New Year – New Beginnings – New Beliefs 

 

A new year is always a time for new hopes and beginnings. And this is arguably true more this year than any other as we struggle to get back to some kind of normality after all that has happened in the past twelve months. Saying goodbye to 2020, it turns out, is not so difficult. 

What might be more difficult is saying hello to 2021. We may find ourselves uncertain of where we are going and looking for direction. Well, if we want to go somewhere new, it can sometimes help if we first ask ourselves where we have been. 

 

Our original beliefs  

One thing is sure: we all began our lives in a certain time and place. And although we may never give this a single thought, the beliefs we developed in our early years may play a greater part in our current lives than any other mental process. For the most part this is not a problem. But if we start a new year experiencing difficult feelings for one reason or another, addressing the beliefs we have developed over the years about our emotions could be crucial. 

Are we open to our own emotions? Do we feel our emotions do not make any sense? Do we blame others for the way we feel? Or do we believe the best way to manage our emotions is to chew them over all day long? The answer to these questions may form the basis of the beliefs we have learned to attach to our emotions from our earliest years; and these beliefs may still be playing out in the background, shaping the ways we deal with our lives day by day, and hour by hour. 

 

Stages of intellectual growth 

Just like a plant depends on the soil in which it is planted for its sustenance, our psychological survival was heavily bound up with the beliefs we learned to attach to our emotions from an early age. As children we had to learn how to handle the situation we found ourselves in: the interplay between our unique natures and our unique families. How did we make sense of this when our minds and brains were in their earliest stages of developments?  

According to Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, as children we made sense of it by going through a series of stages of intellectual growth in which adaptations and re-adaptions were made to our environment. As he says: 

Every response, whether it be an act directed towards the outside world or an act internalized as thought, takes the form of an adaptation or, better, of a re-adaptation.” 
(from The Psychology of Intelligence) 

Piaget uses the term ‘schema’ to describe this adaptation. A schema is a set of beliefs that helps organise information about ourselves – about who we are and who we are not. Schemas can be useful because they allow us to take shortcuts in interpreting the vast amount of information that is available to us. 

However, when schemas are applied to our emotions, these shortcuts can lead to difficulties. Our schemas can make it hard to retain new information that does not conform to our established ideas about who we are. The mental frameworks we have created about ourselves and our emotions from our early years can cause us to exclude important new information that is important to managing our lives and to focus instead only on things that confirm our pre-existing beliefs.  

 

Adapting our emotional schemas 

One way of confronting our difficulties is to ask ourselves whether our emotional schemas have become somewhat outmoded; and whether we need to adapt them to our current lives. A very simple example of an emotional schema is invalidation. From a very early age many of us will have been taught to think our emotions are not important. This belief system might have served its purpose quite well over the years as we crossed off important milestones in our lives but it is easy to see how this belief could undo us over time. If we do not accept the right to have feelings in the first place, then learning to manage them is going to be pretty tough.  

Invalidation is just one example of an emotional schema. You will find a list of 10 emotional schemas that may be causing you problems and how you can adapt them to your current life here.