Even if you’re not a comic book buff, you are likely familiar with the idea of origin stories - the backstories that inform the motivations and actions of both heroes and villains. While you aren’t likely an alien on this planet, a “chosen one,” or the victim of a lucky accident that left you with superhero powers, the life that you have lived has informed who you are now, and how you connect with the world around you. Understanding a bit more about your own origin story - and how your brain has made sense of it - will serve you as you move forward.
Our brains do a lot of work behind the scenes, and they’re often collecting and sorting data that we soak in as we move through the world - even when we’re not cognitively aware of it. Our brains look for patterns and assemble this information in a way that is useful for our daily functioning. For example, if you walk into a room and see a chair that you’ve never seen before, chances are still pretty good that your brain will recognize it as a chair, and consequently, you’ll know how to interact with it.
While this seems simple, this function of “schematic sorting” serves us greatly. Mostly, it saves us from having to re-explore everything in our surroundings every time that we encounter it - which is a huge time saver. Outside of concrete objects, our brains perform this same schematic sorting process as we make sense of our relationships and place in the world.
This is how our schemas - or core beliefs - are created.
Imagine for a moment that there is a child named Bailey who is told repeatedly by an abusive parent that they aren’t worth much. Over time, Bailey will come to believe that to be true, and this belief will influence the way that Bailey moves through the world.
Once we have a belief like this, another function of our brain kicks in and enacts confirmation bias. This is the part of our brain that seeks to find corollary evidence that reinforces the facts that we already know. This means that Bailey is going to pay more attention to situations that reinforce the idea that he isn’t worth much, rather than situations that challenge that belief.
It isn’t hard to see how a child who is told they’re worthless would likely come to believe it. But, it isn’t just the explicit messages that become internal beliefs, and it isn’t just kids who have abusive parents who are impacted by the past they’ve lived.
Imagine a student named Aiden who is on the honor roll and well-liked by their peers and teachers. Their parents praise them when they do well, and they take them to celebratory dinners after they bring home each A+ report card. They star on their soccer team, and are often praised for their good behavior and attentiveness to others.
So, what did Aiden learn about themselves and the world? Maybe that hard work pays off? That they need to perform well in order to be liked and receive attention? That paying attention to other people’s feelings is useful or important? It is hard to definitively say - and only Aiden would be able to tell us. There is not one set of blueprints that spells out the learned belief for each situation that someone might encounter.
But, regardless of what Aiden learned, we can guarantee that it impacts the way that they move through the world now and connect with others.
Your mind may be reeling at this point trying to assess your own internal beliefs (or what beliefs you may be passing on to your children). Working with a therapist can be a great way to help you sort through these beliefs and to make sense of your experiences.
In the meantime, a few things to consider:
Do you believe that others see and value you?
Do you have a natural “default” way that you interact with others? (i.e. being a people pleaser, a bully, or a pushover etc.)
Do you have beliefs about what you deserve
What do you believe you need to do to keep other people connected to you?
Do you feel like you’re too much? Not enough?
However you answer these questions, you can be sure that the answers impact the way you connect with others. While you’re not likely heading out to save the world, your own origin story holds a wealth of information about who you are today. Bringing awareness to your history and your core beliefs is a great first step to better understanding yourself and your relationships - and I’d argue that self-work and intentional relationships are pretty heroic in their own right.
Questions? Thoughts? Reach out!
Lacy Alana, LCSW