Unfavorable situations, actions and emotional conflicts that happen again and again – same scene, different characters – are a great indicator of a negative inner “assumption” that was incorporated into your memory and behavioral system. It becomes reflected in your external world. (By “negative” I mean it’s ineffective for creating what you’d prefer to have in your life).
Some examples: picking the wrong lovers/partners, constant conflict with co-workers, chronic debting, consistent disappointments, and let-downs.
At best, these negative assumptions that form unfavorable patterns, cause frustration. At worst, they cause undue suffering, uphill struggle, poverty, isolation, illness, and even death.
The good news is: you have the power to change these negative assumptions/patterns and the attitudes that are derived from them. Below are some ways to begin shifting them so you can start establishing new, more “positive” (effective) patterns.
1. Become aware of the “Assumption”.
No matter how entrenched an assumption seems, the act of noticing it begins the shift away from continuing it and the damaging attitudes and behaviors based on it. Put simply, you can’t change what you’re not aware of.
One way is to observe what keeps showing up again and again. Watch for the unpleasant patterns of your life and ask yourself what assumption could be underlying that re-occurring situation and the ensuing emotions. The goal here is to notice, that’s all.
In this step, focus your awareness on just the facts and feelings of the assumptions. Don’t let your mind wander into the analysis of “why” you have them right now, for it will likely try to justify and defend the pattern. You can analyze later (see below); for now, just notice.
Also, ask people you trust to help you see the patterns, or work with someone who is adept at recognizing even the most complex of them. Our blind spots are called “blind” for a reason; we just don’t see them. But they’ll be clear as day to others.
2. Discover the Attitudes or “Coping Beliefs.”
Certain assumptions are the foundation of your experience and then attitudes become the structure that is built on that foundation. These are the “coping beliefs” that support your experiences around that assumption.
For example, a person experiencing unhappy intimate relationships may have a basic assumption that “Intimate relationships are fraught with hostility.” A following dependent assumption may be that “the best protection is flight.”
Attitudes that may follow are:
“My best protection from hostility is to avoid it”
“I must let others have their way or I will get hurt”
“I must hide who I really am and my real feelings or I will be open to attack”
“I must pretend to be weak or extra nice so as not to invite attack.”
Another example of the same assumption with other attitudes: A different dependent assumption may be that “the best defense is a good offense.”
Possible attitudes derived from this are:
“My best protection against hostility is to counter-attack immediately”
“I must be strong enough to defend myself”
“I must never show my weaknesses”
“I must be suspicious of the motives of others”; “I must get the upper hand so that nothing is taken away from me.”
3. Discover the Hidden Payoff.
Become aware of your own “coping beliefs” and the patterns they have caused in your life. For example, perhaps you’ve attracted partners with whom you’ve been on a roller-coaster of conflict or partners who are unwilling to commit, followed by ensuing painful break-ups.
The key to shifting negative assumptions and attitudes is to understand this: we don’t continue them unless, on some level, they are protecting us or pleasuring us. We have hidden “payoffs,” and they either help us get more of something we want or avoid something we don’t want.
For example, the person experiencing unhappy intimate relationships and attracting partners who won’t commit gets the payoff of “not being trapped” in a relationship that has conflict (just like mom and dad). Unfortunately, keeping that pay-off will never allow for a satisfying relationship of growth and healing.
4. Look for (and create) Positive Assumptions.
One of the best ways to disrupt the hold of negative assumptions and the attitudes that are wreaking havoc with your life is to be consciously willing to make a change. Be willing to give up old ways and look for new assumptions that have positive benefits.
For example, marriage or a committed relationship can be seen as a Divine Appointment to grow spiritually. Spend time with couples who do have a successful relationship, and notice the benefits (it doesn’t mean they never have conflict, but they know how to work through it in an honoring way).
Remember to see the big and little joys in relationships, so that you can start moving toward the pleasure rather than moving away from the pain. Notice the good things about yourself that make you a lovable partner—assume you are lovable; instill your own inner sense of worthiness and deservedness. You can’t receive more love than you are willing to give yourself. If you find self-love difficult to cultivate, be willing to work with someone to change your assumptions about yourself and life.
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