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It’s one thing to believe something and do your best to live it out. It’s another thing to live among people who accept you only on the condition that you act like you believe certain non-negotiable things.

Those two experiences couldn’t be more different. But they’re easier to confuse with each other than you might think.

So many of us live in the kind of environment that demands a us to share certain beliefs, and makes it a moral issue. It’s often stated that if you don’t believe those non-negotiable things, it makes you a bad person, worthy of horrible punishment.

This puts the pressure on. Whether you believe those things or not, you have to try—because if you can’t figure out how to believe them, there’s something very wrong with you and you deserve pain.

I grew up in one of those environments, and got stuck in one well into my early adulthood. Even though I was always a deep critical thinker, it clouded my mind much more than I would’ve liked to admit.

This happens to many of us—there’s a good chance it’s happened to you, too.

Fear can make you lose touch with your own thoughts

It makes sense to assume that when people talk about what they believe, they’re sharing who they are or what they think. But in many cases, that’s not actually what they’re doing.

They’re signaling what group they want to belong to.

Many people—especially people born into a pocket of people who all share the same beliefs—feel no choice but to send the signal that they belong to the group their friends and family are in.

They’re threatened with a scary alternative: having everyone you know turn on you, and ending up with nowhere to belong.

The fear driving peoples’ attempts to fit in isn’t always obvious, and people can be overcome by it without even realizing it.

Whether it’s religion, a set of political beliefs, or strongly held social values, many of us “believe” what we believe not because it actually means anything to us, but because we sense that the people we want to be close to demand certain beliefs, often on very harsh terms.

Chances are, they came to believe what they believe because that same thing happened to them.

Over time it becomes so normal and ever-present that we can lose touch with our own thoughts and instincts, and paint over them with what’s supposed to be happening in our minds instead.

Whether or not you think this has happened to you, I challenge you to seriously consider it.

Every person has a mind that matters. And I think it’s every person’s responsibility to their own unique individual mind to get to the bottom of this question:

Do you really believe it, or are you just trying to belong?

It can take some serious excavating to sort out where everything is really coming from, and to arrive at a sense of clarity about the state of your own thoughts and beliefs. But I think it’s one of the most important things a person can do.

3 questions to ask yourself

There’s no easy test to find out if this has happened to you. At least, if there is, I haven’t figured it out yet. I’ll keep looking. 😉

In the meantime, here are three important questions to consider as you try to get to the bottom of what you really, truly believe.

Are you afraid of what people would think of you if you believed anything else?

It’s easy to dismiss this question, but really think about it. When entertaining an idea, do your thoughts jump to how that idea would make you come across? That’s a big sign that you’re prioritizing what other people think of you over what you actually think.

And if you are, then you need to acknowledge that fear might be driving you to hide or cover up certain deep thoughts and beliefs you hold. It’s also a sign that it would be wise to make friends who are more accepting of different viewpoints.

Have you ever believed anything else?

If what you believe now is the only thing you’ve ever considered, you might be experiencing an entire lifetime of restricted thought. This doesn’t mean you have to throw out what you believe now—but this is a warning sign that it would be good for you to ask more questions.

Do you have any friends who believe something different than you?

If you don’t, it’s extremely important that you make some. Because otherwise everyone else in your life has the power to completely control you by holding those beliefs over your head. You might be a lot more boxed in than you realize.

This isn’t about abandoning beliefs

I’m by no means advocating for anyone to throw their beliefs out the window. I’m advocating for really getting to the bottom of what you actually believe, instead of just settling for what you’re supposed to believe.

If you stick with what you’re supposed to believe, you’re letting yourself be controlled by other people. You’re missing out on doing what really matters to you. And the world misses out, because your mind never really ends up being part of it.

I want your mind to be part of it. I hope you give it a chance; it’s the only one there is.