Core Beliefs: What do You Believe about Yourself?

As a survivor of infant surgery without anesthesia, suffering pushed me to dig deeply, looking for answers. In the process of writing my memoir manuscript The Autobiography of a Sea Creature, Coming Home to My Body after Infant Surgery, I hit a vein of precious stones: I didn’t work. This core belief had been misinforming me about myself for decades.

As a baby, my stomach literally didn’t work. Pyloric stenosis, or a swelling of the pylorus muscle between the small intestine and the stomach, caused a blockage, making it impossible to digest food. In order to live, I had to be fixed. And I was. But the operation didn’t fix the belief I’d unwittingly subscribed to: I just didn’t work. Deep down, I believed I was broken and as I grew, this belief expanded into many areas: school, sex, sports, friendships, career, and more. Whenever I hit a snag or a challenge, my unconscious belief kicked in: I just didn’t work. It explained things. It was like, oh, that’s why I can’t do it.

Trouble is, this belief is downright untrue. And it caused a great deal of suffering. Why had I subscribed to this idea in the first place?  Because even after I’d physically healed from the operation, my pediatrician and my mother believed I wasn’t entirely fixed. As a toddler lying on an examination table, in answer to my mother’s question about whether I would have stomach problems later in life, I heard my doctor say, “She shouldn’t. We’ll keep checking, of course.” And this “We’ll keep checking,” along with my mother’s worried looks and fear-filled hands, kept me anxious for decades. At any moment, I may not work. 

Beliefs formed early on in our lives are tough to change; oftentimes, we aren’t even aware that they exist. We may think, that’s just the way we are. It’s our personality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over the years that I’ve written this blog, I’ve had the privilege of corresponding with many people who formed self-defeating and just plain wrong ideas about themselves due to their experience of birth trauma or early illness. As adults, we are finally beginning to understand the origin of these misconceptions that have often caused serious physical and mental health problems over the years.

Once we know the cause of our misunderstanding about ourselves, something immediately changes; simply knowing causes a shift within. Compassion kicks in. Relief. Acceptance and peace. Sometimes anger–a feeling of having been betrayed. Grief. These types of feelings are the beginning of healing, ushering in the possibility of allowing our true identity to emerge.

Prior to writing my memoir, lack of confidence created huge walls within. Nothing was ever much fun. I felt that I had to put out huge amounts of energy to simply stay in the game, whether it be high school studies, college, a job or a relationship, eventually leading to depression. Life was exhausting!

Now when I face something new or challenging, I allow myself to feel the anxiety generated from this old core belief that I don’t work and simply override it. I can do it, I tell myself. I can even enjoy it. In the past, repeating a phrase or an affirmation has not had a lasting effect on me, but EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which I’ve blogged about this past year, is helping me to believe in my power. I really am capable, smart, funny, wise, courageous, loving. A good person who, most importantly, works!

10 Responses to Core Beliefs: What do You Believe about Yourself?

  1. Thank you, Wendy! This post reminds me of a wonderful book by Alice Miller called “The Truth Will Set You Free: Overcoming Emotional Blindness and Finding Your True Adult Self.” Miller contends that when we are traumatized as infants of children we develop a natural aversion to remembering those traumas because we fear our egos will be overwhelmed or even destroyed by going back to the memories that terrified us. So it is counter-intuitive but nevertheless true that going back there can set you free. How does that work? In my experience re-living my infant circumcision, the process of liberating myself began as soon as I connected to the sharp pain of that event, which may have occurred shortly after my birth in 1945. Having what Arthur Janov, inventor of primal therapy, calls a “connected primal,” meaning a re-living of a specific, genuine, recognizable, and formative trauma, in a setting in which we are free to return after the primal to comfortable and comforting surroundings, can set one free. In my case, I experienced the sharp, cutting sensations of infant circumcision for a minute, then deliberately eased away from what in reality was a long, seemingly interminable experience of pain, shortly after my birth. I later went back to that trauma in many other sessions in which I allowed myself to react defensively and assert my anger against those who were hurting me. After each reliving, I found myself feeling less “cut off” from my true self, and ironically, the discovery that I had been traumatized as an infant, I was gradually able to achieve a sense of my whole self, to reassemble myself into a complete human being. For me, taking a stand against a needless and harmful custom in our country has helped me fulfill the promise of a valuable therapeutic process. It is wonderful to witness through your website how you have been doing the same thing. Thanks, Wendy!

    • I am so deeply touched by your Comment, Robert. Forgive me for not seeing your post until now. There’s a glitch in my WordPress system that is preventing me from being properly notified, so from now on, I will be manually checking every day and not relying on the program to alert me until I get it fixed. What you write about here–about how you allowed yourself to go back and feel that early pain– is astonishing, brave, and so important for others to read about. I thought of you when I wrote this post about the core self because you have written about this issue, too–beautifully, I might add. I am so appreciative of your sharing that Miller title; I will order it immediately. Also, I am SUPER appreciative of your sharing that information about how our ego protects us from what we think what might annihilate us. In conversations I have had with others about preverbal trauma, from someone working on my website to a publisher at the Associated Writing Programs Conference, I continue to find people who respond to my topic with first, shock and second, a story to share of his or her own trauma. But when the person finishes telling me, I can see that it’s the first time he/she has thought about the effect of this early event on his/her present adult life, and it kind of freaks them out. Perhaps it’s that terror thing. The story pops out, and it’s as if the person wants to pull it back after he/she is done talking. Maybe he/she feels abandoned or scared about what to do with the insight or information. But this information about how the ego tries to ‘protect’ us is key. I want to write more about this. If others could understand how they are holding their healing back and still experiencing the effect of their early trauma whether in panic attacks, chronic anxiety, low self-esteem, addictions, whatever, I think more could find peace. They could discover more compassion for themselves, which may help them find their way to their more authentic selves. Thank you for your affirmation of the value of my website. Btw, come October, I am fortunate to be giving a talk at the Sacramento Valley Psychoanalytic Society about infant surgery without anesthesia. Your activism fuels mine. Thank you! We are in this together, no? Yes!

  2. Wendy,
    As usual it is wonderful to hear from you. I think that after making contact with you for the first time my infant trauma became real to me. And alot of healing has come from that for me. I saw someone nearby for EMDR but I didnt like her personality at all. Maybe I’ll try someone else. Anyway… love to hear from you and if you want my infant trauma cards for posting I can send them. Love,
    Your Doppelganger,

    • So sorry it’s taken so long to reply. I wasn’t notified by my email that your comment came through! So until I talk to my web guy, I’ll simply scroll through the comments every other day or so. Great to hear from you. So sorry the EMDR person didn’t work out, but I trust you’ll find the right person. I’m so happy to hear about the healing you’ve felt since our contact. I know what you mean. When I first met Fred Vanderbom, another pyloric stenosis survivor/thriver, and had someone to communicate with about my surgery, I was able to integrate what had happened early on in a much more real way. I would LOVE your infant surgery cards for posting!! What a generous offer! Can’t wait! Your doppelgänger back at you, Wendy

  3. Thank you Wendy, for recounting aspects of your pain and healing with which I very much identify, although some of the details vary. This is significant in its own way, as we each and the details of our past are all different. I’m also grateful for the complementary light Robert shone onto your piece.
    In my younger years, I never thought of asking what I really believed about myself. Nor would it be normal for a child to want to fathom their pain in this way. But I have come to realize that the deep and private psychological difficulties with which I struggled then actually came down to this foundational issue.
    It wasn’t until later in my adult years, getting access to the internet and interacting with people like you, Wendy and Robert, that I came to experience that it was by recognizing and dealing with this core matter that I would get far greater insight and healing.
    That healing (again) can come in a variety of ways. A number of therapies can help us to relive, deal with and defeat our pain. Sharing our stories brings opens our panicked minds to the fact that we are far from alone or freakish. Exploring and unraveling our stories yield insight. Similarly, we each “move on” in our own way.
    Wonderfully, my own journey has I believe made me a better person and people-helper, and I’m sure this is true of all survivors of infant trauma.

    • Ok, here you had me tear up, Fred. What a moving response. You certainly are a “people-helper” of the first order. Your reply to my post and Robert’s reply hits deep. I’m super aware of how we have helped each other to keep sharing our stories and how precious it is that we have realized how our traumas have held us back and that we can find comfort and support in reaching out to others. When you call our issue “foundational,” I feel you have nailed it. As adults, embracing these foundational experiences is key. Your words are precious, Fred, and I am holding onto them. Because of our finding others, we can know we are not “freakish” and “alone.” I am quite speechless to render a good response, but please know how much your intimate answer has touched me, and I’m sure others. So sorry about the delayed response (computer glitch). I’ll be checking manually for Comments daily from now on!

  4. Hello, Wendy, Marcia, and Fred!

    What an interesting meeting of minds and spirits! I thought I’d mention that on Saturday, May 14 I’m going to be attending a meeting at the Washington Press Club called “Birthkeeper Summit 2016”. There will be a lot of discussion about birth trauma at this doula-based meeting which is occurring three blocks from the Washington Convention Center where the Annual Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is meeting. (Yes, there will be protests about circumcision, unnecessary cesarean births, excessive fetal monitoring, etc.) Suzanne Arms, who has written books on natural vs. hospital childbirth will be presenting, as will my friend Ryan McAllister, creator of a wonderful video called “Child Circumcision: An Elephant in the Hospital.” If you are curious about me, I created a YouTube video called “Therapy Uncovers Circumcision Trauma” two years ago. You can find it by going to YouTube and searching for the first two or three words of the title. I’d be interested in your feedback if you have time to look at any of that. I am increasingly realizing that we are living in a time of exciting changes as more and more people like us are speaking up about the reality of infant trauma and the importance of recognizing that such trauma can have dire consequences in a person’s life. The fact that we are discovering ways to heal ourselves is surely a hopeful sign we can also suggest to those who are afraid of or resistant to our message.

    • Hi Robert, Thank you for your lengthy and informative Comment here. I had a chance to view your Youtube video and found it very brave, candid, and authentic. Certainly, your presentation inspires trust, for you are honest and show profound emotion as you speak of your journey. I am truly grateful that you are putting yourself out there in this way and standing up for yourself, infants, parents, and the health of our society. How circumcision robs joy! What a deeply disturbing fact in your life and likely in the lives of thousands, if not millions, of others. I know everyone is different, but one thing I do know: Trauma affects each baby for a lifetime, given the way that it is processed in the human brain. As a survivor of torture from infant stomach surgery without anesthesia, I identify with the repression of which you speak and write. Certainly, I still experience problems with numbness, dissociation, anxiety, broxing, and a number of other uncomfortable and troubling body states. When we share with others the repercussions of these early invasions, whether circumcision, birth trauma or infant surgery without anesthesia, we wake up society. Some people light up immediately with self-realization. Others take more time to assimilate the information. Many others will deny the reality of what happened to them, for it can be overwhelming to consider. Let’s keep cheering each other on in our desire to break the silence. Thanks Fred, Robert, Marcia and so many others I’ve spoken or written to who are fighting to rediscover the wholeness of who they are and deserve to be.

  5. Hi Wendy,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response.I’m so glad you’ll be giving that talk in October.I wish somatically based therapies were considered “evidence based”,like some of the talk therapies are.I believe,as many others do,that the therapy world needs more body based approaches.

    So,that’s pretty much where I am-frustrated that EMDR hasn’t seemed to work much and that I don’t have the money to pursue what my instincts tell me are correct regarding my history.

    Thanks for the referral though,I’d certainly consider someone who helped you so much! I’m happy for you 🙂


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