The Neuroscience of Reverse Truths

David Krueger MD

In traditional science, truth is arrived at by proffering a hypothesis, then accumulating data to prove or disprove it. The data force the conclusion. Reverse truths work the opposite — the hypothesis or belief creates the data. Our assumptions select what we perceive of the world and determine what meaning we attach to our perceptions. Believing is necessary in order to see.

Astute parents have known this principle for generations. The most vital reverse truth is our belief in our children. They look to us as a mirror of who they are, and they become what they see. If we trust and respect them, they become trustworthy and respect themselves.

Some parents have this reverse truth backwards, thinking that they will trust a child only after he or she has proven to be trustworthy. There are forward truths, but this isn’t one of them. Our belief in our children is taken in by them and metabolized into their own belief in themselves. We convey to them in an unspoken message: “I’ll believe in you until both of us can.” When that affirmation isn’t there, they may spend their lives looking for outside approval to fill what’s missing inside.

Carlyle was right. “Tell a man he is brave and you help him to become so.” As a parent, the trick is that you have to believe what you say, for feigned praise and inauthentic interest are forgeries immediately discernible to a child’s expert eye.

Fast forward to adulthood: This reverse truth still holds. Believe in someone and then he or she will show you why you do. Neuroscience has demonstrated that authentic belief in someone activates their brains to create a state of mind that transcends usual thinking and performance. I saw this repeatedly in therapy and analytic patients, as I see in now in coaching clients.

Here are some of the corollaries of this reverse truth:

How much you believe in yourself will determine how much others believe in you.

What you believe will show.

How you are, and how you behave with someone else, shows most in how it affects others responding to you.

What you believe will become true, because you will live it.

You are always creating outside to match inside.

Your experiences are always consistent with your beliefs.

It is vitally important to know your beliefs and assumptions quite well since you are always living them out. Once in awareness, you can change the ones that don’t work, stick with and enhance the ones that do, and generate new beliefs designed for growth.

Ulysses S. Grant said all this much more succinctly: “I succeeded because you believed in me.”