Pervasive Negative Beliefs
Pervasive negative beliefs are deeply held core ideas that influence thinking patterns, interpretations of events, and behavioral responses. When activated, these ideas trigger unhelpful response mechanisms and mood or anxiety symptoms. One type of pervasive beliefs that occur in anxiety and depressive disorders is negative core beliefs. Think about these beliefs like goggles. They are filters through which you interpret reality.
Negative core beliefs typically fall into three broad categories:
- Helplessness (“There’s nothing I can do to make this better.”)
- Hopelessness (“This is never going to get better.”)
- Worthlessness (“I am unworthy of love or acceptance. I am bad.”)
Content typically includes:
- Beliefs about self (“I am unloveable and unworthy.”)
- Beliefs about others (“People are uncaring and judgmental.”)
- Beliefs about the world (“The world is a dangerous place.”)
- Beliefs about the future (“Things will not get better.”)
Negative Core Beliefs are to Depression like Second Fear is to Anxiety Disorders.
Second fear turns an anxiety state into an anxiety disorders because the fear of the fear creates resistance that creates more fear (and more resistance and more fear).
Negative Core Beliefs turn a feeling into a depressive state because the interpretation of that feeling is that it means you are helpless, hopeless, or worthless.
Without a negative core belief, you can label and allow a feeling and then use the feeling as information about how you’d like to act next. So, for instance, if you feel lonely and you don’t add a negative core belief to it, you can use it as information that you should call someone. You will likely feel less lonely.
If a negative core belief is triggered, you are likely to ignore and suppress the feeling and then get stuck in your beliefs about being helpless, hopeless, or worthless. Using the same example, feeling lonely might make you believe that you are so hopeless and worthless that you become less likely to call and connect with someone. You will likely feel more lonely.
Getting through core beliefs can be more challenging than second fear, because anxious sensations and thoughts are easier to identify once you know what to observe. Core beliefs also feel very personal, making it difficult to clearly see what’s happening. Let’s discuss why some people are more prone to believing they are worthless, helpless, and hopeless and how to take off the Pervasive Negative Belief googles.
Worthiness v. worthlessness
It’s hard for many parents to accurately assess the skills, talents, interests, and potential within their children and provide the appropriate scaffolding to support growth without adding their own projections about who they want their child to be. As a result, many children grow up with unattainable, elusive criteria for worthiness. What you were taught about who you can be may not fit your actual potential and/or was a projection from one or both of your parents.
The actual criteria for worthiness is much looser in adulthood than it was in your childhood. There are many subcultures to try out and many in which you will fit in. There are many places you could enjoy living, many people with whom you could fall in love, many types of job you could potentially work.
Does it feel exciting? Do you feel worthy of it? If you start from a place of worthiness about love, friendship, and work, the discovery of what to do and with whom can become an exciting process.
If you feel worthless, try considering that it might not be truth about you. It might be an environmental stressor, like a breakup or a job transition, that is stressing your sense of self-worth. As we work together to frame your situation differently, you may find it easier to act from a place of worthiness until you feel worthy. And, if you persistently feel worthless, it is even less likely to be truth about you and more likely to be an environment that makes you feel worthless plus behaviors that reinforce that feeling. Try getting curious about the messages you received about worthiness and see how you can challenge them.
Helpfulness v. helplessness
Another word for helpfulness is efficacy. Efficacy, mastery, and control over your environment are all markers of wellbeing in adults. I don’t mean control behaviors run by OCD. I mean actually having choice over and control of everyday life, including what you eat, drink, wear, and buy, what work you do, what you learn, whom you associate and socialize with, and what you do in your leisure time.
Childhood is a prolonged period of helplessness. Hopefully, the adults around you didn’t make you too painfully aware of it. Both physical and emotional abuse and neglect create traumatic feelings of helplessness. A traumatic memory is a emotional-laden memory that gets stuck in time and space. Despite being an efficacious adult, certain combinations of triggers, thoughts, feelings, and sensations, may send you right back to the helplessness of when you were 5 or 15 years old. Your helplessness is a trauma memory.
You don’t need more efficaciousness via rules and perfectionism in an attempt to prevent this feeling. Turn towards yourself with your wise mind when you feel helpless. If you find yourself ruminating or obsessing, you are stuck in content. You know you have access to your wise mind if you can look at the experience with curiosity and compassion. Use compassion to manage the painful feelings. Use curiosity to observe your triggers and their consequences. It will be less intense and less threatening next time if you learn from it this time and offer yourself healing compassion. Feeling helpless doesn’t mean that you are. Oftentimes you don’t need more problem solving to get out of helplessness. You may just need to acknowledge it, show yourself compassion, and come back into your present life.
Hopefulness v. hopelessness
Hope means different things in different contexts. Hopefulness versus hopelessness in this context refers to your subjective belief that you will be able to respond well to your life. Many people think having hope means “having hope that life will go well for me.” Don’t jump there. You don’t have control over whether your life will go well. You only have control over how you respond to your life. Let’s discuss how to develop hope about how you respond to your life.
I have a persistent feeling of hope for myself and other people, because I believe the nature of life is change and growth is an inherent human drive.
Change as a fact of life is an experiential truth. Try to show me a thought, feeling, or sensation that has never changed in any direction in a single organism. Everything changes. Recognizing that the nature of life is change is necessary but not sufficient for hope. Everything changes, but what if it gets worse?
Growth as an inherent human drive doesn’t mean that we are all always making progress towards wellbeing, happiness, and success at all times. I take it to mean that we all always have the opportunity to learn from everything. Life is your teacher if you let her be. If you are curious about your experience and trying to learn from life, even unpleasant experiences can offer you hope about how you respond to life.
Do you agree with me? What makes you feel hopeful or hopeless about how you respond to your life?
Notice that sharing moments of private victory in Community Time increases hope. Every time we reinforce what you’re doing well, you’re showing yourself that you have agency over your own growth. In that moment, you changed and you changed in a helpful way. Let’s try to help you have more moments like that one.