Stress Relief: Level 2 Beliefs (Underlying Philosophies)

by Doc Orman, M.D.


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In my previous post, I began to share with you a model that I use to think about human beliefs.  In that post, I said: 

“The model I want to propose to you is a three level model for understanding human beliefs.   Level 1 is our conscious thoughts and opinions…The other two levels give rise to our conscious thoughts and opinions, and these other levels will be discussed in the next two posts to follow.”

Level 2 Is Our Underlying Philosophies About Life

I also pointed out in my previous post, our Level 1conscious thoughts and opinions (what we typically refer to as our beliefs), don’t just arise out of thin air. They are intrinsically tied to deeper levels of thoughts and assumptions that are often hidden from our immediate view.

The next level just below our conscious thoughts and opinions is a level we can refer to as our basic philosophies about life.  We all have hundreds and hundreds of philosophies about life.  We have philosophies about: 

  • What the purpose of life is
  • What the purpose of our life is
  • What living a “good life” means
  • What living a “bad life” means
  • What our thoughts mean
  • What our feelings mean
  • What makes human beings different from other animals
  • What science is (and what it can do for us)
  • What truth is
  • Whether a divine creator exists or not
  • What the value of religion is in our life
  • How to succeed in life
  • How to succeed in relationships
  • How to be happy
  • How to deal with adverse events in life
  • Etc.

Our Underlying Level 2 Philosophies Give Rise To Most Of Our Level 1Beliefs

For the most part, we will not embrace beliefs that conflict with our basic philosophies about life.  Either our existing beliefs and opinions, along with the underlying philosophies that are bolstering them, will stay intact, or our underlying philosophy will have to change before we can radically alter any of our Level 1 conscious opinions or beliefs.  Now I can’t say this is always going to be the case, but in my experience, it appears to be extremely common.

We Are Not Used To Thinking Of Ourselves As Philosophical Beings

I remember that during high school and college, I had a very strong aversion to the subject of philosophy as an academic area of study.  While it may have been intellectually stimulating to debate what a bunch of dead people once said, I really couldn’t see where this had much relevance to me and my immediate concerns.

However, once I graduated from medical school and started taking care of patients, I began to realize that most of my patients had very deep philosophies about health and well-being that they were not consciously aware of.  As I interacted with them about decisions they would need to make or about actions they might need to take, they would generally have very specific beliefs (Level 1) that they would freely share with me (sometimes not), but they had little awareness of deeper philosophies (Level 2) that were giving rise to these beliefs.

This was especially problematic when people had what I considered to be very poor beliefs about their health.  I could talk to them endlessly about why they should consider modifying their erroneous beliefs.  But their underlying philosophies were so strong that they couldn’t consider any alternative points of view.

Stress Is A Philosophical Disorder

Later on, when I began counseling people about how to reduce their stress, I similarly realized that most people’s common stressful problems were arising from a host of false beliefs that were also connected to a much deeper level of erroneous philosophies about life.  It was only when I started uncovering these deeper philosophic beliefs (Level 2) and was able to help people recognize how they were giving rise to their more conscious thoughts and opinions (Level 1), that people started having major breakthroughs in their ability to understand what was really going on to cause them lots of stress in their lives.  And once they saw these connections more clearly, they we able to modify some of their deeper philosophies along with the more surface level beliefs that were connected to them.

If you recall, back in September, 2011, I wrote a blog post titled Stress Is Not A Psychological Disorder.  The conclusion of that post was that stress is predominantly a philosophic disorder.  If you’ve never read that post, I recommend you click on the hyperlink above and do so now.

Two Levels Revealed…One More To Go

So we now have identified two of the three key levels in my proposed model for how to think about the nature of our beliefs:

Level 1 = Conscious Thoughts And Opinions

Level 2 = Underlying Philosophies About Life

Level 3 = ?????

I wonder what Level 3 might be.  Got any thoughts about this final…and deepest level?  What is it that’s even deeper than your underlying philosophies about life?

And how does this deepest level give rise to both of the other two levels of reasoning above it?

Stay tuned to my next post and we’ll explore these very important questions. 

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