Our experience of working with clients with anxiety has shown how a lot of it is driven by an underlying core belief that they have about themselves.
In this post we’re going to explore what a core belief is, how it links with anxiety, and look at getting to the bottom of your core belief.
What is a core belief?
A core belief is a ‘global label’ which you may have developed over time or from just a few events. It might be something like:
- I’m a failure;
- I’m not good enough;
- I’m not worthy;
- I’m a bad person.
Why are core beliefs so damaging?
A core belief effectively labels you in all areas of your life, even though it may have been triggered by one, or a few, particular events. For example, if you don’t get the grades you want in your exams you may label yourself with the core belief of being a failure. That can be extremely detrimental to your well-being.
The ‘filter effect’ of core beliefs
Another problem with core beliefs is that they impact on the way you perceive people and situations. Like a pair of glasses, the core belief is like the lens through which you see and relate to the world.
This means that, people/events that support your core belief are absorbed and taken on board, but things which contradict your core belief are pretty much dismissed.
An example of the the filter effect
For example, you go for a job interview and come out of it convinced that you’ve mucked up. Let’s assume you have the core belief of “I’m not good enough”.
Outcome 1: The prospective employer rings you and says you didn’t get the job on this occasion. You’re disappointed and beat yourself up, but feel this outcome was inevitable because you already believed you weren’t “good enough”.
Outcome 2: You’re contacted and told you got the job. You’re pleased, but you start to have thoughts that the employer gave you the job by mistake. You doubt your ability do the job, and are convinced that you don’t deserve to be offered the role. This is all because you being offered the role conflicts with your core belief of “I’m not good enough”.
How can I find out what my core belief is?
There’s a technique you can use called the Downward Arrow Technique. What you need to do is to think of a situation which triggered some negative thoughts, write down the situation together with the negative thoughts that came into your mind at that time.
When we ask clients what their thoughts were, a lot tend to name the feelings that came up for them. We think this is because it’s easier to identify the feelings more readily because our thoughts are often so automatic that we don’t notice what they are. However, for the Downward Arrow Technique we need to consider the thoughts that arise from a situation.
The Downward Arrow Technique
We’ll use the job offer example above. We already know the core belief, but we’ll just use the scenario as an example and work our way down from there.
When you were offered the job, you may have had negative thoughts such as:
- They only offered me the job because no one else wanted it
- They’ve made a mistake and rung the wrong number
- I’m not capable of doing the job
We need to pick just one of the negative thoughts in order to do the Downward Arrow Technique. For this scenario, we’ll pick the negative thought of: “They only offered me the job because no one else wanted it”.
We’ll work through the Downward Arrow Technique which involves starting with the negative thought, and continually questioning it (in italics):
Example of the Downward Arrow Technique
“They only offered me the job because no one else wanted it”. So, what if that were true, what would that mean?
“It would mean they must have been desperate to fill the job”. If that were the case,what would that mean?
“Well, it would mean they didn’t care who they gave the job to”. What if that was correct, what would that mean?
“It would mean they’re willing to take on anyone to do the job”. If that were true, what would that mean?
“Well, they’d probably realise later on that I can’t do the job”. If that were the case, what would that mean?
“They’d wonder why they took me on”. What if that was correct, what would that mean?
“They’d probably get rid of me because I’m not good enough for the job”. If that were true, what would that mean?
“It would mean I’m not good enough for the job”. If that were the case, what would that mean?
“I’m not good enough” (Core belief)
As the example shows, you just keep working down using similar statements until you reach what feels like a core belief. Bear in mind this is a very “neat” example, and sometimes it can take more (or less) time, and a bit more questioning to reach the core belief.
Now, give it a go with a real-life scenario and see how you get on.
Now that you have a better idea of your core belief, the next step is to challenge how true it actually is. We know we’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again to make the point; we tend to view thoughts and beliefs as facts when they are, in fact, subjective.
We’ll show you how to can challenge your core belief in the next blog post. See you then!