Sunday, February 5, 2012

Change core beliefs to prevent psychological disorders


People’s emotional reactions and behaviour are strongly influenced by core beliefs. Core beliefs are essential part of the individual’s cognition. Cognition comprises thoughts, beliefs and interpretations about the self or the situations. In other words one’s cognition is the meaning one gives to the events of his/her life.
Different cognitions generate different emotions
Diagram of cognition-behaviour
If we ask people what has made them sad (or happy, or angry, or whatever), they often give us accounts of events or situations. For example a young adult who came to me for the treatment of depression was very sad on that day because he had a row with his wife. But, it cannot be quite that simple. If an event automatically gave rise to an emotion in such a straightforward way, then it would follow that the same event would have to result in the same emotion for anyone who experienced that event. What we see actually is that to a greater or lesser degree, people react differently to similar events. Even events such as suffering bereavement, or being diagnosed with an inoperable stage of cancer, which are obviously terrible, do not produce the same emotional state in everyone. Some may completely be crushed by such events, while others cope reasonably well. So it is not just the event that determines emotion. There must be something else. This something else is cognition. It is the interpretation people make of the event. When two people react differently to an event it is because they are seeing it differently. Let me present a simple example of this cognitive process of emotional reaction. Suppose you are walking down the street and you see a lady you know coming the other way. She does not seem to notice you.  Below are a number of possible thoughts about event.
“I can’t think of anything to say to her. She will think I’m really boring and stupid.” (This kind of negative thought may lead to anxiety.)
“Nobody would ever want to talk to me anyway; no one seems to like me.”  (This negative thought indicates depression.)
“She’s very haughty; I’ve not done anything wrong.” (This thought is generated by anger.)
This illustrates the fact that different cognitions give rise to different emotions.
Different levels of cognitive processes
Aaron T. Beck
Cognition has different levels. Some cognitive processes are in the consciousness and so, we are aware of them. Negative thinking and negative thoughts automatically generated when an incident occurs are in the uppermost level. So we are aware of the negative automatic thoughts. Negative automatic thoughts were first described by the American psychiatrist Aaron T.  Beck
Core beliefs
Core beliefs represent the bottom line of a person’s mind.  These are the fundamental beliefs about oneself, other people and the world in general. Characteristics of core beliefs are:
  1. Most of the time they are not immediately accessible to consciousness. They may have to be inferred by observation of one’s characteristic thoughts and behaviours in many different situations.
  2. They manifest as general and absolute statements. (E. g.  I am bad. Others are not to be trusted.) 
  3. Unlike negative automatic thoughts, core belief do not vary much across times or situations but are seen by the person as fundamental truths that apply in all situations.
  4. They are usually learned early in life as a result of childhood experiences, but they may sometimes develop or change later in life, e.g., as a result of severe traumatic experience.

Negative core beliefs categorized
Not good enough (unlovable)
I am not lovable; I am unacceptable; I am plain and dull; I am not special; I am unworthy; I am not interesting enough etc.
 Don’t know, wrong
I don’t know; I get it wrong; I am always wrong; I can’t understand; I’m not understood; I am in the wrong place; I am no good; I am a mistake etc.
 In danger or not safe
I’m not safe; I am afraid; I am uncertain; I am vulnerable; I am helpless etc  
Unwanted, different
I don’t belong; I am unwanted; I am alone; I am unwelcome; I don’t fit in anywhere; I don’t exist; I’m nothing; I shouldn’t be here at all; I’m not anybody; I am left out; I am unsuitable; I am uninteresting; I am unimportant; I don’t matter etc.
 Defective, imperfect, bad
It’s my fault; I am guilty; I am bad; I am not whole; I am imperfect; I am unattractive; I am flawed; I am stupid; I am awkward; I am slow; I can’t be me;  I’m not true; I’m dirty; I am ugly; I am fat; I’m shameful; I am unclean; I am useless; I am crazy; I have a mental problem; I am out of control; I can’t make myself clear; I am mistaken; I am unbalanced; I will fail; I am a failure; I don’t deserve to be loved; I don’t deserve to be cared for; I don’t deserve anything; There’s something wrong with me etc.
 Powerless, one-below
I can’t do it; I can’t; I am a victim; I am weak; I am powerless; I am a failure; I am ineffective; I don’t have any choice;  I am less than;  I am helpless; I finish last; I am always number two; I am always one-below; I can’t stand up for myself; I am inferior; I am a loser; I am inadequate; I can’t say ‘no’ etc.
 Other: I am an awkward
A core belief is always an "I" statement as in "I am unlovable".  A belief "Nobody loves me" is called a 'supporting belief', a prediction or forecast about what others will do or have done.
Change your core beliefs to avoid stress and prevent psychological disorders
Psychological disorders like generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, depression, phobias, and obsessive compulsive disorder spring from the negative core beliefs. Changing negative core beliefs helps the individual to get rid of psychological disorders. The first step in changing a core belief is to identify it. When you do a thorough job of identifying the core beliefs you are more than halfway to changing them. This task can be a little challenging in the beginning but gets easier with practice.
How to identify the core belief?
Identifying a core belief is like solving a mystery of the illusions in your mind. You have to follow some clues to get down to the hidden beliefs in the unconscious.  Let’s use the example of fear of public speaking. Fear of public speaking is an emotional reaction to a belief.  The underlying thought a person has is that, “They will think I’m a stupid idiot.”  This is the fear, but not the belief.  Fears associated with what other people think of us are very common.  This same thought can occur in the mind when asking for what we want.
However the thought is not a core belief.  One has to be careful here because they are often misleading.   When finding core beliefs you follow the emotion.  We have to keep asking how the emotion of fear is created by the act of what someone else thinks.
If someone pointed at your hair, claimed it was green, and then started to laugh out loud at how silly you looked would you feel hurt?  Probably not. When you know your hair is not green you would know this person is just being silly, intoxicated, or having problems with vision. You know the issue is with his perception and not with you.  Having someone make fun of you and laugh at you when you know it is their perception is not a problem for you.  What people think of you doesn’t hurt you at all.
When you don’t believe you look foolish you are not affected by what others think.  Being aware that their mental image of you is not actual you, gives you immunity to their opinion. With this understanding it is obvious that one cannot be hurt emotionally by what others think and say about him/her.  When people think you are an idiot it doesn’t hurt you at all.  It only hurts if you believe you are an idiot.  This is the real cause of pain that we fear behind the story of public speaking.
In essence the fear of public speaking isn't a fear of what others will think of us. It is a fear of the emotional pain that results from believing something negative about our self.  What other people think would just be a trigger to activate our own negative core beliefs. 
The point is that to identify our core beliefs we have to look beyond the thoughts we think. 
Steps to Changing Core Beliefs
When you identify the core beliefs to this detail they begin to become ridiculous.  When you fully identify a set of beliefs you instinctively divest your belief in them. This shift happens just through your expanded awareness.  Just by identifying your beliefs you facilitate change in your emotions and behavior without a lot of work.
Changing a core belief is surprisingly easy. You simply stop believing in them.  It doesn't take much effort to not believe something.  However it does take some effort to develop the awareness to identify them.  
It sounds simple but does require some work.  There is also one very important step in the process that is often missed.  You have to change your point of view in order to change a core belief.  Where you shift your point of view in your mind is critically important.  Certain points of view will make it easy to dissolve a core belief and others will stop the process.
Changing Core Beliefs by Shifting Point of View
An easier way to change a belief is through shifting point of view. A new perspective allows you to have awareness that changes the way you see things.
Without this shift in perspective it is very difficult to change a belief.  When you are within the paradigm of a false belief it appears completely true so you continue to believe in it. Like the person that believes the earth is flat.  All contrary evidence is discounted until you shift your perspective.  This is one of the problems with affirmations.  From the point of view of our existing beliefs our affirmations look like a lie.  We can end up feeling like a liar or a fraud trying to adopt new beliefs that go against our current paradigm. 
A belief paradigm acts very much like a dream when you are asleep. When you are in a dream it seems completely real. You believe what is happening in the dream is really happening to you. You might feel like your life is in danger and feel the corresponding emotions of fear.  But then you wake up from the dream.  You begin looking at the dream from the perspective of sitting up in your bed in an awakened state.  With that shift in point of view you immediately drop your fear and the notion that you are in danger.  With this shift in perspective the illusion of the dream no longer has power over your mind and emotions.  Changing your point of view in this way allows you to quickly change beliefs. This kind of paradigm shift is very powerful. Numerous people have had near death experiences that completely dissolved their fears of death and dying. Real life change involves changing core beliefs. One of the fastest ways to change core beliefs is by shifting your point of view.  
Keeping thought diary helps to identify negative core beliefs
Following is guideline for writing the thought diary:
1. The situation. Briefly describe the situation you would like to have handled better. This will help you remember it later if you want to review your notes.
E.g. I made a mistake at work. I felt anxious and was reminded of past failures.
2. Initial thought. What thought first popped into your mind? This was probably a subconscious or automatic thought that you have had before.
E.g. I feel like a failure. If people knew the real me, they wouldn't like me.
3. Negative thinking. Identify the negative thinking behind your initial thought. Choose one or more from the list of common types of negative thinking
E.g. I feel like a failure. If people knew the real me, they wouldn't like me. ( this is self-labeling and disqualifying the positives)
4. Source of negative belief. Can you trace your thinking back to a situation or person? Is there a deep belief or fear driving your thinking? Search your heart.
I can hear the voice of my parent saying that I’m a failure and that I’ll never amount to anything.
5. Challenge your thinking. Look at the evidence both for and against your thinking. Have you been in a similar situation before? What did you learn from it? What strengths do you bring to this situation? Make sure you see the whole picture.
E.g. I'm hard on myself. I don't always succeed, but I do sometimes. People have complimented me on my work. I feel overwhelmed when I try to be perfect.
6. Consider the consequences. What are the short-term and long-term consequences if you continue to think like this? Look at the physical, psychological, professional, and emotional consequences.
E.g. I'm damaging my self-esteem. If I continue to think like this, my negativity will affect my relationships and possibly my health. I'll become exhausted.
7. Alternative thinking. The previous steps of the thought record helped you understand your thinking and lower your defenses. Now that you've considered the facts, write down a healthier way of thinking.
E.g. I don't have to succeed at everything. I can learn from my mistakes. I’m not a failure. I want to get rid of this negative thinking. I'm being hard on myself.
8. Positive belief and affirmation. Write down a statement that reflects your healthier beliefs. Find something that you can repeat to yourself.
E.g.  A mistake is not failure. I am successful in many ways.
9. Action plan. What action can you take to support your new thinking?
E.g. The next time I make a mistake, I won't dwell on the negatives. Instead I will focus on what I can learn from my mistake. I will remind myself of my past successes.
10. Improvement. Do you feel slightly better or more optimistic? This step reinforces the idea that if you change your thinking, you will change your mood. Gradually over time, your thinking and life will begin to improve.
If you write a thought record every day for a few weeks, you will begin to change your thinking. You'll spot your negative thinking quickly and let it go. You will come up with better alternatives. You will practice your healthier way of thinking and incorporate it into your life.  

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