Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Self-image and self-esteem

 
Tackling negative core beliefs

Tackling negative core beliefs

How many times do you not only actually say to yourself 'I'm not good enough', but demonstrably show it through shooting yourself in the foot; self-defeating behaviours and attitudes; self-sabotage or whatever else you would like to call it? Every time the cycle goes around, you feel worse about yourself.

Everyone does this just a little, but when it becomes a continuous destructive cycle that drags you down, ruins your life and keeps you away from happiness, it's time to act.

We're talking about the following things and they might seem a bit harsh (usually the kind of things you might complain about in other people), but if you admit any of these are a bit like you, good for you – it's time to start doing something about it:

  • Being overly responsible. "I'm responsible for everything and everyone feeling good and being okay. Oh, and they have to like and approve of me all of the time. Otherwise, it's terrible and awful."
  • Self-blaming and self-judgement. "It's all my fault", "I'm such a klutz", "I can never get it right."
  • Being overly defensive. Here are a few synonyms from Webster's Dictionary for defensive: aggressive, bellicose, belligerent, combative, contentious, in-your-face, militant, pugnacious, quarrelsome, scrappy, truculent, and warlike. Enough said?
  • Blaming. "It's not my fault, they did it. It had nothing to do with me."
  • Being passive/aggressive. Complaining about people to others, sending a snarky email or text and then avoiding the person, or relying on others to help you or stick up for you.

This can result in:

  • Unassertiveness. Not speaking up or sticking up for yourself.
  • Submissiveness and neediness. This might lead to dependence, co-dependency, and in others, compassion-fatigue (in even your most loyal family or friends).

Why would you undermine yourself in this way?

It can be partly personality, partly upbringing and family culture, partly schooling, and partly how life treats you in general (reactionary). One or more of these can result in you having an unhelpful, unconscious opinion of yourself, a core belief that you might not even be aware of, but you've convinced your unconscious that it's the truth, so your unconscious will do anything it needs to validate this core belief, even if it breaks you. After all, it's only making you and the world the way you truly believe it to be.

These core beliefs can become so strong that you find yourself failing in spite of a desire to succeed. You don't understand why you keep sabotaging yourself, and this only strengthens your belief that you're not good enough. You feel that "If I were good enough, I wouldn't keep punishing myself this way."

You have sold yourself a bleak, negative story either because of the way people have treated you, or your self-belief. Your unconscious now completely believes this dysfunctional story and will act in ways you don't even notice, to bring about this negative, self-defeating truth. This is otherwise known as self-sabotage.

Look for self-sabotaging patterns in yourself and think about where they came from, and what the core-belief behind them might be. Keeping a journal can help with this.

Here are some examples of dysfunctional core beliefs:

"I'm not good enough."

"I'm bad, I do not deserve anything good, so why try?"

"People are mostly hurtful and mean, and I can't trust anyone."

"Life is never fair to me."

"The world is a scary and dangerous place."

There might even be some evidence for some of these beliefs, but they're not true all of the time. You owe it to yourself to deal with your core belief and start to live a happier life.

Now, take action fearlessly.

Why fearlessly? Because for so long you have seen yourself as a failure, or hopeless, or ineffective, or bad, that you may not start on this journey of self-discovery at all, merely because you "know" you will fail, just like you always do. Or, you fear that others won't accept the new, more confident you. Put your fear aside, and address your core belief.

Here are some examples of why we have the core belief that "I'm not good enough."

Cause: Your "role" in the family

For example, you're the moody one, the needy one. Often families support this role by validating you, protecting you and supporting you for having low self-esteem. When you're out of the family environment, you lose that validation and protection, but you still keep on being moody and needy, and you can't understand why you're not getting that validation and protection anymore. And what's more, you don't seem to be able to stop being moody and needy.

Core belief: "I'm not good enough but others will/should support, validate and protect me."

Cause: You've been abused and made to feel you're inferior by family or partners

Your family scapegoat you and pick on you for being different. You're the one everyone blames for anything that goes wrong. People often develop habits to support this terrible core belief, such as becoming alcoholic, gambler, irresponsible, etc. Or; your partner 'gaslights' you (manipulates you or abuses you in a way that makes you doubt your own self-efficacy or sanity). Or your partner abuses you or makes you co-dependent so that you cannot function in other relationships. Or, you were bullied at school, or sexually abused as a child.

Core belief: "I'm not good enough, I'm bad/stupid, and I don't deserve to be supported, validated or protected"

Cause: You are a shy, sensitive person in a blunt, insensitive world

You don't feel like you fit in because you actually don't. This can result in poor self-esteem because you really aren't like others. You feel awkward around them because of your 'different' social skills (notice I say different because they're not wrong, they just don't work in our present highly competitive society. At other times in history your retiring personality might have been valued as 'modest, quiet or thoughtful.')

Core belief: I'm not good enough because I'm different and I'll never fit in, and therefore I won't get support, validation or protection.

What can you do?

Resolve to overcome the past and the way people have treated you. In the case of severe or protracted abuse this needs professional help; do get it.

Beware of being passive or passive/aggressive (being overly reliant on others to fix things for you or make you feel good, (passive), and when they don't you punish them or blame them (passive/aggressive). Don't judge yourself if you recognize yourself here that will only make you feel worse. Have empathy and self-compassion. You might be a 'victim' of circumstance, but don't get stuck in that. Resolve to take more action in supporting yourself, learn to be assertive. Do a course in assertiveness, effective communication or relationships.

Do anything you think will increase your self-confidence. The youth organisation ReachOut has a good definition of self-confidence:

A confident person:

  • Does what they believe is right, even if it's unpopular
  • Is willing to take risks
  • Admits their mistakes and learns from them
  • Is able to accept a compliment
  • Is optimistic.


Drama or speech class can be great for increasing self-confidence. Joining a club or volunteering can help improve your confidence and self-esteem.

Accept that you are different and that you have just as much right to be here, to be respected and to be validated as anyone else.

If your core belief involves living what I call a "fear-based life", that the world is a scary place, developing self-confidence (as outlined above) is vital, but also develop confidence in your ability to protect yourself in the world. Taking a self-defence course, practicing a martial art, or getting fit can help.

Challenging and overcoming your core belief may not be as simple as the few strategies I've outlined here. The important thing is to accept that you have it and commit to taking action to overcome it and improve your life.

Getting those core beliefs out in the open is the first step. Good luck on your journey. If you have a contribution, please use the comments form below to leave a comment. If this has raised issues for you, remember there is always someone to listen at the following numbers:

Lifeline Australia - 13 11 14
Mensline Australia - 1300 78 99 78
Beyondblue - 1300 224 636
Suicideline Victoria - 1300 651 251
Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline - 1800 551 800
Griefline Community and Family Services - 1300 845 745

 

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