Feeling Safe > Rooting Out Unconscious Beliefs

If our caregivers taught us to believe that we’re not good enough– and if nobody else in our lives really helped us to believe that we were worthwhile– of course we will carry a belief of “I’m not good enough”.

I don’t particularly like when I see the new-age language of “unconsciousness” brought over into conversations about trauma. 

To me, the language of “unconsciousness” (as in, “you’re living in an unconscious belief”) implies some kind of spiritual failing on the belief-carrier’s part.

I read an Instagram post recently which asserted that trauma survivors simply “carry over unconscious beliefs” from childhood, which causes us to disown our own power or live in fear or something like that. 

Okay, true, yes. Of course this is true. 

On the other hand, though, this reminds me of two things: 

Spiritual bypassing and self-pathologizing.


Surviving trauma doesn’t make us “less conscious” than others. 

Being a trauma survivor doesn’t mean that we just need to “awaken” and then we won’t feel our symptoms anymore. 

Being a trauma survivor is not a spiritual character flaw.

So, what do I mean by spiritual bypassing and self-pathologizing? What does that have to do with trauma?

You see, there are lots of Jen-Sincero-esque gurus and spiritual teachers and influencers saying lots of words that sound really good to a terrified, traumatized person like myself.

We hear these magical phrases such as “just root out your unconscious beliefs and you can turn your whole life around!”. These make it sound as if, once I just do a bit of inner housekeeping and sweep my “bad beliefs” into the garbage, all of my symptoms (severe social anxiety and terror and emotional flashbacks and all of the things “holding me back”, right?) will simply vaporize– without having to do any work to heal my actual trauma. I don’t even have to think about all of that childhood stuff, because if I thought about it, then I’d be “living in the past”, right? Mmm, delicious!

They’ll go on to tell you: “you’re just living in fear. You need to stop living in fear to live your best life.” 

True! Oh, so true, I used to think with them. You’re right; I am living in fear! 

They nailed that one on the head, didn’t they? That’s one thing I could pinpoint from probably age seventeen, without a doubt: I was terrified. 

And then they’ll reel you in: “All you need to do to stop living in fear and to start ‘attracting’ everything you want– a literal perfect relationship, millions of dollars, and a house on the moon– is to knock out those pesky little “unconditional beliefs”. Tada! Ready to live your best life? Here are twenty people who claim to have followed my ten quick steps and are already living on the moon after only one week.” 

You get the picture. 

You pay for their uber-expensive program. You might have an orgasmic epiphany about one of those “unconscious beliefs”, envisioning “everything your life could be” after that “belief” disappears. It worked! You think. Now where’s my million dollars? Where’s my spouse with whom I literally never argue? Where’s my moon house?

But then week two happens. 

You find yourself feeling– ew– afraid again. Shit! 

Ugh, fear, you think. All of these gurus say that “fear” is a low-vibration feeling. I can’t feel fear. I must not have cleared that bad belief well enough, you continue. I must not have done it right. I must be no good at this. I must not be good enough. 


This is it. Right here. This is the trouble that we, as trauma survivors, get ourselves into when we start attacking our “unconscious beliefs”. (And this is why I’m wary of language that sounds self-pathologizing-spiritual-bypassy in the first place.) We don’t consider these two crucial points:

  1. These “unconscious beliefs”, such as “I’m not good enough”, etc., were never our fault. We had no choice to “carry” these into adulthood– this is simply what we were taught. 
  2. As trauma survivors, rooting out our “beliefs” is never going to work, if we don’t first feel safe in our bodies.

This is why I cringe internally when I see someone mixing the word “trauma” with a phrase such as “you are unconsciously carrying your beliefs around with you”. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the writer in question meant something completely different, BUT– WE DID NOT CHOOSE TO CARRY THESE BELIEFS. They were FORCED upon us. Again, carrying around unconscious beliefs is not some spiritual failing.

If our caregivers taught us to believe that we’re not good enough– and if nobody else in our lives really helped us to believe that we were worthwhile– of course we will carry a belief of “I’m not good enough”. It’s not like we’re given a list of “beliefs” on our 18th birthday, and asked, “Okay, which ones would you like to take with you, and which ones are you leaving in the past?”. No– it’s only once we start to do the work of trauma recovery that we even uncover those shitty beliefs that have been handed down for generations.

But then, once we uncover the beliefs– let’s say, once we realize, oh shit! I really do believe that I’m not good enough!– that’s only half the battle.

If you’ve followed certain spiritual gurus for any amount of time, you know the feeling. Again: Well, shit. I have this “unconscious belief” that’s been ruling my life. I can’t seem to “get rid” of it. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do what this spiritual teacher seems to think I should do?

We try and try and try to change those thoughts, but they come back again. And again. And again. You’ve been there, haven’t you? 

Me too. I’ve felt like shit about it, too. I’ve wondered what was wrong with me plenty of times, too.

(See how this whole burning ferris wheel just literally does not help us at all?)

Here’s the truth: your brain is not going to accept a “change of beliefs” or an affirmation such as “I am enough”– no matter how many times you repeat it– unless your body feels safe. 

If you struggle to feel like you’re doing a good job at work, for example, and you tell yourself over and over “I am enough” only to still feel like shit about your work, this may be why. If you’re a trauma survivor, your body may not feel safe enough to accept a belief in your own enoughness. 

Perhaps, in your childhood, your grades were never good enough. Or the way you cleaned the dishes was never good enough. Or your looks were never pristine enough. Or you never performed well enough on your sports team. Think about it: back in the day, was it ever safe to feel “good enough” about the way you did the dishes? Or did you have to check over and over and over again for the tiniest of spots you may have left behind, to avoid a shouting match with your parents? (This is just an example, of course– apply this sentiment to your own unique experience.)

This is why your body doesn’t feel safe to accept your new belief. It wasn’t safe back then. Although it (hopefully) is safe now to believe that you’re good enough, your brain and your body don’t know that yet. They are trying their best to keep you safe. 

So, when we do the work of trauma recovery, we must start with internal safety– not with “changing beliefs”.

Trying to change thoughts or beliefs when we still feel deeply unsafe inside is akin to going to war without a helmet. We’re going to end up hurting ourselves, and we’re likely going to set ourselves back even further. 

Of course, this leaves us with the ubiquitous question of “how?”. How do we feel safe in our own bodies?

It makes perfect sense that, if you’re like me and you’ve felt an underlying sense of terror your entire life, you’re desperate to know how to find some sense of safety. Know that I don’t have all of the answers, but I can try to lead you to the right places. 

One practice I’ve learned is simply telling myself: you make sense. 

Not “let’s change that awful belief.” 

But rather, “it makes sense why you would believe that.” 

In the case of our hypothetical person who feels not-enough at work: 

“I totally get why you’d feel not good enough at work. Remember when you were 10 and your parents yelled at you every night for the tiny little spots they’d find on those dishes you spent forever cleaning? I bet you’re scared that your boss is going to yell at you like that, and that’s really scary! You make sense. You make perfect sense. I understand.”

This practice feels odd to the thinking, goal-oriented mind, because it feels like we’re not “fixing anything” in this little self-talk session. But please know: you are so fixing things in there. Those terrified inner children in your mind have been running around, screaming out for validation– and you’ve just given it to them. They relax a little more each time you’re able to do that for them.

And finally… Here are some helpful resources on safety in the body. The article includes some grounding exercises you can do to help you feel safe in the moment. I hope this helps, and remember: the best way to heal is with a trauma-informed therapist or coach guiding you along the way.


Remember: you’re not a failure if you struggle– like, really hard– to change your beliefs. You’re normal. I’ve been there too.

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