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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Overcoming Self-Limiting Core Beliefs

Our core beliefs about ourselves and others often have a profound unconscious effect on how we live our lives and the choices that we make. These core beliefs are usually formed early in life. It's important to understand these beliefs so that we can understand how they are impacting our lives and we can decide if we want to change them.

Overcoming Self-Limiting Core Beliefs
Listening for Core Beliefs in Psychotherapy Sessions
When I'm in psychotherapy sessions with clients, especially early in treatment, I listen for their core beliefs in our discussions. These beliefs are often stated in indirect ways. For instance, if a client is talking about feeling lonely, about not being in a relationship for many years and that she has no desire to be in a relationship but she doesn't want to be lonely either, I would want to know more about her prior experiences in relationships. If she tells me that her last breakup 10 years ago occurred because of "the usual problems that women have with men," I would want to know more about what this means to her. If I ask her about it and she tells me, "You know, the usual reasons why most relationships don't work out with men--he cheated on me."

Exploration of Self-Limiting Core Beliefs in Psychotherapy
As we explore this further, I might learn that this client believes it's inevitable that men cheat on women, they can't be trusted, so it's pointless to get involved in relationships because it will only bring pain and sorrow. As we continue to explore this, she might tell me about all of her other relationships where her boyfriends cheated on her, as well as her friends' relationships where the men cheated, and her parents' relationship. She might say something like, "My father had a lot of other women on the side. It made me so angry that my mother put up with it. I vowed to myself that I'd never put up with a man cheating on me, but every man that I've ever been with has cheated. Men are like dogs, so, it's better to not even be in a relationship".

This exploration has revealed a few self-limiting core beliefs about men and, possibly, about herself. One core belief is that all men cannot be trusted. So, starting from that premise it's clear that she has low expectations of men in relationships. Her expectation is that it's inevitable that if she's in a relationship with a man, she'll be hurt. So, based on this belief, in her mind her choices are to either get hurt or to be lonely. When she was younger, she was willing to try to be in relationships, even though she had low expectations. But time after time, she got hurt. So, she decided that it's better to be lonely than to get hurt. But that makes her feel unhappy too, so neither choice has worked out for her, which is what brought her to therapy in the first place. Another possible unconscious core belief might be that she doesn't deserve to be treated well. So, if, as the client continues to come to therapy sessions, she talks about how her father often told her when she was growing up that she was "nothing," then we might begin to understand why, on an unconscious level, she internalized this, why she tended to choose men who would mistreat her and confirm these beliefs that she internalized about herself as well as her beliefs about men and relationships in general.

Self-Limiting Core Beliefs due to Trauma
These kinds of self-limiting core beliefs are usually formed in early traumatic experiences, not necessarily one big trauma, but repeated trauma over time. For the client described above, she might not even see the trauma related to her father repeatedly telling her that she was "nothing." She might say, "I didn't have any trauma when I was growing up. Nobody beat me. My father said these things to me and that's just the way it was. You know, that's just how men are." So, the experiences and the resulting beliefs are deeply ingrained in this client. She believes she has a lot of "proof" that substantiates her way of thinking and rather than seeing these beliefs as her feelings and opinions, she sees them as "facts." As such, they become self fulfilling prophecies. She believes she doesn't deserve to be treated well, men are always unfaithful so, on an unconscious level, she chooses men that will confirm her beliefs about herself, men, and relationships.

For many clients, it takes a while to be able to step back from their core beliefs to be able to examine them. But when they are able to do this, it can be a very powerful experience. It often comes as a revelation to them that they've been operating under certain assumptions that they believed to be facts. If they're able to step back and explore the basic premises of their beliefs, it can open up many new possibilities in their lives.

So, for example, in the fictitious case above, which represents a composite of many different clients, this client can continue to hold on to her core beliefs about herself, men, and relationships in general, and continue to feel that she's caught between two unsatisfactory choices--pain or loneliness. In that case, she would live out the rest of her life being driven by these self-limiting core beliefs, living a sad and lonely life. Or, if she is willing, she can question her core beliefs, despite all the "proof" that she might feel she has, explore the origins of these beliefs and discover her own self fulfilling patterns that continue to perpetuate these beliefs. At that point, she can begin to become more aware of the type of men that she chooses (i.e., men who will confirm her beliefs) and start to learn in therapy how to choose men who will treat her better. If she's able to do this, she will be able to free herself from her personal history and live a happier life.

It's essential to our happiness and sense of well being that we question our self-limiting core beliefs about ourselves as well as others, and recognize that we might be living our lives under a set of beliefs that limit our possibilities and make us unhappy. When we're able to challenge our self-limiting core beliefs, we can begin to free ourselves so that we can live more fulfilling lives.

I'm a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist. I have helped many clients to overcome self-limiting core beliefs so that they can lead more fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To make an appointment, feel free to call me at (212) 726-1006.

photo credit: Preconscious Eye via photopin cc

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