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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Are Your Core Beliefs Keeping You Stuck in Your Life?

As a psychotherapist in NYC, I often see clients who have core beliefs about themselves and about life that keep them stuck in their lives. Many times these are unconscious beliefs that they don't even realize they have until they begin psychotherapy and we begin to explore why they're not where they want to be in their lives.

Are Your Core Beliefs About Yourself Keeping You Stuck?
One such common belief that often keeps people feeling stuck or trapped in habitual ways of responding to life is "I have to put other people's needs first." This is the type of underlying belief or attitude that often goes unrecognized until people come to therapy.

The following vignette, which is a fictionalized composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates how underlying core beliefs about can keep you feeling stuck in your life:

When Mary first started coming to therapy, she felt frustrated and discouraged about her life. At age 35, she wasn't were she hoped to be in her life. Having completed graduate school more than 10 years before, she hoped to be further along in her career. Instead, she was stuck in a low-level supervisory job while she watched her peers get promotions throughout the years to senior managerial positions. She knew she was just as capable as they were, but she remained stuck in the same job while their careers were taking off.

In her personal life, she had hoped to be married with a couple of children by the time she was in her 30s, but she kept having one unfulfilling relationship after another. At the point when she started therapy, she wasn't in a relationship, and she felt discouraged about the prospect of getting married.

As we began to explore Mary's underlying beliefs and attitudes, it became apparent that one of Mary's beliefs was that she had to put other people's needs before her own. Raised in a devoutly religious home, Mary was taught that putting your own needs first was self and wrong. Without realizing it, she learned to sacrifice her own emotional needs so she could please others. This belief showed up over and over with family members, friends, colleagues, and especially in romantic relationships. She never learned to say, "No" when almost anything was asked of her. It was mo wonder she was exhausted and felt stuck.

At work, she often gave her colleagues and bosses ideas that they presented as their own without giving Mary credit for them. She thought of this as just helping them out without realizing that she was sacrificing her chances for recognition. It was such an ingrained pattern that, at first, Mary didn't see it.

In her personal relationships with friends and men she dated, she was always too ready to put her other people's emotional needs before her own. If there was any type of conflict, she would be the first to apologize and take the blame for the problem. She was barely aware of her own needs, and people frequently took advantage of her. Even when she did recognize that the other person was being unkind or selfish, due to her attitude that other people's needs must come first, she pushed down these feelings. It was more important for her to see herself as being "a good person" by taking care of others than taking care of herself.

As we continued to work together, Mary developed an increasing self awareness as to how she would sabatoge herself in her personal and work-related relationships. At first, she was confused about what to do about it. Her belief that she was "a good person" was very much tied in with gratifying others and neglecting herself. It took a lot of work in therapy, even after she became aware that her lifelong belief was keeping her trapped in her life, for her to change. She had to learn that she could still be "a good person" and put her own needs first. Then, even more difficult, she had to learn to put this into practice.

Ingrained beliefs and attitudes about yourself and how you "should" be in the world can be difficult to change. It often forces you to question and challenge long-held beliefs and family traditions. Your loved ones, who are accustomed to your behaving in a certain way, might not like these changes. It can be an uphill battle within yourself and with others.

What motivated Mary to change is that we clearly defined where she wanted to be in her personal life and in her career. With clearly defined goals as her guide, she was able to start looking at and letting go of beliefs and attitudes that were keeping her from achieving her goals. She started by learning to say "No" to unreasonable requests from friends and family members. Progress with this type of change is rarely linear. So, it was to be expected that there would be some back sliding along the way. But, overall, Mary made progress. She was amazed, at first, at how much more energy she had when she wasn't saying "Yes" to everyone's needs.

At work, Mary began putting her ideas in writing to her bosses rather than giving them away to colleagues or allowing others to take credit for them. She was an intelligent and creative thinker. Over time, she began to get the recognition she deserved, and she was soon promoted.

With regard to her romantic life, as she began to feel she was more deserving, she also began to make better choices in men. Whereas she used to choose men who tended to be selfish and narcissistic, she now chose men who were more empathetic to her needs. After a year or so, she met the man who would become her husband and the father of her child. She was still challenged from time to time, especially when it came to balancing her needs with her family's needs but, overall, she made a lot of progress in this area.

Letting Go of Beliefs and Attitudes that No Longer Serve You Isn't Easy

Letting Go of Beliefs that Keep You Stuck
Looking at how your core beliefs might be keeping you feeling stuck and trapped in your life isn't easy. Letting go of beliefs and changing your attitude is even more challenging. But if you want to live a more fulfilling life, being willing to change is vital.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist who provides psychotherapy to individuals and couples, including dynamic talk therapy, EMDR, clinical hypnosis, and Somatic Experiencing.

I am certified in mind-body oriented psychotherapy.

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.

Photo Credits:  Photo Pin

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