According to theories of cognitive therapy, your thoughts and values determine the way you see yourself and the world around you. Thoughts and beliefs that are grounded in pessimism can negatively impact your feelings, emotions, and mental health. These harmful perceptions are common issues that can contribute to the symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders.
Understanding Self-Defeating Beliefs and Negative Thinking PatternsIn order to overcome negative thinking patterns and self-defeating beliefs, it is important to understand the definitions and differences between these two concepts.
Self-defeating beliefs: Your belief system is made up of your personal views, attitudes, and values. Your beliefs are always with you, shaping the way in which you see yourself and the world around you. Self-defeating beliefs can set you up for failure and dissatisfaction. For instance, if it is your belief that your self-worth is solely determined by your accomplishments, you will only feel fulfilled when you are excelling at your career, achieving your goals, or reaching a desired level of status.
Self-defeating beliefs fall into two categories: intrapersonal beliefs you have about yourself and interpersonal beliefs you carry about your relationships. Intrapersonal self-defeating beliefs revolve around issues such as a drive for perfectionism, approval, and achievement, while interpersonal self-defeating beliefs may involve feelings of blame, submissiveness, and fear of conflict.
Negative thinking patterns: Unlike self-defeating beliefs, negative thinking patterns are not always with you. Rather, they only surface when you are faced with an issue. Also known as cognitive distortions, these negative thoughts will come to mind during times of stress and reinforce your self-defeating beliefs. For instance, perhaps you hold the self-defeating belief that your worth is solely defined by your achievements. You may feel okay as long as you are able to consistently reach your goals. However, when faced with unforeseen setbacks or obstacles, negative thinking patterns may cause you to over-analyze or exaggerate the severity of a situation, ultimately triggering unfounded anxiety.
In such circumstances, you may begin to have negative thoughts, such as labeling yourself a “failure” or blaming yourself for not reaching your goal. You may think to yourself, “I will never be a success” or “it must not have been meant to be.” Over time, these thoughts can lower one’s self-esteem and may even contribute to the symptoms of depression and panic disorder.
Overcoming Self-Defeating Beliefs and Negative ThoughtsOur personal beliefs are learned and developed over time, making them very difficult to change. Similarly, thought patterns become a habitual way of thinking that are so ingrained, we are often unaware of them. However, there are ways to break the cycle of self-defeating beliefs and negative thinking patterns.
To rise above your self-defeating beliefs and negative thoughts, start by recognizing when these issues come up in your life. For instance, notice your outlook on life and how you react to different problems. Do you face your problems head-on or do you succumb to negative thoughts? Is life full of possibilities or do you see the glass as always being half-empty?
After you start acknowledging self-defeating beliefs and negative thinking patterns, take back control by challenging them. For example, if you're feeling inadequate, question if it's true that others only accept you free of flaws and imperfections. Are you really a “loser” if you do not attain a certain amount of success? Do you always fail at what you set out to accomplish?
Continue to dispute your beliefs and thoughts, replacing them with more positive and realistic ones. When you start confronting your negative views, you can begin to notice how many of them are not true in your life. Instead of assuming the worst, you may think to yourself that you feel disappointed you did not reach a certain goal, but accept that you are learning and growing from your mistakes and setbacks.
Developing new beliefs and ways of thinking will require some extra effort and consistency on your part. Through monitoring, confronting, and rethinking your negative thoughts and beliefs, you can "unlearn" or change them to more nurturing, empowering, and encouraging ways of viewing your life. Over time, you may be able to shift your thoughts and beliefs to more positive and realistic ones.
Burns, D. D. (2006). When panic attacks: The new drug-free anxiety therapy that can change your life. NY: Broadway Books.