Working hard on core beliefs….

My clients have been doing some serious work lately….leading to a few AHA moments.

There have been some exciting times in my practice in the last few weeks. The message to come from this is hard work brings results. When I mean hard work, I am not talking about working physically or staying in the office for long hours but the hard work that it takes to face problems, make decisions that will have a bearing on the future and to expose yourself to those things that have been laying dormant for years. As Scott Peck famously stated:

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.” 

This has certainly been true for a few people lately and out of the death of old belief systems comes the new life that is beginning to spur them on to more fulfilled, realistic lives. (Note my reluctance to use the word “happy” in that last sentence. I have always felt that we are all under intense pressure to be happy in the way society deems fit. Happiness is individual to everyone and what makes one person happy is not deemed as happiness by others.) So what started off this series of positive events?

I have been offering online therapy for over 10 years. During that time, I have built up a speciality in many areas of psychology (especially Codependency) and helped many clients move forward. Contact me for a free consultation. I engage fully with my clients to ensure the best possible chance of recovery. I firmly believe that awareness is important but action is the decisive element of recovery. I accompany my clients along that road not only by offering sessions focusing on their issues but as a resource between sessions too.

As a therapist who believes strongly in the fact that the way we see the problem, sometimes is the problem, I firmly believe that the way we live and see the world is totally formed by our thought schemas…that is our beliefs on various levels, absorbed by parental influence, environment and some genetics. Parents in their willingness to try to prepare their children for adulthood, sometimes fail to realise that seemingly small events can have a lasting effect on a child. A client of mine once said that he once spilled some milk at the breakfast table, causing his father to use the word “idiot” to describe him. He says, rightly, that he can never remember the circumstances or the place he did this but has never forgot being called an idiot. Not hard to work out what he absorbed from this experience. This example runs to the very centre of what has happened over the last few weeks, we have been working on something specific. I am of the belief that long-standing beliefs about people, yourself and the world around you called “core beliefs”,  are sometimes very difficult to budge.  They can be positive and healthy or dysfunctional depending on the influences had. However, many of us consider these core beliefs to be 100% true and valid at all times, which can lead us to engage in “tunnel vision” of sorts…selectively ignoring evidence around us which is contradictory (confirmatory bias). Core beliefs are at the very heart of our belief system…the way we understand ourselves and everything  around us, thereby making them very important to the emotional/mental health picture. In short, your head creates your world.

Albert Ellis, one of the founding fathers of CBT, believed that when all is said and done, people with dysfunctional core beliefs are usually only stricken with a combination of two. The world is a hopeless place and I am unlovable. These two alone can leave people with attitudes that other people are untrustworthy, the need to constantly proves themselves worthy, a feeling of not being good enough or the world is a dangerous place outside of their comfort zone, amongst others. Not hard to work out how these core beliefs and attitudes could have an effect on our automatic thoughts, emotions and the resulting behaviour.  Though everyone’s automatic thoughts are unique, there are also clear patterns of depressive automatic thoughts that form that are common across many  people’s minds. Just look at these examples:

Catastrophising – always anticipating the worst possible outcome to occur (e.g., expecting to be criticised or fired when the boss calls).

Filtering – exaggerating the negative and minimising the positive aspects of an experience (e.g., focusing on all the extra work that went into a promotion rather than on how nice it is to have the promotion).

Personalising – automatically accepting blame when something bad occurs even when you had nothing to do with the cause of the negative event (e.g., He didn’t return my phone call because I am a terrible friend or a boring person; I caused him to not call.).

(Over)Generalising – viewing isolated troubling events as evidence that all following events will become troubled (e.g., having one bad day means that the entire week is ruined).

Polarising – viewing situations in black or white (all bad or all good) terms rather than looking for the shades of gray (e.g., “I missed two questions on my exam, therefore I am stupid”, instead of “I need to study harder next time, but hey – I did pretty good anyway!”).

Emotionalising – allowing feelings about an event to override logical evaluation of the events that occurred during the event. (e.g., I feel so stupid that it’s obvious that I’m a stupid person).

This is where the hard work in therapy comes in, the realisation, acceptance and challenging of core beliefs. Cognitive behavioural therapists teach their clients to identify debate and then correct their irrational ideas. The disputing process involves teaching patients to systematically ask and answer a set of questions designed to draw out whether particular ideas have any basis. Examples of disputing questions include:

Is there any evidence for this belief?

What is the evidence against this belief?

What is the worst that can happen if you give up this belief?

What is the best that can happen?

This works on the basis that negative thoughts patterns are learnt and so can be unlearnt and replaced. After multiple sessions , clients learn to monitor their own thoughts and perform the disputing process on their own outside of therapy sessions, becoming their own therapist in essence. I have experienced just that in the past few weeks.

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