We all look at the world in a different way. Even twins who might have shared much of the same kind of upbringing and experiences of being parented by the same people can have differing views of the world and their respective places within it.
We all experience the happenings of our days in our own way and interpret those experiences according to how our minds make sense of them. We all have core beliefs - these are the beliefs which we hold deep within ourselves and they influence how we interpret the things that happen to us, the world around us and others' actions and behaviours.
Think of those beliefs as a collection of Instagram filters (other social media platforms are available!). They shape the way that we see the same thing. The same experience can seem vastly different depending on which one we apply. The difference with social media, of course, is that we can see these filters lined up against each other, and we consciously choose the one which meets our needs. If we want an old-fashioned looking image we might choose a sepia tone. If we want a professional photo for our workplace we might choose a flattering but neutral filter.
When we come to apply our own psychological filters to our lives and experiences we don't have as much autonomy over which one we use - the core belief through which we interpret it.
Take for example joining an evening language class as an adult. One of our new fellow students asks us to go for a cup of coffee before the next lesson. Depending on our core belief we interpret this invitation in different ways.
Core belief: I am a worthy person, I have worth.
Consequence: I might enjoy getting to know this person. I'll agree to go for coffee.
Core belief: I am a worthless person, I have no worth.
Consequence: They might realise how boring and pathetic I am, I can't risk it. I won't take up the offer.
It's unfortunately very common to have some negative core beliefs about ourselves. We have usually picked them up along the way in the course of our lives from people who have had a negative influence on us:
- That might be a very critical, unloving parent who always brought up our weight as a negative and only praised us when we were successful at dieting.
- Or perhaps it is a sibling whom we fought with as a child, and they repeatedly reminded us that we had a big nose or were funny looking.
- It might have been a teacher who undermined our intelligence and confidence by laughing at us for asking a question at school.
- Or a boss who treated us as though it was just a matter of time before we would make a mistake and wouldn't allow us any responsibility.
These are the things that we can experience just once (though often many times), feel hurt by them, and then pick those beliefs up and take with us as we move through life - sometimes for our entire lifetime.
Do you identify with any of these negative core beliefs?
- I'm not interesting
- I'm stupid
- I don't deserve to be happy
- I'm a bad person
- I'm ugly
We can confront these beliefs in therapy - we can challenge whether they are true, or whether we have taken on the harsh words that someone once used to hurt us. By breaking down these negative core beliefs we can begin to open ourselves up to a more caring and compassionate way of being and thinking.
- Instead of believing "I'm ugly" we can challenge whether that is really true, or whether we just don't look how an ex-partner wanted us to.
- Instead of believing "I'm a bad person" we can identify instances of acts of kindness that we have carried out for others and expected nothing in return.
You could start to see yoursef in a slightly different light - often the light that I as your therapist see you in when you come to a session. An open, supportive, accepting way of thinking that doesn't punish you for not living up to other people's standards.
If you're looking to work on self-esteem or self-worth in counselling then this could be a great place for us to start. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange your free 10-minute phone consultation - or use my contact form on www.harleycounselling.com/contact.
Laura is an online talking therapist and writer specialising in working with millennials and the LGBTQI+ community.