30 Nov How to Combat Negative Thinking Patterns and False Beliefs
It’s common for people to struggle with negative views of themselves and the world they live in. However, overtime this leads to filtering out the truth, even the good or positive aspects of a situation, which is one of the catalysts for cultivating resistance to growth.
In times of distress or confusion, many people feel like they are wrong, they should be doing something different, or that things aren’t fair for them. This thinking process is self-invalidating and leaves one feeling stuck or hopeless, ignoring the facts and limiting their ability to see the lessons in these painful or frustrating circumstances.
You Didn’t Create Your Thoughts
Many people feel responsible for their thoughts, when actually they are not responsible for the creation of these negative beliefs. You didn’t wake up one day and say to yourself, “Today is the day I will be hard on myself and critical of everything I try; I really want to feel less than or unworthy.”
No one does.
Our beliefs and our thoughts are created through our experiences and invalidating environments (society and people who discount our emotions or ignore them). We develop these unhealthy thinking patterns in an attempt to make sense of the things we have little control over in our lives.
Take an old friend of mine, Lea, for example. She had very strict parents growing up, who were hard to please. She got the message that “only straight A’s were acceptable,” and even her impeccable penmanship had room for improvement, according to her mother. She developed a mindset that ignored the effort and the time she spent on schoolwork and was ruled by fear.
As an adult, she developed rigid and perfectionistic thinking patterns, which caused a great deal of anxiety for her. She didn’t choose these thoughts, they were reinforced beliefs that started in her childhood. Through therapy, however, she did learn that she could change the negative thoughts and beliefs that were interfering with her life.
Find the Limiting Belief
In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), we teach clients to “work the dialectic,” which refers to finding what’s missing in the extreme thinking patterns that result in acting in impulsive or unhealthy ways. This generally presents itself in situations where there are two opposing opposites.
For Lea, her rigid belief that she wasn’t “good enough” unless she was perfect in everything she did was an extreme. It was interfering with her relationships at work and in her personal life, as well reinforcing an impossible standard for herself. She’d spend hours at night editing projects, overthinking and worrying about the outcome. She began to distance herself from friends and family to focus on her job and truly believed she would be fired at any moment.
She was filtering out so many facts that were contrary to her fears. Her supervisor praised her work, she had recently received a raise and was promoted faster than anyone else she started with. But, Lea wasn’t capable of seeing alternatives to her deep-rooted belief that she wasn’t good enough.
How to Combat Negative Beliefs
So, what do you do about a limiting belief?
Mindfully take note of the thought. Learn to hear what the belief is actually saying, and then you can challenge it or find the dialectic. The truth is, most of these negative thoughts are not true anymore, or they don’t fit the facts of the current situation.
For Lea, when she was a child and would get punished for making a B+, it felt true due to her family’s unrealistic expectations. However, this rigid standard didn’t apply to her job or her relationships as an adult.
For many people, these beliefs derived from early experiences or an isolated time in the past. Rarely, if ever, are they helpful ways to think or act in the now.
Begin to look at how this belief is currently interfering with your life, and ask yourself if it’s serving you. Is it helping you in any way or is it causing more tension, anxiety or distress? Look at a recent situation that evoked this thought or belief, what happened (be specific) and as a result what did you think and feel (what was the thought)?
For example, Lea spent hours after work editing her presentation last week; she didn’t get enough sleep and was late to work. Her belief that she had to be perfect was interfering with her ability to show up to work (literally). She thought she would be fired and felt insecure during her presentation.
Ask yourself what evidence contradicts these thoughts and feelings?
For Lea, she is rarely late and has been at her company for two years, with glowing reviews from her superiors and a recent raise. This presentation is one of hundreds she has done, and it’s unlikely she will be fired over it. They have invested a lot in her and it would cost them more to fire her and train someone new. Her colleague is late almost every day and has been with the company for six years.
What is a more effective way to think and feel about this? Even though you may not believe it yet, thinking of a healthier and more realistic thought can help you transform the old belief pattern. This takes a little practice and motivation but is necessary.
Start with one limiting belief at a time and ask yourself these questions:
- Is this really true?
- What evidence do I have to support this?
- Are there real life examples to support it?
- Is it possible that the opposite might actually be true?
- What would I tell a friend in this situation?
Patience and persistence is necessary. Is reprogramming yourself to get rid of toxic thoughts an easy task? No way! But, you don’t have to allow the negativity to dominate your thinking. The more and more you identify and expose these negative thoughts or limiting beliefs, the more you are letting go of their weight in your mind.
Authored by: Emily Roberts, MA, LPC