PSYCHOLOGY: Healing Pathological Belief System Addiction

David Musick (
Fri, 17 Jan 97 05:28:00 UT

Lee Daniel Crocker said, "Trying to communicate with someone "from their point
of view" implicitly validates that point of view. If their views or their
epistemology are irrational, they can just as easily wiggle their way out of
your idea with their own methods, or [if] they accept your result, they may
use your words to validate their own ideas."

You're quite right. However, since I'm not trying to pin anyone down with
arguments, I don't care if they "wiggle their way out of [my] idea". You seem
to be approaching this from a debating standpoint, that your purpose in a
conversation is to prove that you are right and that the other person is
wrong. From that standpoint, validating your opponent's point of view by
communicating with them as though you accept their assumptions *is* a losing
strategy. But that's not the approach *I* take with conversations.

I used to play the "I'm right and you're wrong!" game quite vigorously,
having long drawn-out arguments with people. These exchanges were lots of fun
for me, but it was upsetting to lots of other people, who didn't enjoy talking
to me very much because I would always draw them into an argument. I also
realized that the person I was arguing with was trying to establish their
point just as hard as I was trying to establish mine. Ultimately, neither of
us were going to be convinced by the arguments of the other, because we had
determined at the outset that we were right. Our minds were closed to each
other as we each *essentially* tried to convince the other that they were an

Now, I am very careful to not put people in a defensive state of mind and to
coax them out of it if they get into one. When they go into this state of
mind, they are closed to what I have to say to them. I don't see people who
think differently than I do as my enemy, and I am careful that they don't
perceive me as their enemy. My goal is not to establish my superiority over
them and to show them how wrong their belief system is. I am more concerned
with building a healthy relationship with others. Eventually, they trust me
and listen to me, and I can talk to them about my ideas, and they will be open
to them, and I will also understand very well how they see things and why they
prefer to see things that way.

When I talk with someone from *within* their belief system, I *am* certainly
lending credibility to their way of thinking, which is fine, since my main
goal is not to smash their belief system before their eyes, but to develop a
healthy relationship with them and to help them work their way out of whatever
pathological belief systems they are in. When I talk with people about their
beliefs, I get them thinking rationally about them. I ask lots of questions,
in an honest attempt to understand what they believe and why. Most people
seem more than willing to share their ideas with me, especially since I'm not
attacking their ideas but am genuinely interested in them. My hope is that
they will eventually start asking themselves the same type of questions on
their own. More than anything, I am trying to provide people with a template
for asking questions, for rational inquiry. By conversing with me, they will
pick up on my ways of thinking and questioning, and they will start to apply
those ways of thinking and questioning to their own belief systems. If their
belief systems are flawed, *they* will realize that on their own as they
question themselves. *I* won't have to point out the error of their ways;
they will see it for themselves and adjust their approach automatically.

My intent is to provide people with the thinking tools they need to get
themselves out of whatever flawed belief systems they find themselves in. *I*
may see when someone's belief system is flawed, but that doesn't help *them*.
They need to see the flaws for themselves.

Letting go of a cherished belief system, however irrational and flawed, can be
quite painful for people. There are generally very strong emotional reasons
for people adopting their belief systems. Most people's belief systems seem
to be a sort of psychological "coping mechanism", a way to deal with terrible
things. People are essentially addicted to their belief systems. It's not
surprising that they become defensive when they feel their belief system is
under attack.

I look at people with their damaging belief systems about the same way I look
at people with drug problems. I try to act like an Alcoholics Anonymous
counseler: I talk with people about their beliefs, *from their point of
view*, trying to help them work out their problem *from the inside*. They
must understand the nature of their problem before they can move beyond it.
Saying "Bad boy! You have a flawed belief system! How could you do such a
thing?!" tends to drive people deeper into their belief systems, to cling
tighter, to try to get more comfort from it. If I *attack* their belief
system, they will try to *defend* it and tighten their grip on it.

It seems like the first step is to help people get comfortable *questioning*
their own belief systems and sincerely trying to understand their own belief
systems better. One way to do this is to talk with them about their beliefs,
honestly trying to understand them yourself. As you ask them deeper and
deeper questions, and discuss various issues with them, they become more
comfortable talking about their belief systems and looking at them honestly.

Then, if you've given them examples of how to think rationally, by having
rational discussions with them on various issues, including their own belief
systems, they will have the proper mental tools to work themselves out of
their pathological belief systems, if they are indeed pathological.

I basically view pathological belief systems as a form of mental illness which
the individual must ultimately work their own way out of. I try to do what I
can to help people develop more rational and successful belief systems to use
as powerful tools to accomplish their goals.

- David Musick

-- I prefer to *understand* others, not to prove them wrong. --