Welcome to a new week, CASS Friends, hope you had a wonderful weekend!
How do you feel about Mondays? Do you slog your way through the first day of the week, just barely, wishing you could get to Friday faster? Or, do you rise out of bed in excitement to start the week? And what makes the difference between these two approaches?
One way to explain the difference is by looking at your core beliefs. Core beliefs are a person’s most fundamental beliefs about themselves, others, and the world1. These beliefs are developed early in life as we interact with others, experience cause and effect, experiment with success and failure, and get to know our strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. These beliefs become the lens through which we see and understand the world around us and, as such, they are the springboard from which we make decisions in our life. This is wonderful when our beliefs are based on truthful, positive, and adaptive beliefs about ourselves and others. Yet, what about beliefs formed through difficult and/or traumatic situations and relationships in our lives? Unfortunately, many of us struggle at some level with beliefs that are inaccurate, harmful and unhelpful due to misinformation, abuse, and trauma. We believe we are unworthy, unlovable, that nothing ever works out for us, or that no one really cares about us because of the harmful things we’ve been told, the hurtful ways we’ve been treated, or the pain we’ve witnessed in our world. These beliefs can lead us to making choices that put us in harm’s way, underestimate our ability, sabotage our success, or lead us from one failure to the next.
And often, we unintentionally strengthen these negative core beliefs. We tend to pay more attention to evidence/experience that confirms our core beliefs than we do to evidence that refutes our core beliefs. Yet, no matter how long you’ve adhered to negative core beliefs, how rigid they seem, there is hope. Core beliefs are stubborn but not set in stone. As core beliefs are learned, they can be unlearned. With support, information, practice, and fierce determination.
For starters, acknowledging the negative core beliefs that get in our way of happiness and success. Take a moment to see if any of these sound familiar to you:
I am unlovable. I am a failure. This world is unfair.
Everyone lies. No one really cares about me.
I’ll never be happy. I’m too boring to keep a friend. I’ll always be alone.
I can’t possibly succeed. Other people only want to use me.
I’m ugly. If things feel too good to be true, they are.
People always end up rejecting me. They will find out I’m a fake.
Think of it as wearing a pair of glasses . The glasses through which you experience self-criticism or see a mean, unfair, and unloving world have darkened foreboding lenses. You may or may not know how or from where you got those glasses, or how they ended up on your face, but they don’t seem to fit anymore. They are blurring your vision and causing you to take the wrong paths. What if you chose to take those glasses off, even just for a minute, to try on another pair and see things from a different perspective? Maybe another pair would have lenses through which you see yourself as an amazing, resilient, blossoming person? Through which you see the world as gentle, flexible, nurturing, and welcoming towards you? What’s keeping you from choosing to see yourself and others through a more positive, helpful set of lenses? Perhaps it’s just a matter of starting by focusing on three things you are grateful for everyday. Or, maybe you could take one negative core belief and start intentionally paying more attention to evidence that supports an alternative, positive, helpful core belief? What about choosing an alternative, positive affirmation and saying it to yourself every day until it transforms from an idea to a belief about yourself? Start somewhere and see where it takes you.
I am a failure. Gratitude: I am thankful for the job I have, my best friend, and this home I rent.
I’m too boring to keep a friend. Evidence: The other day I kept a conversation going with a lady in the grocery line up about the mask bylaw. She seemed interested in what I had to say.
I’m ugly. Positive Affirmation: I have attractive eyes and I like how I look.
Our next few blogs will focus on the connection between core beliefs, emotions, and behaviors. We will look at specific ways that dysfunctional core beliefs impact how we feel and behave, and will venture into strategies for transforming self-limiting beliefs into alternative, positive, coping beliefs. Join me then. Can’t wait!
1. What are Core Beliefs? by Therapist Aid. Retrieved August 6, 2020 from https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/core-beliefs-info-sheet.pdf
2. Core Beliefs worksheet by Therapist Aid. Retrieved August 6, 2020 from https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/core-beliefs.pdf
Especially for Clients
Identifying someone’s core beliefs requires spending time and really listening to the themes behind the person’s words. For e.g., when someone says there’s no use handing out resumes because they’ll never be hired anyway, they may be indicating core beliefs such as “I’ll never succeed”, or “I don’t have any special skills to offer an employer”, or “employers don’t want to hire people like me”. Ask questions about the core belief that may be underlying the feeling or behavior. Validate and normalize the core belief, because it was learned honestly through experience and served an adaptive purpose at some time or another. Then, gently and with compassion, talk about other core beliefs that may be more true and more helpful for the person at this time. Like reminding the person about the special skills you’ve seen them demonstrate, or the kind things others have said about them. Encourage the person to consider a more positive, adaptive, truthful belief about themselves and to search for evidence to support this. It’s an ongoing process; keep the conversation going day-by-day and celebrate the progress as you go; even small successes count!