If someone goes to therapy, specifically a CBT therapist, they may hear the term “core beliefs.” In my mind’s eye, I have always imagined this as a structure of pillars. These pillars contain our deepest set of beliefs about ourselves and begin construction from day one. Deep within these pillars lay messages that come in from our environment, our parents, friends, life experiences, genetics and our perceptions of the world around us.
If someone were to ask you what your deepest innermost feelings were about yourself, chances are the immediate answer would be “I think I deserve to be loved and successful.” Many of us do feel this way when prompted for an answer- however in order to really understand ourselves it is important to take a look at what our behaviors are saying. Are you thinking one way, but your behaviors are acting the opposite?
It is not uncommon for people to say they deserve true love, yet feel as though it is mandatory to settle for a less-than ideal partner. Sure, they may not make you laugh or be interesting, but it’s good enough. Some of us may be complacent in our careers with bosses we despise but feel, well, it’s more than most have and who am I to deserve anything more than other people. The beauty in therapy is linking the thoughts and behaviors- are my behaviors telling me I’m just not good enough, I don’t deserve anything special or I am inherently unlovable?
To get to the root of the matter, it’s time to fill up the ol’ brain tank, put on some comfy cozies ( I am a firm believer that all therapy should be held in the comfiest of clothes, preferably with a loving animal by your side. Stay tuned for my future collaborations with the founders of the Snuggie) and prepare to talk a trip down memory lane.
While there is certainly a lot to say for not dwelling on the past and not living in the past, it is certainly worth visiting the past to take a look at how it has shaped us. Those who have experienced abusive childhoods may find they experience tremulous relationships with other people whether it is romantically, professionally or in their day-to-day lives. It is tough to understand why it seems as though we can’t get it right, or the world is out to make our lives harder.
Taking this a step deeper, looking into the past, is it possible throughout a childhood filled with abuse that what was communicated on an unspoken level was “this child is undeserving of love and safety” or “this is the only type of love you are good enough for.” With these damaging messaging staying deep within the roots of our emotions, we may unknowingly act on these core beliefs through being inherently drawn to people who may take advantage of us or be abusive.
Another common situation I have seen is one where a child is parentified ( a child having to grow up too fast, assume the responsibilities of an adult, take care of their family, etc). When this child grows up, it is possible this adult now seeks out the ‘fixer uppers’ and surrounds themselves with people who need constant caretaking, be it through a significant other or having friends who are always in a crisis situation.
None of this is bad or wrong on the individual’s part- as people we go to our baseline behaviors. It is our natural default programming. The beauty of therapy is the ability to link our emotions, our core beliefs and build a newer, stronger story that doesn’t involve us going to our old maladaptive behaviors that created unhappiness. As with changing any habit, new behaviors take time- starting a whole new set of behaviors from scratch after 30, 50 or however many years of hardwiring does take work and commitment; it is important to be mindful and gentle with yourself when taking on any new task.
Watching people learn about themselves is akin to watching a scuba diver exploring a sunken ship for the first time-sure they may have an idea of what happened but until they get in there to explore, they won’t have the whole picture of what lays underneath.
Alexis has been a part time contributor to the online website Patientworthy which is dedicated to education and awareness of rare and serious diseases. Links to articles written by Alexis: