Saturday, November 14, 2009

Core beliefs

I was reading a paper today about our core beliefs about ourselves and our world, and how they can affect our lives. It's an offshoot (or variation upon) some of the Seligman Learned Optimism research. The author says there are about a dozen beliefs that tend to get misinterpreted by folks. These include things like:

"I need love and approval from those significant to me -- and I must avoid disapproval from any source"
"Everyone needs to depend on someone stronger than themselves"
"My unhappiness is caused by things outside my control".

Each of these has a kernel of truth (e.g., love and approval are good to get, it's helpful to have strong people as friends), but the problem arises when these kinds of beliefs are turned into 'musts'. There's a difference between recognizing something that's good to have and thinking of that thing as something a law of the universe which cannot be violated.

Out of these demands come different types of problematic thinking:
"Awfulizing" -- turning a problem into catastrophic thinking, as if the events are the most horrible things that could happen.
"Can't-stand-it-itis" -- an intolerance of the discomfort caused by things not going according to our 'rules' of how they should, and
"People rating" -- evaluating one's entire worth by extrapolating from a specific trait or incident to the entire person. This is the 'I'm a horrible person' response instead of 'I did something wrong'.

What interests me about this framework is that it helps me pinpoint specific difficulties that various people I know have. For example, I have one child who spirals downward whenever someone is angry, because of (what I assume is) an underlying belief that anger = being unloved. The nugget of truth is that when we are angry we are the opposite of loving. But this bit of truth can easily be twisted about and turned into an intolerance of conflict or into believing that if people get angry at you it must mean you're unloveable.

The entire list of problematic core beliefs -- as well as strategies for helping people who hold them -- are in the link above. I dunno... I find this kind of thing interesting. Maybe you do, too.

1 comment:

  1. #12 got me -- every problem must have a solution. I'm not necessarily in search of an ideal solution, but I want there to be some solution. I'm going to try to let go of that. Thanks.