How to learn to believe what you only “believe”

May 8, 2012

One of my all-time favorite movies is Good Will Hunting.

There’s this scene in it where the main character, Will, is in his therapist’s office. Will is 20 years old and spent his childhood shuffled between abusive foster homes. His therapist, Sean, was assigned by the court when Will was arrested for hitting a cop.

Sean has earned Will’s deep trust, and on this particular day, Will arrives at Sean’s office to see Sean looking at his file. There are records there of all of Will’s arrests. Records of his various foster homes and the reasons for his removal from each one. Pictures of the bruises and cigarette burns he suffered at the hands of each of his “parents”.

“Pretty awful shit in there,” Will says.

Sean nods.

They’re quiet for a time.

“Do you know about that stuff?” Will tentatively asks.

“You mean….did stuff like this happen to me?”


Sean looks at Will thoughtfully.

“Yeah. It did.”

Sean and Will briefly compare notes on their worst experiences. Both of them are standing.

“But you know all this shit?” Sean asks, motioning to Will’s file. “It’s not your fault.”

Will nods like that’s old news.

“No really, it’s not your fault.”

Will says comfortably again, “Yeah. I know.”

“No. You don’t. It’s not your fault.”

Will smiles awkwardly and makes eye contact. “I know.”

“No, you don’t,” Sean says. “It’s not your fault.”

Sean takes a step closer to Will and says it again.

“Why are you saying this?” Will asks, his temper rising.

Sean steps even closer.

“It’s not your fault.”

“Don’t DO this to me!” Will yells. “Don’t FUCK with me. Not you, Sean.”

And Sean keeps repeating, softly, but with deep conviction, “It’s not your fault.”

Slowly, Will’s anger melts into what’s beneath it and he covers his face, beginning to cry.

Sean and he embrace as Will weeps, Sean saying again, “It’s not your fault.”

+ + + + + + +

I thought of this scene this week when an idea that I’ve heard a thousand times and believed, on one level, finally reached my core and I realized how impenetrably shielded from its truth my heart has long been.

I don’t have to understand the universe, or even all the ins and outs of the human psyche, before I can legitimately lead change.

Part of me has believed that I do need such understanding – has believed this my whole life. And though on the outside I’ve confidently known that I don’t (how could I possibly be omniscient??), every time I’ve taken dramatic, conscious steps to lead the change I feel called to lead, I get thrown into despair. Or more specifically, feelings I can’t make sense of.

Which I finally identified as a deep part of me holding tight-fisted to the belief that my work is all for naught until I understand everything about everything. Which, clearly, means my work will always be for naught.

Dear, despairing girl!

Like Will, she’s needed those thousand times of hearing, “You don’t understand,” before she could know that she didn’t.

But something finally broke in me this week and the message got through and the weight of the universe has been lifted off my shoulders.

I can’t tell you the relief that I feel! The euphoria!

I could move mountains with this stuff!

+ + + + + + +

As I write all of this, my thoughts turn toward you and I wonder about the stories you’re bearing – “bearing”, because I’m thinking here of the heavy ones that weigh down your living. I wonder whether you could consciously press into those stories, like Sean, with a firm and gentle clarity:

“You don’t understand.”

  • You don’t understand that you don’t have to prove yourself.
  • You don’t understand that your nagging insecurities aren’t flaws but are you being human.
  • You don’t understand that your aging body is beautiful.
  • You don’t understand that everyone’s house is more messy than you think.
  • You don’t understand you’re not failing.
  • You don’t understand that you don’t have to – and can’t – save the world.

Name your own unique line, and see what happens when you tell yourself again and again (I’m being absolutely literal here – do it in the mirror; do it in your journal; say it in your mind): “No you don’t understand” and repeat the thing you know to be true. Over and over (and over and over) again, “No you don’t understand: _________.”

What if the wall you have around that part of yourself – the wall of your unconscious, more child-like conviction – could get cracked just enough by this move to let the conscious truth in?

If my experience is any indication, it could rock your whole world.

And when that world gets rocked, who knows what else could change?

I have more than a hunch you’ll soon be seeing examples of that here.

Related posts:

Living outside the lines
Pathways out of fearing success
Redefining failure until it falls away

If you’re new here, welcome! This post is a great distillation of what I believe about trust. For a free book that exemplifies what trust tending means, click here. I’m so glad you stopped by!

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7 comments   |   Filed in: Meditations   |   Tags:   |  


  1. Thank you.

    Your picture spoke to me before I even read the post.

    I feel like the gals in your sketch. My mom is moving out of town and I feel like I want to help her along, like her heart is really in it, but I am missing some of the tools in the tool box. It’s hard to be compassionate toward her when she has missed the mark so many times for me (and my kids). It’s hard to be present when I expect she is going to suck me dry emotionally and physically if things don’t work out for her. And thats just scratching the surface.

    I felt just like Will as I read your post, as if you were saying to me “It’s not your responsibility” over and over, quieter and quieter, gentler and gentler until I finally broke down (a little, I have a ways to go).

    “I dont understand that I’m not responsible.”

    But I will.

    Comment by Renee — May 8, 2012 @ 1:43 pm
  2. Renee, I’m so moved by what you’ve shared. Yes a thousand times to what you’re learning to understand. So, so powerful.

    Comment by Kristin Noelle — May 9, 2012 @ 9:25 am
  3. Thank you for this. This is a gold.

    Comment by troze — May 9, 2012 @ 9:44 am
  4. Thanks, Troze.

    Comment by Kristin — May 9, 2012 @ 3:26 pm
  5. [...] Learning to Believe What You Only “Believe.” [...]

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  6. I remember that scene! I had forgotten it. I had an emotional response to it, so there is something in there that is important. Thank you for unearthing it – I suspect I’ll learn what it is about someday.

    Comment by Elizabeth — May 16, 2012 @ 7:38 pm
  7. [...] “Which I finally identified as a deep part of me holding tight-fisted to the belief that my work is all for naught until I understand everything about everything. Which, clearly, means my work will always be for naught.” How to learn to believe what you only “believe” – Trust Tending [...]

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