From the moment you are conceived your brain starts to develop. It takes approximately 25 years for it to fully develop. So if you are in your teens, guess what? You’re not there yet.
Your brain matures in stages. I am going to keep this very simple as not everyone wants to know the scientific details.
From age 0 to approximately 7 years of age, the part of our brain that is developing and maturing is the limbic system or what we call the emotional center. 75% of this brain is developed by age 3 and 90% by age 5. This part of the brain is responsible for emotion, behaviour and long-term memory.
Did you know that babies are born with only two fears? Yep, only two! They are fear of falling and fear of loud noises. The rest of our fears are learned as we grow and experience life.
Let’s go back to the Limbic System. It is there for our survival. This is where we have the fight, flight or freeze response. This is an autonomic response in our brain when our safety is threatened.
When we are calm, the Para-sympathetic system is activated. It is the autonomic nervous system that is also known as the ‘rest and digest’ system. It is responsible for slowing down the heart rate, conserve energy and allows for digestion, elimination and sexual arousal.
When there is intense fear (real or perceived), the adrenal glands release hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline), which activate the sympathetic system. The heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate increases and blood flow shunted to major muscle groups to tense and prepare for flight or fight.
Our Prefrontal Cortex has been developing since birth. Around the age of 7-8, this part of the brain is developing enough and begins to allow for planning, decision-making, judgment, risk taking, and managing impulses.
At earlier ages, we cannot and do not have the mental capacity to question, oppose or ignore what we hear, especially from our significant persons of authority such parents, grandparents, a teacher or perhaps a religious leader. What happens then, is that when they say something to us, especially with words that are emotionally charged, we as young children automatically believe them and what they say to be true.
Let’s look at an example. You are 5 years old. You are at the playground with your mother sitting on a bench watching and talking to other mothers. You are hanging from the monkey bars and witnessed your friend close to you swing her legs to gather momentum and fully swing her entire body to sit on top of the monkey bars. You watch and say to yourself, “I want to do this. I can do it”. So you start to swing your legs and gather momentum to swing your body up on top as well, but you misjudged the distance between you and your friend and hit her in the head with your foot.
She falls to the sand below and screams (more from shock than pain).
Her mother jumps from her bench and runs to her, while your mother jumps and because of her shock at what just happened, she starts to yell at you, “Bad girl! Why did you do that?”
Because you do not have the brain capacity to question what your mother just judged you as, you accept it to be true.
In your subconscious mind you accept the concept, “I’m bad”.
This is where core beliefs develop. We develop positive and negative or limiting core beliefs.
We create as a means to get our needs met. We believe what we hear from others and make decisions about our self-concepts and accept them as who we are. Remember, we were mostly under 7 years of age when these core beliefs were created.
When we are consistently praised, loved, and encouraged in our younger years, we develop positive core beliefs. These are healthy beliefs that will lead us into healthy adult relationships.
Negative, or limiting core beliefs are also developed in the same way.
You don’t need to have a traumatic childhood to create limiting core beliefs. A simple negative statement blurted out in the heat of the moment by an authority figure can be the catalyst to developing a negative core belief.
Of course the more trauma a child experiences, the more severe and resulting self-destructive behaviour that ensues with their limiting core beliefs.
Other experiences of daily living may happen where someone tells you “Now remember, don’t be bad” or “You’re a naughty girl” or “What did you do?” These experiences affirm and re-affirm your limiting core belief that you are bad.
And because these are unconscious beliefs, we carry them into our adult lives. Even though we have the capacity to question, oppose or pause and think about it, we are unaware of our limiting core beliefs and so we are continuously triggered when something happens that re-affirms them. This forms our daily patterns and reactions and leads our lives into self-sabotage, addictions, shame, anxiety, depression, failed relationships and more.
According to Jean Piaget’s theory of the stages of cognitive development, by age 8-10, the child has a stable self-concept, based on all of his experiences and core beliefs that were created.
What are some of your core beliefs?
If you would like help in uncovering your core beliefs that have kept you stuck, contact Therapy With Carol to learn how to transform your life.