*Beliefs in relation to personal truths
*Feelings of disconnection from self
*Impact on behaviour
*Impact on others
*Beliefs and mental wellness
*Beliefs and values
*Nocebo effect, attitudes and health
If we picture an onion we can think of our innate beliefs as being the most profound truths we hold, and as we work our way out through the layers, we get to our current ideas that haven’t become either knowledge or beliefs because we are waiting to add more personal experience before we do the ‘filing.’
Many people lose the links to their innate and more deep-rooted core beliefs following a brain injury and can become oblivious to, and disconnected from, the inner meanings of their thoughts and feelings. This detachment can make it horrendously difficult to deal with everyday life events, let alone tricky situations that are tough for anyone to process and manage.
Beliefs are incredibly crucial to our understanding of ourselves, others and life around us and without the tools we need to keep going, it can feel as though you are bereft and cast adrift. Beliefs and experience work and knit closely together, so the loss of one or both with have a huge impact on the soundness of thought and decision. Most people will be oblivious of this no matter how often things go very badly for them.
How our mind sees the world is how we experience it. If we are struggling with the details of how and why we see things a certain way, we are going to feel uncomfortable in our own skin. Brain injury can be a great illusionist making us feel as though the world is ordered and at the same time leaves us knowing that it isn’t.
The structure of the brain and the role our auto-pilot has in this makes brain injury the most indefatigable problem any of us is likely ever to meet.
The impact of the loss of beliefs
We need to have an awareness of our beliefs so that we can understand what motivates our thoughts and actions. Beliefs engage with our feelings and act as the most profound inner truths that we judge and balance our lives around.
When we become emotionally troubled, it is to our beliefs that we turn to gain a solid understanding that we can relate everything else back to when needed. Without having a conscious awareness and understanding of our beliefs, we become as powerless as small children and need the support of others who love and understand us.
These losses can make people tremendously fragile and vulnerable, and they can struggle to rebuild a sense of personal history. Many people living with the effects of a brain injury have no or little recognition of when they are out of their depth and are making poor choices which are out-of-character.
Difficulties can arise when people feel they have a right to make choices for themselves and yet no longer have the personal wisdom, general knowledge, nor consciousness of environment and consequences, to be able to do so.
The loss of beliefs can stall thinking as people struggle to find what it is that should be driving their choices and responses. How do you choose how to deal with a situation if you have no idea what you believe? In many ways, this is when the confounded auto-pilot comes into use as this can be driven by instinct that is still subconsciously linked to the innate self. If this can rise quickly to the surface without being disrupted by executive dysfunction, you can get a glimpse of what kindles your fire. That this response may explode to the surface without being filtered or controlled is another thing, but certainly, the loss of any core personal information can affect behaviour just as much as the effects of executive dysfunction do.
Beliefs and mental wellness
Our beliefs maintain our mental wellness and self-esteem. We feel that we are living with authenticity and integrity because we honour our deepest beliefs and truths. This circle also encompasses our reactions and conscience; we feel guilty or ashamed when our data isn’t matching, and these emotive responses are the brains’ way of telling us that something didn’t line up.
When a brain injury erases beliefs, this whole cycle begins to fall apart, and it can be tremendously hard to keep picking yourself back up. People around you believe you have changed, and they can start to drift away.
In essence, it is the route maps that are missing rather than the innate self. Essentially what you always come back to is that which has been buried by the brain injury. You don’t rewire with a whole new set of beliefs or understanding – your rewire back to who you were before.
If, as part of the journey, you move through a phase of individualism this is a transitional step back towards working out that the feedback and consequences you meet don’t match previous experiences so you know that something must still be awry. It is like a path of stepping stones across a river – you can’t get back to the other side until each stone is in place.
Many people describe these kinds of experiences as feeling as though you have to grow up all over again. Our beliefs and perceptions about our experiences are eventually remapped to work the way they did before.
Beliefs and values
Our beliefs are wholly personal and unique and are weaved through a complex web of learning and influence forever fluxing and changing in subtle ways throughout our lives. Even in everyday life, trauma or tragic events can sometimes cause people to be thrown off balance, and they may reject previous understandings and belief as they come to terms with the changes and release their emotions. In time, as people heal, they come back to their previous equilibrium and values and seem more like their old selves.
A similar thing happens following a brain injury, expect that the impetus for change is caused not by the psychological thinking response to the event, but caused instead by neurological damage that is blocking pathways to previous learning and understanding of self. The relational material is missing from conscious awareness.
In cases of mild traumatic brain injury, things can ere more towards the normal trauma/tragedy response but are still complicated by the symptoms and outcomes of the injury.
When experiential memories and beliefs are lost, this is understood to have been a severe brain injury, and the changes and losses are profound. Because the neurological changes are so complex and intense, so too are the changes in behaviour and values that others observe.
People living with a brain injury can be oblivious to what other people see and can struggle to understand why people around them become upset or even traumatised by the ambiguous loss they feel. If you sat and asked that affected to think about their values, they may struggle to understand what you want or mean. To them, the feeling on the inside is that they are still the same. They may have no idea what kind of impact their losses have on others.
The main skill people need to rebuild their beliefs is self-observation.
Usually, insight and the ability to self-monitor are skills that are lost together and impact peoples’ ability to work out what is missing so they can work on re-establishing it. Another thing people need to be aware of is knowing what is broken so they can work on fixing lost skills – all of which are important to regaining the self to the degree that people on the outside can see it.
It takes time, courage, and diligence to get back the familiarity in your thinking that you once had. Many people miss the chance to fully feel like themselves again because they remain unaware of the disconnections that are causing many of their difficulties with their understanding of themselves and other peoples’ reactions to them.
Many people get caught up in a spiral of believing others are to blame because they are failing to listen and understand. They may genuinely believe there is nothing wrong with them – and in fact, they are right! There is nothing wrong with the person – but there is a lot wrong with the brain and learning what this is can make all the difference in the world to how well people recover and regain their lives.
The nocebo effect and attitude
Science has shown us that if a patient anticipates a side-effect of medication, they can experience this event even when they have taken an inert substance hence why it is so important to be consciously aware of our attitudes when it comes to recovering from a brain injury.
In the early stages following a brain injury, a person may struggle with understanding what is happening in their mind. Among many associated causes, confusion can blunt self-awareness, making it difficult for people to grasp how they feel and what they are thinking.
Changes in mood are often brought about by the effects of trauma and change and can also influence how much a person is able to be conscious of their thinking. Feelings of being overwhelmed or distress can blunt perceptions and knowledge of preconceived expectations.
It is indeed our beliefs which drive expectation and thus create an experience. It can be very tough for people struggling with brain injury outcomes to retain self-knowledge. If you think you have problems ask people around you to offer feedback. Listen, write it down and let yourself absorb what you are told before reacting.
Beliefs and expectations can strongly influence our perceptions and self-feedback loops.