Most of us walk through life influenced by certain core beliefs. Although we are only minimally aware of these beliefs and how they affect us, they impact us daily. A primarily goal in psychotherapy is to uncover negative core beliefs, confront them so as to introduce and reinforce positive belief systems.
Core beliefs can be positive or negative. Because we need to feel worthwhile we tend to deny the negatives; we are mostly unaware of the subtle power they exert. We work to avoid the pain of realizing how badly we might feel about ourselves.
A few examples of negative core beliefs are: I am not worthy; I don’t deserve love; I can’t succeed; I must be bad; I can’t have what I want, or I am stupid. These are some of the basics but these and many others effectively prevent individuals from realizing their full potential.
Where do these beliefs come from? They are messages we heard over and over during the formative years, and we gradually began to believe them. For example, some parents have extremely high expectations of their children. They are not bad parents, but so desire to look and be perfect they constantly push their kids toward their own ideals of perfection. They don’t hear themselves, nor do they realize how strong an influence their criticisms have on little minds and psyches.
In other situations abusive parents seriously traumatize their children with nothing but threats, putdowns, and physical harm. Under such circumstances a child lives with extreme fright and sees himself only as defective, unworthy, and victimized.
Children want nothing more than parental love and approval and will do anything to please their parents. However a child with overly critical parents cannot discern between his/her sense of failure or badness and the parent’s issues or need to look good. In the child’s mind too much criticism means he or she must be somehow defective.
A child subjected to harsh or abusive treatment will compensate to salvage a positive sense of self and may do so in different ways, depending on basic personality style and other circumstances. They find ways to override the core negative beliefs. Otherwise those underlying doubts would totally block any efforts to succeed. The core beliefs strongly influence not only what we accomplish in life but how we go about it.
To compensate for feeling bad, stupid, unworthy, or invisible a child may become a perfectionist, rebel, give up trying, or succumb to a deep sense of unworthiness. Some individuals prove themselves through extraordinary accomplishments.
Next week we will discuss how to identify one’s core beliefs and look more closely at the defenses we build in order to maintain a positive image.
Elinor Stanton is a psychiatric nurse practitioner on Marco Island. She has 30 years of experience as a therapist in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. Send comments and questions to email@example.com or call 394-2861. Visit her Web site at http://www.etseven.net.