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Archive for May, 2012

What are ‘Shadow Beliefs’?

A while back, an MBA instructor of mine asked me to find some information for him on a term he’d read about (I think it was in Kevin Cashman’s Leadership from the Inside Out). The term was “Shadow Belief,” and he wanted to talk about the concept in one of his corporate training programs. The information I found for him is worth sharing more broadly.

The term “Shadow Belief” has been around for about a decade. Cashman put the term in his 2009 book, but the first reference to it I found was associated with a life coach named Cheryl Richardson, who made a name for herself when she appeared on Oprah on 2000 to speak about this subject.

Here’s the basic idea. Fundamentally, we have to define our value to and our place within society by hanging our hats on some basic mental assumptions: I’m very good at my job, I’m attractive, I’m morally well-behaved, I’m creative, I keep an excellent house, I’m social and extroverted, I have a personal relationship with God, I’m a great parent, I have a perfect body, I know all the right answers, etc. We usually pick two or three areas that are important to us, and define our worth by our relative quality in those areas.

In the past thirty or so years, two developments have come along and ratcheted-up our sense of competition for self-worth: increased population density, and a media-fed pop culture that skews our personal expectations. It now feels more difficult to claim relative excellence at the same time as it seems more important to do so. Some poor kid trying out for the school musical is choking under the pressure not only of increased real competition, but having to also compete with benchmarks set by Glee, Smash, American Idol, The X Factor, The Voice, viral YouTube videos, and God knows what else. As a result, we feel an increased sense of collective fragility and insecurity (and advertisers find it much easier to sell products).

As a result of this sense of pressure, sometimes we develop beliefs about our own abilities and attributes that don’t reflect reality. Either we have a distorted sense of our own attributes, or a misguided sense of expectation. Shadow Beliefs are the exaggerated or irrational beliefs about oneself about which one is not fully conscious, and that can perpetuate unwanted behavior. That “shadow” part of the term is Jungian and signifies the unconscious and un-dealt-with nature of the belief. Read more…

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