Core beliefs take a lifetime to develop. Often, we accepted others’ opinions as truth after they repeated it so many times (i.e., you can’t do ANYTHING right) in the absence of any evidence to support that. Adding statements like “just like your father” doesn’t count as valid proof of the argument “You can’t do anything right”; although, doing so may passively aggressively help sneak that suggestion past our defense where it then finds a throne on which to sit and reign over our core beliefs.
“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”
– Mark Twain
Then, you started to live your life as if that were true; and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This can be represented pictorially as depicted below (i.e., The information-processing model). The bubble represents the core belief that exists inside of us. To us, it defines who/what we are. Here is how this works:
- You don’t apply yourself in school because you already believe you can’t do anything right, and sure enough, you end up with D’s, further backing up what your mom used to say.
- Or, you may blame yourself for things that aren’t your fault. E.g., I got a D, therefore, I can’t do anything right. (Inconveniently, the person overlooks that it had something to do with the fact that the teacher was ineffective, or the material was too hard for our level as most of the class got D’s, or that I got a D because I didn’t apply myself.)
- Or when something does go right, you find some excuse to explain how this “impossible” event occurred as it couldn’t have possibly been intentional as “you can’t do anything right”. E.g., I scored that goal in soccer, but the anyone could have tapped that in.
- Or when something does go right, you don’t pay it much attention. Rather, you choose to focus on the situation that seems to make sense to you, that seems to back up the core belief “I can’t do anything right”. E.g., That person just swerved into oncoming traffic and almost collided with me head-on. I was able to maneuver out of the way but hit the curb and got a flat tire…I can’t do anything right.
What does it take to develop disempowering core beliefs?
- Everything I think/feel is tainted by this lens. I can only entertain thoughts that are consistent with this belief: “I can’t work, I didn’t clean the house, I was mean to my mother”. All these beliefs are all consistent with “I can’t do anything right.”
- I had a birthday brunch with my brother. Wait, this doesn’t have the stink of the passcode “I can’t do anything right”.
- Deny passage into the bubble (“FAIL”)
- Let me add something stinky like “but I wasn’t nice to him” (“PASS in my friend, ‘you can’t do anything right’, just like us”)
- I helped the neighbour shovel her driveway. (“IGNORE”, doesn’t fit into the bubble).
A note on Core Beliefs:
- Lifetime of having that belief communicated to you, directly (e.g., people telling you that “you can’t do anything right”); or indirectly (e.g., always being picked last for sports).
- An isolated event (e.g., a break-up of a long-term relationship that leaves you develop the belief “I can’t do anything right”).
- Core Beliefs may only be active in certain contexts (e.g., when you are with a specific group, or when you are feeling depressed, or when you are experiencing a headache) and may not generalize to all facets of life.