**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. Any uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer
Author: Peter Miller
The examples of self-defeating beliefs (SDB’s) in the slides below are borrowed from David Burns (see reference in the slides). As you can see there are many ways people can be self-defeating, and therefore remain in patterns of dysfunction, both within themselves and with the world. In many cases, people suffer with more than one type of self-defeating belief at the same time. As was stated in Step 4 (slide set 1) these beliefs can be invented or adopted by a person going through an unhealthy childhood experience, but can also come into being through other abusive relational experiences later in life.
The main reason for holding on to the self-defeating beliefs, whether a person realizes it or not, is to create a sense of security and emotional comfort. In the absence of a consistently warm and constructive attachment experience (particularly in childhood) and to therefore realize that emotions can be experienced, tolerated, and managed, humans remain dependent on these types beliefs in order to function in everyday life.
So for instance… if I have a strong sensitivity or intolerance to feelings of worthlessness, I may depend on beliefs from the “achievement” category and then act accordingly to avoid those types of feeling. For another instance, if I have a strong sensitivity or intolerance to feelings of rejection, I may depend on beliefs from the “love” or “submissiveness” categories and then act accordingly to avoid those types of feeling.
I recommend that you scan each of the self-defeating belief categories in the slides below to see which ones you may depend on. Knowing which type of beliefs you regularly turn to can help you understand which types of feelings you need to practice identifying, tolerating, working through, managing, etc. This is an activity in self-discovery, self-awareness, and mindfulness, and if done with purpose and integrity can help you modify patterns of thought and behavior that tend to make life harder than necessary. In the very moment that you start noticing these beliefs (in real-time as life unfolds) is the very moment that you begin to have more power for living differently… making different choices, choosing different paths, having different reactions, etc.
In my own experience working through Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I depended upon several of the self-defeating beliefs listed in these slides in order to function, although the most common self-defeating beliefs for me were “achievement”, “demandingness”, and “submissiveness”. The most challenging emotional sensitivities for me were to deal with were worthlessness and rejection. I acted according to my beliefs in order to try and “keep a distance” from these feelings that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tolerate, even if it meant making decisions that could undermine my life goals and relationships.
For instance, I lived my life in an unbalanced way (e.g., too much work and not enough play) in order to ensure achievements happened, and likewise to avoid feelings of worthlessness. I also lived life in such a way that I gave up much of my personal power… giving in too much, going along with too much, agreeing too much…. so as to avoid upsetting others and subsequently feeling rejected. Another part of my pattern sometimes was to insist that “I was right” in my opinion and then react with anger (or suppressed anger) whenever others disagreed with me or didn’t take “the right” tone with me. In every single one of these patterns, I was attempting to avoid feelings that could not yet identify, tolerate, work through, or manage.
The emotional avoidance behaviours (connected to the beliefs) get so interwoven into our everyday life that we don’t even notice they are there. This is why people are very often confused as to why their lives aren’t going well, or why they aren’t getting the types of results they had hoped for in relationships and other areas of life. Where things really start to “crash and burn” is when the self-defeating beliefs (and associated emotional avoidance behaviours) do not work to even produce temporary contentment, since the avoidance behaviours themselves have started to produce other consequences.
For instance, as I followed a pattern of “submissiveness”, or giving in to much to others’ preferences, I started to feel strong feelings of resentment and powerlessness that I had no way to deal with. Likewise, whenever I reacted in conversation with others in a “demanding” sort of way, I still ended up experiencing reactions from others that I interpreted as rejection or devaluing, and again still had no effective way of dealing with these emotions. Over time, my body and nervous system were more and more pressured and stressed because of all the unprocessed emotion, and the cumulative effect of this for me was severe anxiety and panic disorder.
Before understanding how all of this was happening to me (my beliefs, my thoughts, my emotions, my interpretations, and how it interconnected) I was confused as to why my body and mind would be having such profound reaction to “just living my everyday life”. But truth be told, I was living in a vicious circle of much unprocessed thought and feeling, and likewise depending on self-defeating beliefs “to function” instead of facing my real self. In other words, I wasn’t practicing mindfulness of emotion, I wasn’t doing any self-reflection, and I didn’t have any skill in adjusting my thoughts – just a few of the things that could have actually helped me relieve the pressure and stress that I was putting on myself.