When I went to counseling, I had a lot of areas of my life that I felt were really… effed up. I had bad relationship after bad relationship that ended for one reason or another. I was completely at a loss about what I wanted to do with my life. My family was unstable and I had major friction with one specific family member regularly. I was drinking excessively (although I was in my junior/senior year of college – you draw your own conclusions). I just generally felt like my life was unmanageable. I was pretty ready to wave my white flag in the air.
I viewed all of my problems separately. I had social, family, and job/school related issues. I had subscriptions! As I sat there telling my therapist my whole catalog of issues, I remember wondering how the hell we’d ever navigate all of the stuff I was having issues with. Some of this stuff had to deal with other people. How would we change them?
Then my counselor did something. She just stared at me. She waited for me to sit in the silence. After that, she asked me, “Jen, do you like yourself?”
I said something to the effect of, “Of course not! I’m a piece of shit.”
Then she was silent again.
In retrospect, it seems kind of silly. I mean, I’ve had clients lie to me before. I’ve had them say, “Of course I like myself!”
Not me, I was completely aware that I hated myself. What’s the difference? I thought that was normal. I thought it was arrogant to like yourself. I believed if I liked myself, my head would get too big and people wouldn’t like me. No one wants to be around someone who likes themselves. Ew, gosh.
So how did that present in my life? Well number one, I let myself get treated terribly. I trusted the wrong people and I wouldn’t create relationships with positive, happy people because I thought I didn’t deserve relationships with these people. Did I know this about myself? Um, no. No I did not. If I did, I would have never been in my position, much less gone to counseling.
This belief affected every part of my life. I didn’t pursue the things I loved because I thought I wouldn’t be good enough to be successful at them. I stayed in friendships and relationships that were toxic because I figured it’s what I deserved. I had so much internal self-hatred I couldn’t even see these things about myself. I was incredibly introspective, but I wasn’t insightful. I didn’t see how my internal dialogue contributed to the state of my life.
I had a core belief, also known as a schema in psychological terms, that I wasn’t worth anything. My self-worth was shot.
Core beliefs are “… repeating patterns of thought and behavior defined by our various assumptions and expectations, as well as our ideas about the way the world works, collected over time.”
Turns out, we all have core beliefs. We learn them from our “family-of-origin” which basically means we learn them as we grow up from those closest to us. At some point in my life, I had learned from experience that I wasn’t worth a whole lot. Why? I don’t know. I had a mother who regularly told me great things about myself, teachers who supported me and told me I could be anything, and healthy peer groups. I can make some guesses, but it’s really not important anymore. I have tuned into my core belief. It’s not my only one, but it’s my strongest. It’s the one I’m constantly disputing through thought challenging.
If I have a crappy thought about my self-worth like, “I don’t deserve to ask for more love,” I often stop myself. I think if this is healthy for me and I determine if this is valid or a piece of an invalid core belief I have. Once upon a time, this was an effort for me. Over time, I’ve learned to instinctively advocate for myself. I do deserve love. It’s usually not ridiculous to ask for more love. That is a valid desire.
This theoretical approach to framing psychological themes comes from cognitive behavioral theory. Basically, it’s in the form of Thoughts –> Feelings –> Behaviors. So, in my life example:
Thought: I have no worth.
Feeling: Self-loathing, depression
Behaviors: Participation in crappy relationships, lack of motivation in life, inconsistent performance at job/school, etc.
But, ah ah ah. Tsk, tssk, tsskkkkk. That’s not all there is to it. These behaviors can be dangerous because they reinforce my belief. By not advocating for myself in my relationships, I developed the belief that “No one loves me,” which is what is called a supporting belief. My thoughts, feelings, and actions had resulted in certain life circumstances which reinforced my belief that I was crappy and didn’t deserve good things.
So if you feel there’s a general patten in your life of experiences that constantly reinforce a belief about yourself or your life, take a mental and emotional inventory of yourself. Check your core beliefs. See if there isn’t something worth challenging. If you find something worth looking at a little deeper, call a counselor. Nasty core beliefs about yourself are not something to fool around with.
Just for your reference, some of the most common core beliefs are:
- not good enough (incompetent)
- not good enough (unlovable)
- unwanted, different
- defective, imperfect, bad
- powerless, one-below
- in danger, not safe
- don’t know, wrong
What are some core beliefs you (or someone you know) has struggled with?
Do you think this approach makes sense for your life? If it doesn’t, what do you believe would work for you?
For more information on variations of the listed core beliefs, click the “2” below where I got the most common beliefs.