How Negative Core Beliefs Develop, Tony Roffers, PhD
Asha Clinton, LCSW, Ph.D. proposes that negative and dysfunctional beliefs develop from trauma. She further suggests that we can transform these dysfunctional beliefs by (1) treating one or more traumas underlying the belief, (2) treating the negative belief itself, and (3) instilling a positive or more functional belief in its place.
Treating trauma renders the client less vulnerable to being triggered into dysfunctional behavior by current life events. Transforming negative and limiting beliefs into a positive, more realistic beliefs enables the client to get on with his or her life without repeating the old behavior patterns because he or she no longer engages in the negative self-fulfilling prophesies that dysfunctional beliefs engender.
Dr. Clinton has developed a form of Energy Therapy called Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT) to accomplish this and more. I have found AIT to be faster and more thorough than traditional forms of cognitive behavior therapy such as Ellis’ Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) which I practiced for over 20 years.
What follows are my answers to the following questions: How do negative, limiting or dysfunctional beliefs develop? What does trauma have to do with these beliefs? Can the field of hypnosis give us any clues for how negative beliefs develop? How can Advanced Integrative Therapy be used to transform dysfunctional beliefs into more positive functional beliefs and behaviors?
Conscious & Subconscious Mind, Michael D. Preston, Ph.D. (1989) proposed that the brain is divided into the conscious and the subconscious mind. He claims the conscious mind gathers information, impressions, and experiences and analyzes them by using “believability, importance, and truth” as the criteria for admitting them into the brain’s memory bank for future use. The subconscious mind then uses this information to regulate bodily functions and emotions. Dr. Preston states, “The conscious mind deposits and the subconscious mind uses.” (p. 86)
For our purposes, the important point that Preston makes is that when the conscious mind is operative and “dominant” it uses its powers of reasoning, logic, evaluation, and deduction before depositing the information in its memory bank for use in the future. He claims that all information is stored, but most of it is delegated to the “junk yard” of the memory bank. If the data is not judged to be believable, important and true by the conscious mind it is refused for future use.
The subconscious mind functions differently. It operates primarily as a “transmitting station” by sending messages from the memory bank for the perpetuation of healthy physical, emotional and spiritual functioning. “The subconscious directs the brain into activity by feeding back prior acquired data or commands. These commands may be presently formed or they may be long standing and triggered by a given event.” (p. 87)
In our normal life, the conscious mind is in the dominant filtering position for what gets into the memory bank, while the subconscious mind is primarily directing the brain’s and body’s activities from the data that has been stored as believable, important and true.
When Trauma Occurs
What happens when our conscious mind loses its ability to evaluate our current circumstances rationally? When we are not able to analyze data according to whether or not it is believable, important or true, our subconscious mind becomes the new filter or gate keeper for what enters our memory bank. In other words, when the conscious mind is dominant it continues to use its favorite criteria for what it will let in to the memory bank. As the conscious mind loses its dominance, the subconscious mind takes over its functions.
Dr. Preston believes there are primarily two sources of this changing of the guards: “First, when the individual is exposed to a traumatic or stressful situation, and second, by design.”
In the first situation, the more intense the trauma, the more extremely and completely the conscious mind shuts down leaving the subconscious mind in charge, not only as gate keeper for what it lets into the memory bank, but also as the chief operating officer. In other words, the more traumatic the event or series of events are, the more overwhelmed the conscious mind becomes and leaves everything up to the subconscious mind. Dr. Preston labels this first source “unintentional, spontaneous hypnosis”. (p. 87)
In essence, traumatic experiences are spontaneous and unintentional hypnotic inductions that create a dominance of the subconscious mind in the traumatized individual. It is important to note here that children are particularly prone to enter into this hypnotic state because their deductive reasoning and rational powers have not yet been fully developed.
The second situation where there is a changing of the guards from the conscious mind to the subconscious mind is when a person is hypnotized “by design”. The hypnotist intentionally has the subject close their eyes and uses suggestions of relaxation, guided imagery, paradoxical statements or confusing auditory stimuli, etc. These and many other techniques are very effective in disarming the conscious mind from its gatekeeper role. Just closing the eyes reduces our conscious awareness by about 13%. Focusing a client’s attention on relaxing certain parts of the body reduces the person’s awareness of outside stimuli to other parts of the body. As awareness of outside stimuli is reduced, a deeper state of hypnosis is achieved. This state of hypnosis brings the client’s brain waves into a frequency where the subconscious mind is dominant. A third source of this change can be when the person is under anesthetics or certain chemical substances that relieve the conscious mind of its normal functioning.
How Does Trauma Influence Our Beliefs?
When a hypnotic state is present, the conscious mind loses its ability to filter incoming information with its usual rational criteria of believability, importance and truth. The subconscious mind is left not only to gather and filter the incoming information but uses it to form commands to the brain for how to act but also for what it believes.
Unfortunately, the subconscious mind cannot exercise the same analytical, cognitive, or deductive reasoning over the information that is coming in as the conscious mind does. The subconscious mind is vulnerable to taking in things that have no basis in truth, are not important or accurate, and are quite unbelievable under normal conscious awareness. While in a state of hypnosis a person can retain some ability to reject some incoming information but this capacity must be exercised almost immediately or it is lost. This loss of capacity is particularly true in traumatically induced inductions because of its severity, suddenness or shock effect. It is also true when the trauma is a recurring trauma early in life. Dr. Clinton identifies this type of trauma as a “developmental trauma” that takes place over time early in one’s life.
Developmental traumas are traumas that are repeated in the same or similar form, many times in a person’s life. As mentioned before, these repetitive traumas are particularly prone to produce a hypnotic state early in life because children’s analytical capacities are not yet fully developed. As a result, a child whose father is particularly cold and withdrawn over many years can result in a developmental trauma, not only adversely affecting the child’s behavior, but effecting the child’s beliefs about himself. For example, “I’m not worth being with or being listened to.” These developmental traumas are subtle in how they create negative, dysfunctional beliefs. In the case where the father calls his son a “stupid idiot” concurrent with suddenly slapping his face, it is easier to see how the shock (trauma) of the son having his face slapped by his father becomes the spontaneous hypnotic induction that makes the son believe he is a “stupid idiot”.
This negative and inaccurate belief can limit a person’s life so they never challenge themselves intellectually. I have had clients who have doctoral degrees from reputable universities still thinking they are stupid and worthless. They have been spontaneously and unintentionally hypnotized into believing what the conscious mind would have filtered out as unbelievable and untrue if it had been operative at the time. Traumatic incidents or developmental traumas render a person’s conscious mind inoperative and so the untrue belief gets inside the memory bank. The subconscious mind was left in charge due to the trauma and did not have the criteria to screen it out.
False statements, suggestions, accusations or subtle non-verbal gestures by a parent are taken as true by the traumatized child. Leaving people like my intelligent adult client believing he would be a “stupid idiot” the rest of his life, whatever his achievements.
When the conscious mind is primarily operative it analyzes any new incoming information or impressions on the basis of what it has previously stored and knows to be accurate and believable. The subconscious, however, tends to accept anything. “Each and every suggestion accepted by the subconscious mind is recorded as true in the brain’s memory bank.” (p.90) Preston believes that it only rejects information that is against survival or, in the adult’s case, the person’s moral code. Even these criteria, however, are challenged in the event of severe trauma.
What is particularly damaging is that the beliefs or images that get into the memory bank while the subconscious mind is dominant cause the conscious mind to transform itself to fit that belief or image. In other words, if a child experiences trauma and the subconscious mind has let in a parent’s accusation that the child is a failure, this belief can influence the child’s conscious mind into believing he is a failure. This results in the child feeling and behaving in alignment with that belief, often without knowing why.
I once observed a hypnotist perform at a state fair on a cool cloudy day. He hypnotized a volunteer and promptly suggested that after he took him out of the hypnotic state he would become extremely hot when the hypnotist smoothed his hair back with his hand, but that he would not remember this suggestion. After the volunteer was taken out of trance and engaged in a brief conversation, the hypnotist smoothed his hair back. The volunteer got so hot he took his shirt off. When asked why he was taking his shirt off when it was so cold, he insisted that the weather had become suddenly very hot. He had no memory of the hypnotist giving him the suggestion when in the hypnotic state.
This is often the way it is with traumas, because they are spontaneous, unintended hypnotic inductions. The victim of the trauma has no idea why s/he is reacting to a trigger (e.g. the hypnotist smoothing a hand over his hair) the way s/he is. Another example is Dr. Watson’s classic experiment (1920) with little Albert. Dr. Watson traumatized Albert by clashing a set cymbals behind his head while he was playing with a small white animal. Days later when Albert was presented with the same white animal he became very anxious and began to cry. We know that the white animal was not the cause of Albert’s trauma. Nevertheless, the small white animal became a trigger for Albert and he developed a very anxious conditioned response to any small white animal and was nervous around any animal thereafter. If you asked Albert later in his life why he had such an anxious response to animals he might not have known. He might even have developed the over-generalized belief that “All animals are dangerous” without really knowing why. This is how many of us live our lives. We have been victims of traumas we may not remember, and even if we do remember them we have forgotten all the things that may have surrounded those traumas that have become triggers for us. We also might not know that we have very spurious beliefs that have accrued as an artifact of those traumas.
This is why Dr. Clinton’s concept of healing early originating traumas is so crucial. Originating traumas usually occur very early in life and can have lasting effects on the adult psyche. They are often the triggers for negative beliefs, confusing emotional reactions and irrational behaviors. Treating these early originating traumas and the classically conditioned triggers is the first step in healing the client. Anything that accompanied the trauma that got through to the subconscious mind during the trauma, i.e. the accidental hypnotic induction, also needs to be treated. This includes the client’s dysfunctional beliefs that developed as a result of the trauma.
Dr. Preston elaborates: “When a thought or suggestion is accepted by the subconscious mind, it is automatically and immediately stored in the brain’s memory bank to be acted upon by a trigger… Any response to the suggestion is a conditioned behavioral reflex” (p.92).
Trauma As An Unintended, Spontaneous Hypnotic Induction
Trauma is an unintended, spontaneous induction that puts a person into a hypnotic state. This hypnotic state is characterized by the dominance of the subconscious mind over the conscious mind as the gatekeeper. Even if this state is only temporary, as in a sudden trauma, the normal gate keeping function of the conscious mind is left unattended. Nobody is guarding the door to the mind’s memory bank. In the case of traumatic incidents like physical abuse, this temporary state leaves the subconscious mind in charge of filtering what comes in, but it can’t discern what is true, accurate, believable or important. For example, it can leave people in a state where they can be classically conditioned into believing they are stupid, or no good, even when there is no basis in reality for that belief.
In the case of developmental traumas, children are often subjected to repeated mini-traumas or very quiet, insidious, invisible traumas. For example, consider the situation of a mother who did not want her child, wanted but could not get an abortion, and resents having to take care of the child but never admits this to herself or the child. She gives countless subtle cues that the child is in her way, is a bother, is too needy, etc. There are no visible scars, the child is never beaten or physically hurt. But the child grows up not feeling like she belongs in the world for some inexplicable reason. These oblique, indirect, subtle cues become another version of a hypnotic induction. They are so confusing that the child doesn’t know how to assess reality. The mother never admits she didn’t want the child. The mother may not even be consciously aware she feels that way.
Whether the trauma is a shocking single incident or is developmentally repetitive or subtle, it is a hypnotic inductions that renders the conscious mind inoperative to varying degrees and the subconscious mind dominant to varying degrees.
The Over-Generalized & Extreme Nature Of Negative Beliefs
Dr. Preston believes that “all information accepted by the subconscious is deposited in the memory bank as an absolute truth” (p.89). The more severe or repetitive the trauma is, the deeper the hypnotic induction becomes, and culminates in a distorted and dysfunctional belief implanted in one’s memory bank. While the mature, adult conscious mind can make very fine discriminations based on very subtle nuances in the real world, the subconscious mind operates more on an all-or-nothing basis. Things are either all good or all bad, right or wrong, always or never.
This attribute of the subconscious mind has an important implication for trauma victims. Their negative, dysfunction beliefs have an extreme quality to them. For example, they don’t believe they are sometimes bad, or are capable of good, bad or neutral behavior. They believe they are bad as human beings.
What the subconscious mind allows into the memory bank during our traumatized state becomes exaggerated into this all-or-nothing template, it becomes over generalized from our behavior to our very being. The negative beliefs become absolute: “All animals are dangerous and need to be avoided.”
Dr. Preston estimates that “over eighty percent of our problems have their origin in accidental or unintentional hypnosis” (p. 88). He states:
“When a person’s conscious awareness is diminished due to stress, anger, depression, anxiety, frustration, or any such emotions, that person enters into a state of unintentional hypnosis. The greater the emotion, the deeper that hypnotic state. As the patient is exposed to negative or false statements, these become true. I propose that traumas are the origins of these “greater emotions” that lead to the deeper “accidental or unintentional hypnotic states”. Negative beliefs are implanted in our memory banks during these hypnotic states.” (p.88)
How Can Advanced Integrative Therapy Help?
Dr. Clinton’s definition of a trauma is “any occurrence which, when we think of it or it is triggered by some recent event, evokes difficult emotions and/or physical symptoms, gives rise to negative beliefs, desires, fantasies, compulsions, obsessions, addictions or dissociation, blocks the development of positive qualities and spiritual connection, and/ fractures human wholeness.” (2009).
The implication of this definition is that once a person has been traumatized developmentally or through a specific incident, they are then subject to being re-traumatized every time they are triggered by an external event or an internal thought or memory. This is why Dr. Clinton believes it is not only important to treat the energy field around the traumatic experiences so external events won’t keep triggering the client, but also to treat the negative beliefs and instill more functional, positive beliefs so the internal thoughts and memories won’t keep triggering the client.
Treating traumas and transforming negative beliefs dehypnotize the client, releasing him or her from the subconscious mind’s domination into the more mature and realistic conscious mind’s understanding. Once the more accurate, realistic and functional beliefs have been instilled into the memory bank, the subconscious mind can do what it does best, which is to carry out the body’s, psyche’s, and spirit’s functions and the more realistic convictions unencumbered by trauma. Advanced Integrative Therapy heals traumatic incidents and developmental traumas as well as the mind’s memory bank of dysfunctional beliefs. It can instill the more functional and realistic beliefs into the memory bank so the client can be free to function in a wholer, healthier and more integrated manner. It can also help the client to awaken to his or her true self, thus opening up new spiritual horizons.
A Case Study
Brett’s father was a contractor who sired eight children and ran his household like a tyrant. Brett was the eldest son and became his father’s helper and later his foreman. The father physically beat and verbally criticized everything Brett did. Brett’s father assumed that Brett should know how to do things without teaching him how. When Brett made a mistake his father both physically abused him and told him he was stupid. Treatment for Brett included healing innumerable traumas of physical and verbal abuse. Using the AIT Trauma Protocol gradually healed him of many of these traumas. Treatment phrases such as “When my father broke my jaw,” or “All the times and ways my father slapped me when I made a mistake” did much to heal Brett.
While in the traumatized state Brett was hypnotized into believing he was stupid. He also was hypnotized into the belief that he was responsible for things that were beyond his control. He held beliefs like “I’m stupid.”; “I’ll never be good enough” as well as “If anything goes wrong it must be my fault”. These beliefs and others needed to be transformed using the Core Belief Matrix.
One additional aspect of Brett’s experience was that he was in a relationship with a woman who treated him like his father did verbally. Brett was not even aware of the similarity between how his girlfriend and his father abused him verbally until we started treating his traumas and transforming his dysfunctional beliefs.
Making The Transistion From Cognitive Behavior Therapy & Hypnotherapy to Advanced Integrative Therapy
I was trained by Albert Ellis and his colleagues at his institute in New York. I used Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) to dispute my clients’ irrational beliefs for over twenty years. I began to feel like my clients were like houses with front doors that had multiple locks on them. The houses represented their psyches; the front doors were their conscious minds; and the locks were all the barriers to changing the furniture of their beliefs. I used all the REBT techniques to get through to the client’s rational mind and sometimes succeeded in getting through the front door. Often, I would come up against other locks, one after the other. I started looking for another way in.
Hypnotherapy offered a different route. I found that the back door, the subconscious mind, was much easier to open through hypnosis. Hypnosis also offered a way in that matched how a lot of the dysfunctional furniture, i.e., beliefs, got there in the first place. One problem was that while most people could be hypnotized some could not. Another problem was that sometimes it hypnosis worked beautifully and other times it didn’t, and I couldn’t figure out what made the difference. In addition, I couldn’t get all of the old furniture out, and the new furniture didn’t fit well with the old. In summary, I was finally in the house where I needed to be, but I lacked the skills or tools to really do a thorough renovation of the internal structure.
With Advanced Integrative Therapy, I finally had the tools and the techniques to enter and revamp the whole interior. The walls and distorted structure of the house seemed to be caused by traumas. Once I had a method of actually clearing out the walls of trauma it was much easier to get the furniture of old beliefs out the back door and redesign the rooms in a more functional relationship with one another. This, in turn, made it much easier to put in the new, more functional furniture (beliefs) and arrange them in ways that made the house a home. The end result is much more aesthetically pleasing and my clients feels more whole, integrated and at home in themselves.
Clinton, A. N. (2009) Advanced Integrative Therapy: The Basics.
Preston, M. D. (1989). Why hypnosis works. Medical hypnoanalysis journal, September, 85-93.
Watson, J. B. (1920). Conditioned emotional reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3, 1-14.