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How To Recognise And Change Distorted Core Beliefs

Which ‘Core Belief’ Keeps Tripping you Up?

We know that it is our distorted thoughts about ourselves and the world which can often lead to unhealthy choices (or you’ve just let yourself get too hungry – which is a physiological blood sugar issues).

When it comes to the psychological side of weight, at Motivation we highlight a client’s distorted thoughts through the Mental Weight Questionnaire. We then work with the client to help change those thoughts in order to change their behaviour or, conversely, to change the unhealthy behaviour or habit in order to shape more constructive and compassionate thoughts about the self (for example, learning to stop using food as a reward by using alternative techniques that are less damaging and also more effective – a win-win!).

What’s Your ‘Story’?

As we all know, getting ourselves to do something different – even when we know it’s good for us – depends largely on what we tell ourselves; that is, on our thinking. The ‘story’ we tell ourselves is crucial, and is often distorted, so it’s a great place to focus attention in order to change habits and mindset.

Core beliefs may not be immediately accessible to the consciousness. We have to ‘study’ ourselves and others in order to learn more about automatic thoughts. These core beliefs have been ingrained since childhood (the result of common-place hurts and sometimes more serious trauma).

Are you even aware of the core beliefs that you hold that underpin a lot of your self-sabotaging behaviour?

The ones we most commonly hear in our clinics tend to be: “I’m a hopeless case”, “I never get past a certain point in weight loss”, or “I have to do things perfectly well or not at all’ or “I obsess about how others see me’ (in other words, if I don’t get their approval, then I am worthless so their approval is crucial to my wellbeing). I think we can probably all agree that these are negative and distorted untruths.  Let’s take a look at some more.

The following set of distorted core beliefs, brought into the public domain originally by one of the pioneers of CBT, Albert Ellis. Tick any that apply to you (and notice the use of ‘should’ and ‘must’ throughout):

1. “I must do well and get the approval of everybody who matters to me or I will be a worthless person.”

2. “Other people must treat me kindly and fairly or else they are bad.”

3. “I must have an easy, enjoyable life or I cannot enjoy living at all.”

4. “All the people who matter to me must love me and approve of me or it will be awful.”

5. “I must be a high achiever or I am worthless.”

6. “Nobody should ever behave badly and, if they do, I should condemn them.”

7. “I mustn’t be frustrated in getting what I want and if I am it will be terrible.”

8. “When things are tough and I am under pressure, I must be miserable and there is nothing I can do about this.”

9. “When faced with the possibility of something frightening or dangerous happening to me, I must obsess about it and make frantic efforts to avoid it.”

10. “My past is the most important part of my life and it will keep on dictating how I feel and what I do.”

Irrational Beliefs

Seemingly ‘factual’ sentences such as, “This is awful, I can’t bear it!” tend to lead to unhealthy negative emotions. An example with our clients would be, “I’ve had a slip so now the whole day or week is a disaster”, or “Other people can eat what they want – so why can’t I? It’s not fair”.

When aiming to disrupt irrational beliefs, try to focus attention towards changing the language used, and thereby the ‘story’ that you are telling yourself about your successes and failures. While a situation may be bad, it is certainly not awful. Other irrational beliefs include rating people instead of their actions (“I’m terrible” or “She’s a nasty piece of work“), as well as overgeneralizing (“I’ll never get the job I want“).

Questions to Ask Yourself

– Why must I feel, think or do this?

– Can I rationally support this belief?

– Where is the evidence?

– What alternative explanations or perspectives are there?

– Is it really as awful as I’m telling myself?

– How does a bad act make me a bad person?

– Where is it written that others must act in a certain way towards me?

Take a look at this engaging video on automatic thoughts here.

Healthy Negative Emotions

It should be stated that CBT doesn’t wish to eliminate all negativity within an individual; rather, it identifies a difference between healthy negative emotions and unhealthy negative emotions.

Healthy negative emotions include concern, sadness, annoyance, remorse, disappointment, and regret, while unhealthy negative emotions include anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, hurt, jealousy, and shame.

Unhealthy negative emotions tend to lead to self-defeating behavior, whereas healthy negative emotions tend to lead to self-preserving behaviour. For instance, sadness can lead to self-preservation whereby an individual wishes to stop being sad and will take the appropriate actions to do so; on the other hand, depression can lead to self-defeat whereby one may become passive and not have any motivation to change.

What story are you telling yourself today? And could you change it to a more helpful one?

Don’t leave this to chance. Affecting change in and around distorted core beliefs will being about positive improvements in many aspects of your daily life.

For more about Albert Ellis and CBT, visit the Albert Ellis Institute.

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