Identification of core beliefs can be challenging because the unconscious parts of our ego and psyche go to great lengths to protect us, with amazing success, from a negative self-image.
We live blissfully unaware of the strength of our negative thought patterns until things fall apart. Then one day we may be faced with the loss of a loved one, financial pressures, conflict at work and/or home or a confluence of events that are intolerable. We can no longer cope and all the disguised, hidden self-doubt overcomes us.
We’re “blown away” as if struck by a tornado. We emotionally collapse, not just because of the circumstances but also because of the meanings we attach to them. Not only did we lose a person or possession of value, we believe it happened only because of our defects. We’ve fallen prey to beliefs that we’re incompetent, flawed, or unworthy.
How do we recognize negative core beliefs? Since it is easier to see how others play them out, here are a few hypothetical examples.
We all know of similar individuals and may even recognize some of ourselves in these descriptions.
Joe was born into a family where it was extremely important to do everything absolutely perfectly. He knew this because his father constantly criticized everything he did, followed by the incessant reminder, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”
Joe developed a belief that he was defective in that he could never measure up to his father’s perfectionism. To avoid the sense of feeling defective he over-compensated, became a perfectionist himself and bestowed anger on anyone who failed to meet his expectations. Needless to say, he was unknowingly acting out anger at himself.
Joe’s sister Kim responded in an opposite way. She rebelled, didn’t do her homework, skipped school and raced through her chores in a haphazard way. She figured Dad was going to criticize her anyway so why bother even trying to meet his expectations. Underlying her rebellion was hopelessness that she could ever measure up to anyone’s expectations. It was another way of coping with the core belief that she wasn’t good enough.
In another family lives Carol, an only child whose parents are extremely loving but doting to the point of over-protectiveness. Carol grows up with the implicit message that the world is unsafe which she translates to the core belief that she is inadequate and unable to take care of herself. She manifests this belief by rigidly following rules and constantly changing her mind because she so fears the consequences of a mistake. Her indecision irritates all who know her. They don’t realize how afraid she is.
Other individuals act out beliefs they are not good enough in many ways. One is to consistently take a defensive posture, to always have an excuse or explanation ready. Such excuses seem to come out of nowhere; we hear them and shake our heads with disbelief, wondering what we said that needed to be defended.
Still other people protect themselves from their self-doubt by using a strong positive approach. We all know someone like this, who comes across as an expert on almost every subject. A reasonable discussion is impossible because this person leaves no space for others’ opinions.
Everyone has a tiny bit of a negative core belief system. No one has perfect self-esteem. On the road to healthy wholeness we dare to challenge and then let go of these beliefs.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 394-2861. Visit her Web site at http://www.etseven.net.