Belief Systems

  • Introduction
  • The Impact of Loss of Beliefs
  • Beliefs and Mental Wellness
  • Beliefs and Values
  • Rebuilding Beliefs
  • The Nocebo Effect and Attitude


Our beliefs range in their importance and intensity.

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 to 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, will 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 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 whole lives against. We use them to guide us, and to know who we are.

When we become emotionally troubled, it is to our beliefs that we turn to gain a solid understanding of the innermost self.

Without beliefs, in each situation that challenges you, there is nothing but a void where there should be strength. You become powerless. Not because of your psychology, not because you don’t have what it takes, but because the essential you is missing.

We need our beliefs that we can relate every moment, every experience and challenge.

Without having a conscious awareness and understanding of our beliefs, we become defenceless, vulnerable, incapable of our full authenticity, lost, bereft and totally alone. 

It feels as though you are hanging on to the periphery of everyday life by your fingernails. One insignificant move, and you lose your grip. Something inside tells you how close you are to the edge, how tightly you must hang on, how deeply you must dig into your resilience.

Brain injury strikes as cruelly as a thief in the night. There was no deal with the devil; but something has robbed you of your soul.

These losses can make you fragile; susceptible to the whims of life and the human race. If you can no longer find who you are on the inside of your self, Inside your own shell, then how can other people possibly know who you are?

Your essence has faded; but the body still puts one foot in front of the other. The light in your heart has gone out; but you still breath and speak. 

It feels as though the real  you lies lifeless on a gurney; the hollow imposter invading your psyche pulls you along, hoping in seemingly vain hope, that one day, one time the day will come for your life force to come alight again.

The previous stage of blissful ignorance is preferable to the heart-wrenching pain you experience as you begin to come back to life.

You are here and yet invisible; left behind in a time warp while your body is present and yet beyond the living moment the people you know you should love live in. 

The realities; the hardships

As a consequence, living your life, buried deep below a thick layer of cognitive and executive disability, 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, out-of-character choices.

Your brain injury is the finger on the trigger; it cares only that you are surviving. With the loss of metacognition, it has no way of telling you what is wrong. 

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

Let’s look at an example of balanced wellness.

Your innate belief may be that we are all connected and as such you will develop a unity consciousness. Including other people in your choices will present itself as a personality trait, and people will see you as being balanced and fair. You will have a greater breadth of compassion, and you will be driven to make decisions that will preserve your inner sense that what you do to others you also do to yourself.

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.

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, ashamed or out of balance when our data isn’t matching, and these emotive responses are the brains’ way of telling us that something didn’t line up.

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 backwards. It is a necessary phase you go through while working out that the feedback and consequences you meet don’t match previous experiences. Eventually, you know that something must 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. Recovering from a loss of self, beliefs and previous experiences feels as though you are growing 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 radiate out to others as our values.

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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 beliefs 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 the familiar understanding of self.

In brain injury, 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, the changes and deprivation 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 those 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.

Rebuilding beliefs

Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.

Golda Meir

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 your ability to work out what is missing so you can work on re-establishing these skills. If you know what is broken, you 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

Most of us have heard of the ‘placebo’ effect, but less of us are aware of the opposite concept of the nocebo effect. 

While we are aware of our natural ability to heal through psychogenic factors and belief that positive thinking can aid restoration of health, many of us are unaware that we can also induce measurable changes in the body when we think that a medication or treatment won’t work.

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. This is 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.