- Lisa McMichael
Dissolving Blocking Beliefs with Memory Reconsolidation
I’ve seen the phenomenon my entire career as a psychologist and have personally experienced it repeatedly – the tendency to sabotage ourselves by repeating patterns in our relationships and personal lives that we want to avoid, find painful, or block our goals. Despite our conscious protests, we fall into old patterns again and again.
What causes our sabotaging behavior? Deeply held, unconscious beliefs that bring up emotions and behaviors that contradict our conscious goals, hopes, and dreams. Unconscious beliefs have greater influence over us than our conscious thoughts and direct our lives in ways we are mostly unaware. Unconscious emotional learning endures, and it is automatically applied whenever we perceive a situation as similar.
The keys to clearing beliefs that work against our conscious goals are:
Bringing unconscious emotional learning (developed early as we made sense of our experiences) into conscious awareness. This involves being able to identify and articulate the beliefs that are behind the behavior we want to change. These are the blocking beliefs that generate the feelings and actions that lead to unwanted outcomes.
Recognizing the mismatch of unconscious beliefs that were formed in early life and conscious beliefs which are based on updated and contradictory experience. We realize that the blocking beliefs -- now held in the light of day -- don’t match our experiences or current understanding of the world. Contrasting our unconscious emotional learning with our current conscious knowledge unlocks neural networks and allows for NEW neural network formation, integrating the information, and re-locking and reconsolidating information in an adaptive form, which can lead to transformative change. The brain’s neuroplasticity allows for this rewiring. Unconscious blocking beliefs are dissolved and replaced by beliefs now aligned with our conscious goals. This process is called memory reconsolidation.
Unwiring and Rewiring. Once a new neural learning takes place, our belief system is more integrated, adaptive, and less impeded by limiting negative beliefs. Our mental constructs hold more than one belief. Uncovering our past emotional learning and creating a new neural network is a process of unwiring and rewiring, which may involve several mental constructs.
Evidence that things have shifted. You know things have shifted when you cannot elicit that old emotional response because you have changed the neural network. You experience the difference in your feelings and behavior that previously had been controlled by the unconscious patterning.
Rinse and repeat.
The Discovery Phase
The process of identifying unconscious emotional learning in memory reconsolidation is labeled the “discovery phase”. This is the process of unpacking the thoughts and behaviors we identify as our “problems.”
What are the circumstances in which our limiting beliefs and behaviors occur?
What are the feelings, thoughts and behaviors we experience?
How do we construe our emotional disturbance?
As we probe and search for answers, a picture of one’s mental patterning -- the pattern of thoughts and beliefs that are generating the problems or symptoms -- begin to emerge. If you are working with a therapist, the discourse is guided to detail the situation and begin to unveil your own mental patterning surrounding your experience.
Probing questions can help, such as:
"What would it feel like if the symptoms were not present?" Our symptoms often “protect” us, and without them we may feel scared or uneasy.
When you are experiencing your problems, do they remind you of another time, place, or person?
Does your negative self-talk remind you of messages you received from someone in your childhood?
One of my favorite questions to ask myself is, “What am I really afraid of?”
As thoughts emerge, construct a statement that summarizes the belief and read it repeatedly. More information will often emerge.
Once a statement is developed, the mind automatically begins a search for contradictory information. This exploration for any disconfirming experiences will uncover memories that fully contradict or vary from the statement. In my example in What Are Blocking Beliefs, Lucy’s statement read as follows:
“I don’t deserve to feel sad and terrible, because my life hasn’t been completely horrendous, so I must be purposely feeling miserable to be unique and different. I need to not cut myself any slack, and I should be stronger.”
Once Lucy read the statement, her auto “error detection” was employed, and she realized that her adult life experience contradicted that statement. She didn’t want to feel miserable and knew that feeling miserable didn’t make her unique. She recognized that her past experience with her mother was the source of her belief, and her adult-self realized she had the opportunity, choice, and ability to alter this belief.
Awareness of the mismatch information will not automatically change the past beliefs. The disconfirming knowledge must be juxtaposed with the old belief several times in order for new neuronal learning to occur. Once a memory is reactivated, there is a window of five hours before reconsolidation is completed. Recurrent combining of the old belief with the more adaptive current belief allows for integration and dissolution of the old mental patterning and this integration occurs after we consciously hold both old and new learning together in our awareness. The older unconscious learning becomes reconsolidated with a new emotional coding resulting in a shift in the mental patterning or a complete dismantling of the belief.
Proof of Shifted Beliefs
Our mental patterns, derived from our past experiences, often block our current desires and can covertly block us from change. When these unconscious beliefs are stated and then juxtaposed with our current experiences, old patterns shift as the neuronal coupling unlocks. This shift allows for new connections and a revised mental patterning. Our “blocking beliefs” are altered or dissolved, and we are free from the bondage of beliefs that once served us, but are no longer relevant. This is emotional freedom.
Many connected beliefs may support the issues being addressed, and there may be several beliefs to clear before the shift can take place.
Once a blocking belief is cleared, there is space for new neural learning. Affirmations, which may have ricocheted off the past beliefs, now find a space to land and take hold. As behavior shifts to reflect new learning, we begin to gain experiences that reinforce our shifted perspective, further strengthening our new beliefs and resulting thoughts and behaviors. New blocking beliefs may be discovered as we shift into more functional thoughts and behaviors. These beliefs can be modified or dissipated in the same manner as previous beliefs. We can continue to intentionally create neural pathways that lead us to more fulfilling lives presently and for our future.