Are your beliefs slowly killing you?

“I’m just a giver”

It was an innocent comment.  Chatting over tea one morning, my girlfriend Roberta* and I were sharing stories about our busy lives and the fact that we were both feeling a little overwhelmed.  She was explaining that she had gotten herself over-scheduled. At one point, she mentioned that “…on top of all that, I have to go pick up a cake for {my other friend}”.  Seems her friend was in a pickle and couldn’t find time to pick up the cake herself.   When I gently challenged her about why she offered to do that given that she was barely keeping it together herself, she simply said “She needed help… I’m just a giver”.

This wonderful person, who truly is a ‘giver’, is exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious and lives in a constant state of stress. It’s as though her kindness is slowly killing her.

Almost sheepishly, she added “I just don’t know how to say no“. Now, we both know she can say it,  but I’m pretty certain that saying ‘no’ is difficult for her. So, instead of challenging her again we both laughed, in a way that we do when we are right at the intersection of “oh wow, this is a serious moment, maybe we should talk more about it” and “let’s just laugh it off and hope neither of us noticed.” (I’m guessing you know exactly the type of laugh I’m talking about).

As I thought about our chat later it came to me: Roberta believes she’s a ‘giver’.  So, if she says ‘no’ then she’s not giving.  If she’s not giving, then that belief she has about herself – that positive belief – is possibly not true. So that might mean she’d have to adopt a new belief.  But what belief would that be?  “I’m selfish”? “I’m inconsiderate?” or worse?

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So she’s stuck. Stuck saying “yes” when she so desperately needs to say “no”.

And then I thought, we are all stuck.  Believing what we believe.  Often without questioning it at all. Or if we do question it, feeling that our options are limited to either believing something negative about ourselves, or not knowing what to believe – which is very probably the scariest option of all.  Because us humans, when faced with the unknown, very often stay trapped in a cycle of repeating the same behaviors over and over.  There really is truth to the old idiom: ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’.

Research tells us that our brains form attachments to beliefs about people, things and ideas.  Our brains are programmed to be biased to information that supports the beliefs it holds.  There are two main types of bias that our brains operate by: Confirmation bias programs our brains to look for and be attracted to information that supports our belief, and disconfirmation bias will often cause us to actively challenge or refute any information that suggests our belief is not true.

Isn’t it a good thing to have beliefs?  To believe something positive about ourselves?

Roberta has an emotional attachment to the belief that she is a ‘giver’, so the idea of doing anything that seems to be contradictory to this belief would be difficult, if not impossible. Her brain will practically not LET her look for or do alternative, incongruent things, or act in ways that are opposite to her definition of ‘giver’.

The definition of ‘giver’ may be very unique depending on the person, and on their experience.  But as a general rule, the following attributes might reflect what a ‘giver’ believes a ‘giver’ is:

  • Givers help others
  • Givers take care of others
  • Givers are NOT selfish
  • Givers are NOT takers
  • Givers say ‘Yes!’ when most might say no.
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Is it any wonder that Roberta is constantly exhausted?  Her internal belief system, her ‘inner GPS’ is constantly pointing her toward giving, giving, giving, and basically excluding anything that would suggest the opposite of giving.  How on earth could a ‘giving’ person ASK for help (aren’t they supposed to give help)? How could she say no (when givers say yes)? And there are always people in need – no shortage of them – so it’s too easy to make sure that others’ needs are being fulfilled (after all, that’s what ‘givers’ do!).

Unfortunately, Roberta’s situation is very common.  We all have beliefs about Beliefs are simply ideasourselves that inform what we do, say and think.  Some of these beliefs we are aware of and are relatively harmless (“I’m an animal lover”), others are more harmful but are still at the front of our awareness (“I just can’t do anything right”) and still others operate at the subconscious level but may have an even greater impact on our daily lives than we are even aware of (“I’m powerless”).

Think about the beliefs that inform your own life.  Do you know what they are? What do you hold to be true about yourself?

More importantly, what beliefs are helpful to you, and which ones are slowly killing you?

*My friends name is not Roberta, but Roberta is a lovely name 🙂


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