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26 beliefs you think are yours but are really cultural conditioning

You know that thing you believe that makes you feel small and stuck? Or disempowered or unworthy? What if it wasn't true?

Deconditioning from societal narratives is a process of differentiating what has been taught to us versus what is our own belief.

Conditioning is, by definition, so engrained we mistake the beliefs as our own. And societal conditioning is especially powerful because of its collective agreement.

But just because something is conditioned doesn't mean it is pretend. These are real pressures, influences and expectations with very real consequences.


However, that doesn’t make them true.


We begin by simply observing what is happening in our minds.

I'm applying for this promotion and all I can think about it that I'm not qualified.

I just got dismissed in a meeting and now I feel like a fraud.

I want to say no but everyone's counting on me.

I would look better if I could shake this twenty pounds.

Awareness helps break the identification with the thought or belief. "I observe this thought running through my head."

This disidentification from our automatic thinking makes a wedge of space in which we can examine the belief. Does it serve me? Does it make me feel good about myself? Does it make me feel empowered to live the life I want to live?


Do I want to believe this?


Our power lies in our choice.


I said this to my daughter once and she replied, “Yeah, right. As if I can just decide not to believe that.”


But what if we can?

The inspirational speaker/channeler Abraham Hicks says: “A belief is just a thought you keep thinking.”


If thoughts can be changed then beliefs can be changed.


But only with awareness. It’s a process of making the unconscious conscious. We make our conditioning external so we can examine and question it.

It can be helpful to say, “My conditioning says that I should _______." It provides a separation between you and your conditioning. Your conditioning is not YOU. It's just a thought you've been trained to think.


Here is a list of some beliefs we mistake as our own but are culturally conditioned. Maybe some you want to keep. Maybe some you want to discard.

Whatever you decide, let it be your choice.


1.     Doing something just because it feels good is indulgent. Because we’re meant to spend our lives toiling, stressing and serving others? These are our lives and it is our right to live in the joy, pleasure and fulfillment we desire. We are allowed to prioritize feeling good.

2.     I owe “it” to people.  It = your free time, your attention, your openness, your politeness, your comfort, your seat, your money, your compliance, your guilt, even your laughter at a questionable joke. You don’t. I promise you don’t.


3.     There are good foods and bad foods. All it takes is a Google search about nutrition to see the vast and contradictory opinions about food. Bananas are good; bananas are bad. Same with meat. Tofu is a health food or an estrogen menace. The solution: trust your body. It knows.


4.     I am in competition with other women. This is internalized misogyny at its best. We see limited resources for women (opportunities, the attention of men, positions of power) and are trained early on to mistrust other women. It’s reinforced by how society pits women against each other.

5.     Women who sleep around are slutty. This double standard is as old as time. Men are conquerors; women are “loose.” We have every right to love sex, want sex and embody our sexuality without insult or threat.  

6.     Thin is beautiful. This perception is thanks to our socially installed “glasses.” If all our actors and models were plush and curvy, we would think that was beautiful. Our “opinions” are easily manipulated by social constructs and images.

7.     Youth is beautiful. Aging is not. Same as number 6. Between the anti-aging potions, injections, cosmetic surgery and invisibility of women over 60, this is strongly culturally enforced. All my fears about aging, becoming ugly, irrelevant and sexless are conditioned.

8.     Women who like themselves are arrogant. Actually, they are powerful and gorgeous.  

liberated woman basking

9.     I should take what they offer. Would a man?

10.  I’m not a good enough mother.  Part of the “perfect mother” fallacy, the idea that a good mother is infinitely patient, self-sacrificing and has no needs. And she looks good (and thin!) on Instagram. It’s all bullshit. Be the mother who loves herself and her kids.

11.  Putting myself first is selfish. If we always come last, we will never, ever come first. We are allowed to put ourselves in the center of our own lives. Start thinking of selfish as a good thing.

12.   I don’t know enough to lead. So much of leadership is self-belief. Until we believe in ourselves, we will never let ourselves arrive at knowing “enough” to lead. Trust that the world needs your exact leadership.

13.  Who do I think I am to want that/say that/pursue that? Flip it: Who are you to ignore your calling? No one is you. No one can say things exactly as you can. Someone needs to hear what you have to say, as only you can say it. Whoever told you your ideas are no good is just threatened by them.

14.  Saying no is rude. This is part of what a friend of mine calls “the tyranny of politeness.” Saying no communicates self-worth and protects our time, our energy and our bodies. Often, saying no to someone else means saying yes to ourselves.

15.  People pleasing keeps the peace. Yes, at the expense of you. And if you are not in the picture, there is less value to everyone. You are not here to make other people happy or comfortable. You are here for your own joy.

liberation quote from Glennon Doyle: "When a woman finally learns that pleasing the world is impossible, she becomes free to learn how to please herself."

16.  I’m scared to do it so that means I shouldn’t. A little bit of fear is an indication that you are headed in the right direction, just out of your comfort zone/socialized cage. Trust yourself to dare.

17.  How I look matters more than who I am. Prevalent and entirely untrue. Our appearance is the most transient, least interesting part of ourselves. We divest by owning our gifts and putting more energy into growing our self-belief than trying to look just right. (Not that you can’t also do that if it’s your jam. But do it to enhance who you are, not determine who you are.)

18.  Men matter more than women. We consciously know this is untrue. But our unconscious is often laden with this bias. And how can it not be? We live in a culture that blames rape victims, underfunds women’s health research, pays men more than women and criminalizes women’s reproductive rights. For years Viagra was covered by insurance while the Pill was not. Only 10% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs (an improvement from 1995 when it was 0%.)

19.  It matters what other people think of me. Only because we’ve been taught to prioritize other people’s opinions of us over our own. The approval and permission we most need is our own. No one else’s will ever replace it.

liberation quote by Byron Katie: "It's not your job to like me - it's mine."

20.  Criticism or pushback means I should stop. Actually, it’s the exact opposite. This means your work and your daring matters. You’re striking a nerve. Have boundaries and keep going.

21.  I need to do it perfectly.  Girls are socialized to be perfect. Boys are socialized to be brave. (See this amazing Ted talk on it.)

liberation quote by Elizabeth Gilbert: "Perfectionism is just fear in very good shoes."

22.  Downtime is earned with productivity. Women are raised to believe our worth comes from what we do. This benefits society, not us. It makes us diligent, often unpaid, laborers. You are allowed to build your life around rest, hobbies and fun. (It's YOUR life.)


23.  Speaking up makes me an annoying, bitchy nag. Yeah. It’s really inconvenient for others when we own our power. Society calls us names so we will sit down and shut up. Don’t fall for it.

24.  Women aren’t as business savvy as men. See Taylor Swift.

25.  Crying makes me look weak. It kills me to hear women apologize for crying. The smear campaign on crying seems rooted in fear of women’s emotional depth and intuitive power. When we agree with the male standard of stoic, non-emotionalism, we not only give up our true expression, we rob ourselves and others of the gift of our sensitivity, insight and wisdom.


26.  I should _____.  Examine EVERYTHING that comes after the word should.

You’ll notice a theme. To decondition from most of these messages requires our non-participation in them. Withdrawing our agreement. Putting our foot down. Knowing we deserve more. And then paving our own way.

But to do that, we have to fundamentally believe (or be open to the possibility) that we deserve to create our life as we want it. That we are worthy of taking up space, choosing for ourselves and putting ourselves first.


One woman does it then another and another. Together, we change the narrative.


The choice is ours.

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