliefs category, we have two subcategories called ‘True’ and ‘False.’
Attitudes/Preferences – attitudes/preferences are the notions of like and dislike. In this category, we also have two subcategories. They are called ‘Like’ and ‘Dislike.’
These main categories can be illustrated as:
NOTE: For brevity's sake, from this point on we’re going to use Preferences rather than Attitudes/Preferences.
As mentioned previously, shortly after we’ve been conceived and the brain starts to develop, we start processing information, arriving at conclusions, and sorting these conclusions into the three main categories of values, beliefs, and preferences, and then into each relative subcategory. These conclusions begin to form our System Of Beliefs (SOB).
Here is an example of how that might unfold:
Research has shown that unborn children can recognize the voice of their mother and of those who spend time talking to them while they are in the womb. Unborn babies recognize voices and make associations with them as part of the processing, attribution, and memory process. When the child is born, he/she knows the familiar voice.
My (Jim Folk) wife and I witnessed this first hand. When our youngest daughter had her twin boys, the moment she spoke to her first born, he turned his head toward her showing that he knew and felt safe with her and favored her interaction. But when anyone else spoke to him, he didn’t turn his head or show favor.
In this case, this son, while in the womb, learned that his mother’s voice was ‘Good’ and, therefore, responded favorably to it. This conclusion and its related conclusions were filed into his developing SOB - in the Values category as ‘Good,’ the Beliefs category as ‘True,’ and the Preferences category as ‘Like.’ From these conclusions, he behaved (thought and acted).
So even in the womb humans are learning and developing their SOB.
The process of constructing our SOB is even clearer when you watch children grow and develop. Very soon after they are born, they will let you know what they want; when they are uncomfortable, hungry, tired, and feeling comforted; and so on. All of these behaviors demonstrate that processing has or is going on, which results in the type of behavior they exhibit. And based on their life experience, processing continues.
For example, if a child is given something that tastes good to him, such as mashed pears, he might conclude he likes mashed pears. Based on that conclusion, he may cognitively rate mashed pears as a ‘Like’ and file that conclusion in the appropriate ‘Preferences’ subcategory. Whenever mom gives him mashed pears, he’ll respond favorably because he has previously concluded he ‘likes’ mashed pears. So mashed pears become a ‘Preference.’
But if he is given something he doesn’t like, such as mashed green beans, he’ll file that conclusion under ‘dislike’ in the ‘Preferences’ category of his SOB. Whenever he is given mashed green beans, he may rebel because he previously concluded he doesn’t like them. And so on.
Our SOB is constructed based on the conclusions we make about our life experience. From those conclusions, we behave.
As we grow and develop, every thought we have is filtered through and influenced by our SOB. This process can be illustrated as:
This process is much more complex than what we’ve described, but the bottom line is this: Our SOB is constructed from the conclusions we make about life. Then, the conclusions contained in our SOB heavily influence our behavior.
Humans shape and modify their SOB as an on going process. There are, however, a few considerations to keep in mind:
Values - the notions of good and bad/right and wrong, once determined, are difficult to change. While we CAN change them, they most often take a lot of work and convincing.
Beliefs – the notions of true and false are still resistant to change but are easier to change than values.
Preferences – the notions of like and dislike are the easiest to change. In fact, we change them all the time.
Here are some examples:
If we grew up in a home where we were taught murder is wrong, most likely we’d believe that murder was wrong - that conclusion would form part of our SOB in the Values category.
If we grew up in a family that taught all humans are equal - and if we believed that was true - that belief would become a part of our SOB in the Beliefs category.
If we liked the taste of vanilla ice cream over chocolate ice cream, that conclusion would become a part of our SOB in the Preferences category. Whenever we were served ice cream and had a choice between vanilla and chocolate, we’d choose vanilla.
And so on.
These are just three examples of a multitude of conclusions we could make that, then, populate our SOB with information, which we then draw on to make decisions with.
If someone challenged our views about murder, most likely our conclusion wouldn’t change unless we were presented with a strong case to change that conclusion. For most people, it would have to take a lot of convincing to change this Value.
If someone challenged your Belief about all humans being equal, that would still require a lot of convincing. But, it wouldn’t require as much convincing as it takes to change a Value.
If someone challenged your preference for an ice cream flavor, however, it wouldn’t require much convincing. All the person would need to do is give you a flavor you liked more than vanilla.
And so on.
Values are stubborn to change.
Beliefs aren’t as stubborn to change.
Preferences are the easiest to change.
It’s worth noting that all of the above – Values, Beliefs, and Preferences – are constructed from opinions based on the conclusions we make about life. Therefore, our SOB is based on personal opinions, not facts. Yes, we could have used established facts to form our opinions, but our SOB is based on opinions...our personal perspective about life.
These Values, Beliefs, and Preferences aren’t hardwired into our DNA or biology but opinions based on the conclusions we made about life as we experienced it. Certainly, the environment we grew up in plays a major role in the experiences we have and the conclusions we draw. Nevertheless, our entire SOB is made up of personal opinions. And based on these opinions, we behave.
Now that we have this foundation, we’ll next talk about beliefs and anxiety disorder - and how beliefs drive anxious behavior.
Recovery Support members can read Chapter 5 for more in depth information about our System of Beliefs and how they influence our behaviors.
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder coach, counselor, or therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.
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Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated January 1, 2019.