What Are the Payoffs & Costs?
There are three distinct ways of being that result from the three major false beliefs:
- As a result of “It’s my fault,” we experience guilt and self-blame.
- From “There must be something wrong with me,” we experience low self-esteem.
- Finally, from “I wanted him or her to do this,” we experience shame.
“... a destructive circular pattern ... between the false beliefs and the resulting emotions. The shameful feelings cause [us] to believe that the shameful beliefs are valid. As this circle repeats itself, it becomes stronger and covers up the real person of value and worth ... [We] ultimately lose touch with [ourselves] in order to survive the pain and loss of abuse.” —Cynthia Kubetin-Littlefield, Shelter from the Storm
This results in ways of being.
What do I mean by “ways of being”? Beyond feelings, it is a way of engaging, showing up, or behaving in the world and in our relationships. In a variety of situations, we tend to show up as insecure, worthless, incapable, ashamed, or constantly guilty.
While low self-esteem, guilt, and shame are very common ways of being adopted by people who have been abused, there are a myriad of ways of being: the loner, the shameful one, the unlovable one, the pessimist, etc.
What are your ways of being? How are you showing up in the world?
Example: I am damaged; I am undeserving; I am shameful; I am unlovable.
In addition to ways of being, we also adopt certain attitudes or behaviors that impact the way we show up in the world or in the types of experiences that we have. For example, we might have the attitude that “All relationships fail.” This attitude impacts how we see ourselves, potential partners, and intimate relationships. Additionally, it may be related to our way of being—the loner—and also show up as a particular behavior (e.g., never attending social events where we might meet someone). It is all one big vicious cycle—one that we are likely hoping to break out of! But how?
The first step is to recognize anything we do is because we perceive there is some payoff. Furthermore, we do not discontinue any behavior until the costs outweigh the payoffs. In the example above, the payoffs might be that we do not have to risk being vulnerable or getting hurt. The costs, however, are that we never get to experience connection and intimacy with another person.
What are some false beliefs that have led you to feel guilt, shame, or low self-esteem?
Example: I am unlovable.
What do you think the payoffs are, for you, of reinforcing the beliefs you listed above?
Example: I can remain detached from others and never risk opening up.
What are the costs?
Example: I never get to experience the thrill of sharing myself with others. No one gets to know me.
What are the payoffs and costs of the other ways of being that you identified?
As with false beliefs, we will seek to find evidence to support our way of being. We will adopt the attitude that we are worthless and, no surprise, we will interpret situations to prove this. Worse, we will sometimes latch onto abusive people who help reinforce these false beliefs.
As I mentioned before, we do not change any behavior until the costs outweigh the payoffs. So, the critical question is when wanting to change any way of being or behavior or attitude: Which holds the most weight for you—the payoffs or the costs?
Spend some time identifying your ways of being, attitudes, and beliefs. Explore the payoffs and costs of each.
The cost of any behavior can become the motivation (why) for creating a measurable result to begin challenging and transforming a way of being.
Example: The cost of being the loner is never experiencing connection and intimacy.
A measurable result could then be: In order to experience connection and intimacy, I will go out to one event a week and introduce myself to one person. I will track this on my calendar and reward myself by going to a movie.
Bonus: The way to do is to be
One of my favorite quotes comes from the section on Taoism in The Religions of Man by Huston Smith (emphasis mine):
“With Confucius every effort was turned to building up a complete pattern of ideal responses which might thereafter be consciously imitated. Taoism’s approach is the opposite—to get the foundations of the self in tune with Tao and let behavior flow spontaneously. Action follows being; new action, wiser action, stronger action will follow new being, wiser being, stronger being. The Tao Te Ching puts this point without wasting a single word. ‘The way to do,’ it says simply, ‘is to be.’”
Our efforts here to tune in to who we are being is not some idle practice. If we want to transform our experience, bring life into our relationships, lose weight, communicate powerfully, give up an addiction, etc., we must start with our being.
The greatest source and influence of our being is our mind out of which flows our words. Whenever we want to transform a way of being, attitude, or behavior, we must first understand the payoffs and costs and then begin the work of transforming our thoughts and words—our being—out of which will flow “new action” and experiences.