Let’s imagine ourselves as an iceberg…
The parts we show, our automatic thinking, how we respond to what’s going on around us – this is easily accessible – maybe think of this as the tip of the iceberg on top of the water. This smaller, superficial part is masking what is going on underneath. Deeper down are the less reachable parts including the core beliefs (the conclusions we have made about ourselves, other people and the world).
Unhelpful core beliefs might look like this:
I’m not good enough
The world is dangerous
People can’t be trusted
These biased beliefs are generally developed when we are young and yet to develop experience of the world – back when babies were brought by a stork, bunnies hid eggs at Easter and we held other pretty benign beliefs that were (hopefully) replaced as we got older.
These beliefs reflect our bottom lineand can lead us to behave and think in some quite unhealthy ways. Take the example:
“I am a failure”.
If this is the bottom line, we develop rules for living to accommodate. Maybe this means we don’t step out of our comfort zone in case we make a ‘mistake’. Maybe we work all hours of the day and exhaust ourselves in the pursuit of perfection or never go for a promotion in case we don’t get the job. Maybe we don’t show others ‘the real’ us through fear of rejection. Every time we don’t ‘win’, we ‘fail’. It’s as black and white as that.
It’s interesting that although these beliefs cause and maintain distress, anxiety, worry and low mood, changing your bottom line isn’t easy. It takes motivation, patience and practise. Using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, unhelpful thinking styles can be examined and new behaviours developed to help reduce anxiety and improve mood.
You might start by asking yourself, what are the benefits of my unhelpful rules for living?
If I avoid situations where I am ‘exposed’, I don’t get too much criticism. I don’t have to feel bad about being a failure. OR If I already know I’m a failure, it’s not so hard to take when I do something wrong.
What could an alternative, healthier rule be?
I will try situations where I could potentially ‘fail’. I am going to acknowledge when I do succeed and not ‘catastrophise’ if I don’t.
Could you have a go at testing out the new rule?
I could apply for the promotion and see if I get it or not. If I don’t, I will tell myself that plenty of people go for jobs but don’t end up getting them- it’s part of life.
How might your belief about yourself change?
I could develop an understanding that although I fail at some things (I might go for a job interview and not get it) it does not mean that I am a failure.
In other words, change is helpful. Changing your outlook is a positive step. Changing direction could help avoid unhelpful emotions.
“The Titanic hit the iceberg not because they could not see
it coming but because they could not change direction”.
Dean Devlin – US screenwriter.
If you would are experiencing worry and stress fuelled by unhelpful beliefs, an accredited CBT therapist can help. You can access CBT through your GP or privately.
The bottom line!