A good part of my graduate work focused on the integration of psychology and spirituality and so, one of the lines seared into my brain at the time was this: You do not get to judge a clients’ beliefs. You are responsible for noticing when their beliefs are causing harm to themselves and/or others. I continue to remember this charge at least once a week since the work of a therapist involves some deep dives into peoples’ identities, which includes their ideologies.
“A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.” -Oscar Wilde
Navigating our beliefs feels like something many of us could have used more mentorship around as we grew; it isn’t uncommon for a person to arrive in adulthood carrying around beliefs like baggage from childhood simply because she didn’t know she could put them down. Therapy provides us with a space to hold and examine the things we’ve clung to for most of our lives. We may find we’ve outgrown some of our beliefs or they never really were ours to begin with. And sometimes, we discover that these inner truths, once used to guide us forward, now are used in a less helpful way.
I was once working with someone trying to figure out a way forward in a close relationship that had become fraught with tension and manipulation. We worked through a few ways to address these issues with the other person and when I offered that he hold the other person accountable for her painful words and passive aggression, he responded “I can’t just say that! It’s not respectful.”
His belief was that others deserve respect and it would be hard for me to argue that this is an unhealthy line of thinking. No, the belief isn’t wrong and that’s why it was hard to see past its validity and into how it was being unhealthily applied to the situation; as justification for not saying anything, the behavior that had partially led to this dynamic in the first place. It was time for this person to own what was his and ask her to do the same but this belief had kept that conversation from happening.
I wish the ending to this anecdote was that the conversation happened and the relationship vastly improved. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case; after a few more sessions, my client did begin this dialogue but his friend was not open to it and the two decided to go their separate ways but maybe this was better than the years of angst and struggle. Maybe this was an improvement. It was a change, an evolution and it helped my client evolve his belief: “People (including myself) deserve respect.”
And this is the power of examining what we believe, not that it leads to immediately happy endings but change, evolution, growth.
If you’re looking to explore the belief baggage you’re carrying around, we hope you’ll be in touch. It would be an honor to join you on this journey.