Beliefs are not always true; although, they often tend to feel true.
“I’m not good enough.”
“I’m a failure.”
“I will never be able to make her happy.”
“I will never measure up to their expectations of me.”
These are all statements and examples of beliefs. These are all beliefs a client (we will call her Ashley) identified to me within the first hour of meeting her. Now, I could have stated the obvious – she is pretty, she is well-dressed, she is smart and cognisant, she smiles with such peace, she is considerate and caring of others, she has measured up to many peoples’ expectations and the “her” she spoke of, obviously has a mental illness of her own and perhaps a personality disorder. However, me stating these statements would not have done a thing. She held these beliefs so close to her that no one could convince her otherwise. That’s how negative beliefs, especially those instilled in us at such a young age, work.
Ashley explained throughout the day she would feel okay, but at night, she would feel drained. She would lay in bed and not be able to sleep. She had these beliefs and thoughts running through her mind, spiralling out of control, and totally beating herself up. She felt tired. She felt depressed.
See, the thing is, Ashley was so focused on what everyone else thought of her and her achievements, she had difficulty focusing on herself. She let other’s beliefs and other’s statements take control. She twisted other’s statements to match her beliefs about herself. “My supervisor asked me to make a simple change; I took that as feeling like I’m not good enough and I won’t be able to measure up to her expectations.”
I challenged Ashley weekly. I asked her to challenge her own beliefs. I pointed out incongruencies. I challenged Ashley to take some time for herself – to use coping skills and self-care skills. I challenged her to express gratitude, grace, and we did self-esteem exercises. These exercises and skills can help you to take control back. These exercises and skills can help to battle the negative beliefs. These exercises and skills can alleviate depressive symptoms.
After one month of working with Ashley, she started pointing out her own incongruencies in session. She began noticing the difference between what she believed and what was evidenced. She began challenging her beliefs with statements like, “What evidence do I have that this is/not true?”, or “Is there another way of looking at the situation?”, or “Does this belief help or hurt me?”. After two months, Ashley was able to begin identifying positive traits about herself. She was able to see the good in herself. She was able to accept the negative things, but more importantly – accept the positive things about herself. Approximately three months into counselling, Ashley was rating her depression at 0 or 1 most days. Her relationship with her significant other was improving. She was feeling more successful, more energised and had a positive outlook.
Beliefs are tricky. They are consuming. Beliefs can weigh you down mentally, emotionally, and physically. Battle the negative beliefs you have about yourself. Battle the negative beliefs others have about you. Change your belief of “I’m not good enough” to “I am good enough”. Change your belief of “I will never feel better” to “I just don’t feel better YET”.