Got Anxiety? Reacting to your core beliefs
Mary B. Barmann, MFT
This is the third in a 3-part series from the Barmanns about “core beliefs” endorsed by those who are dealing with chronic worry and anxiety. To read parts one and two, visit SierraSun.com, search: “Barmann.”
Early in life, we begin to form a set of beliefs with respect to how we view the world we live in. These beliefs become the very CORE of us, and we rely on them as a means of judging concerns such as self-worth, competency, fairness, trust, etc.
Core beliefs evolve from both positive as well as negative life experiences. The positive core beliefs we endorse help us appraise life events as being fair or safe, resulting in feelings of happiness and satisfaction.
Negative core beliefs are the product of having experienced several emotionally painful situations, thus culminating in beliefs related to vulnerability, abandonment, lack of self-worth, etc.
These negative events begin to serve as templates by which we compare new experiences, for the purpose of looking for similarities.
Consider Sharon, who grew up in a household consisting of a father who was overly critical of any mistake Sharon made.
If she was late for a family function, he would label her incompetent, and unworthy of being one of their family members. He would also frequently remind her that she was adopted, insinuating that she was not wanted by others. As a result, Sharon began to form core beliefs related to a lack of competency, as well as abandonment issues; beliefs that would surface later in life, under similar circumstances.
For example, on more than one occasion, she arrived late for a date with a man she hoped to marry one day. She feared her boyfriend would interpret her lateness as a sign of ineptitude. Sharon’s internal monologue reminded her — “Remember, men will eventually discover your social facade, and then reject you.”
In essence, core beliefs become our crystal ball for predicting the meaning of future life events.
WHEN CORE BELIEFS SURFACE
An important point to keep in mind is that once core beliefs are formed, they remain with us for the rest of our life. We do not rid ourselves of core beliefs by simply substituting a positive thought for a negative one.
Instead, we need to employ the following 4-step strategy when reacting to our negative core beliefs:
(1) Know the negative core beliefs you endorse. A therapist trained in this assessment method may be needed to help accomplish this first step. Or, find a good self-help book written on this topic.
(2) Understand what type, or category, of life events (e.g., when given corrective feedback) cause certain core beliefs to surface. Beliefs regarding abandonment, vulnerability, incompetence, etc.
(3) Once a particular belief surfaces, become aware of your internal monologue (self-talk) related to the manner in which you are interpreting a specific social interaction.
(4) Make note of the consistent way in which you behave immediately following your appraisal (or MISAPPRAISAL) of a particular life event.
Recall Sharon, discussed earlier. Once her core beliefs regarding a lack of self-worth and abandonment surfaced, she quickly began to forecast what someone was thinking about her, as a means of finding “evidence” to support her beliefs.
Following her predictions, she behaved in ways that maintained her core beliefs (e.g., sabotaging the relationship she was in, for the purpose of avoiding abandonment, thus feeling successful at having escaped a sense of vulnerability).
Each of the rules Sharon obeyed was viewed as a necessary strategy to employ in a world where she saw herself as worthless.
ATTEND AND CHALLENGE
Remember what we stated earlier; your core beliefs are here to stay. The goal is not to resist, ignore, or attempt to change this way of thinking — that won’t work.
Instead, attend to, and become better at understanding which life events consistently result in the emergence of specific negative beliefs, and the patterns of thinking associated with them. It is one’s INTERPRETATION of life events which is the problem, not the core belief itself.
Everyone needs to acquire a more effective strategy concerning how we REACT to core beliefs which create emotional pain within ourselves, and the relationships we have with others. This new “second reaction” must consist of questioning, challenging, and testing our typical patterns of thinking and behaving in various situations.
Stop selectively attending to information that confirms an existing belief while, at the same time, ignoring information which directly contradicts negative self-perceptions.
Experiment with your core beliefs by taking risks involving putting your assumptions to the test. Record you PREDICTED outcomes, alongside the outcomes which actually DID occur.
When we consistently test deeply held beliefs about ourselves, followed by accurately recording what really happened across different situations, we learn to lower the meaningfulness of these beliefs, and begin to filter life experiences in a more realistic direction.
Barry C. Barmann, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Nevada and California. His wife, Mary B. Barmann, MFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. Visit anxietytreatmentinclinevillage.com to learn more.