When beginning to unpacking a belief I like to divide a paper in half or put two papers side by side. Remember to work on one belief at a time. While working on that one, it is likely that other beliefs, which are woven into the one you are currently examining, will pop up. Belief systems are complex and often contain multiple interconnected sets of reasoning. That is true in general of belief systems.
When you are dealing with belief systems designed to trap people they tend to use the above mentioned structural characteristic plus circular logic and emotional land mines to make it very difficult for people to clearly understand the logic of what they believe and why.
To help pull these beliefs apart, when you find one of these additional underlying beliefs, write it down on another paper. Look at it separately. It may be something you have already worked through and changed. If so it can help you notice where there is a hole in the scaffolding of the belief you are currently working on. In other words it is coming up because it was woven into the structure of the belief you are trying to take apart. When you already know that you disagree with it and know your reasons why it weakens the foundation supporting the one you are examining.
Or it could be that the second belief to come up is something else you need to take apart. If so putting it on another paper gives you room to examine this other belief. It could be that this underlying belief is a big one for you. You may want to switch to working on this one first and come back to the original belief afterwards.
I encourage you to use this tool with flexibility. Work where you feel the strongest pull at the moment. For you it may be to work where it feels easiest and you can move quickly through it. It can strengthen your readiness to work on the more challenging beliefs when you have unpeeled some of the simpler supporting beliefs. Sometimes it can mean tackling the major beliefs that feel big and complex. When you have taken the big one apart, and processed your emotions around it, many of the little ones may be ready to tumble apart like a house of cards.
On the other hand, it may entail stopping the logical process and instead dealing with your emotional responses. (See Recovery and Self-Care) Remember emotional coercion has likely been part of your indoctrination process. Therefore it will likely take as much or more work to process your emotions around these beliefs as it will to unpack the thoughts surrounding them.
Breakdown-7 Steps of Unpacking Belief Systems
For example, I had a triggering belief come up when I decided to be interviewed on the podcast, “What Should I Think About?” created by an ex-Jehovah’s Witness and his daughter. The words that jump into my head when I think about putting myself and my voice out into the world are, “Don’t do it. Putting yourself ‘out there’ is dangerous and shameful.”
In this case I wrote the example of using this system in bullet points instead of columns with my belief changing process in a paragraph below. The points in the paragraph can be laid out side by side with each of the numbered points of the trigger.
Thoughts and Emotions During Trigger-
Part 1 “Putting yourself ‘out there’ is dangerous.”
- I am not ready
- I am afraid if I move into public visibility before I am ready I could do more harm than good
- The work is not ready
- I am afraid I may undermine my intention if I put out poor quality work
- It is dangerous to do this outreach if I am not ready
- As cult survivor I am afraid of allowing cultic energy into my work
- I am afraid about the above
When I look at the above fears about doing the podcast I notice that I have worked hard on number 1 and 2 during the last 20 years. My work and I are not perfect…and we never will be. As for number 3, yes I am afraid about the possibility of my work having cultic energy. I believe what I can do about that is to remain vigilant, and have agreements with my family and community to watch my back. I have people to give me feedback and tell me the truth if they are afraid about something I am doing. I am ready enough to move forward.
Part 2 “Putting yourself out there is shameful”
- Females are not supposed to put creative work into the world
- Jehovah’s Witness teaching about females God-assigned place
- I changed this belief a long time ago…but my mother didn’t
- My mother is a born-in Witness and believes this teaching
- As an active Witness she is likely to be ‘shamed’ by other JW’s for what I do…especially publicly
- I am sad that my mother is still trapped in a system that shames powerful females
- Females like she and I both
- I am sad she will likely have consequences because of my actions and the JW belief system
- I am angry about the abuses and control the JW organization exercises over their members and their families
The shame that my mother is likely to feel and have put on her by the Organization is real. There is nothing I can do about that. What I can do is notice my feelings and continue to process them. I can also move forward anyway. I am angry with the trapping system where my mother and I have been caught. I am angry at the abuses and coercions I witnessed and experienced in this organization. I have been processing this anger and sadness for many years. I decided a long time ago that I am not going to let my sadness about my family stop me. I also decided what I can do about my anger is to speak out about what happened to me and what I saw happening to others.
The above example is a trigger I have worked through many many times. It is something where I already have answers worked out. It is not anywhere near this easy the first few times you go through a belief. When I was first working through this I spent a long time on the process of separating from the shame I was taught to feel. That for me was particularly around hurting my family with my actions and the consequences from the organization for my parents. The other big issue I had for a long time was my incredibly intense anger with the group and my fear about the ways that anger might compromise my efforts to do my intended work in the world.
The main point of this process is to help you notice what you have been taught to believe and to take that belief apart with logic and emotional process. The goal is to notice what have you been taught and what you believe in your authentic self. In other words to reality check the beliefs implanted by looking at what makes sense using logic and broader sources of information.
In this process the other goal is to look at your emotions surrounding these beliefs. Emotions let us know about how we are experiencing the world around us. When we are able to look at what our emotions are telling us then we can decide what to do about it. When our emotions are telling us something we have been trained to believe by a trapping system, like the shame in the above example, we can use our logic to unlock that training. In essence we can train ourselves to access our authentic emotions and release the manipulation of the cultic group.