Self Confirming Beliefs

self confirmingThere are dangerous ideas that can shape an entire life. Ideas that suggest that “no one will ever really love me” or “if I tell someone what I want they will leave me” or even “I can’t trust anyone.” These ideas may not have much basis in fact, they may have been handed to us as children from our parents, who learned them from their parents… and have absolutely nothing to do with who we are, in our unique personality and nature. But that doesn’t necessarily reduce their power.

We spent some time today talking to a beautiful, intelligent, caring, successful young woman who was taught that “no one who is any good will ever really love me.” She has gone about living her life according to that idea, and, not surprisingly, the idea has shaped her experience of relationships in very unhappy ways.

When she is in a relationship she is constantly looking for the evidence that the other person doesn’t care. Often the other person does things that are not thoughtful, but occasionally a relatively neutral statement or action will lead her to obsess about where things are going.

As you can imagine, the person she is with tends to get a bit tired of this level of scrutiny. He pulls away a bit, just for self protection. But that is confirmation of what she has feared.

Because she really is all of those wonderful things that we said, the relationship limps on for quite a while, but the outcome is pretty much pre-determined.

There is hope, however. those self-confirming beliefs lose some of their power when they are clearly visible. And they lose more of their power when you learn how to ask yourself, “how much of my ‘take’ on what is happening right now is related to the actual event, the person I am with, what is being said right now, and how much of it is based on the lessons I learned in my past that really don’t have much to do with the specifics of the conversation?”

This process is hard work, if the beliefs were learned over years from a parent, for example, but it is not impossible.

It isn’t, however something that you can do on your own. To get started you need a good therapist. But if you want to find out a bit more about this process you can watch this video that we made. And you can buy this very short, and pretty dense, book about something called Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System of Psychotherapy (CBASP).