Your personal belief system can work for you or against you. When it’s working against you, your mood is subject to whatever is going on around you. You feel a sense of entitlement. Love is a requirement for your self-esteem. You take things personally or try to control the world around you. You’re a perfectionist and nothing is ever good enough.
When your personal belief system is working for you, your self-worth is not based on your achievement. You don’t seek others for approval. You’re able to find happiness inside yourself. You don’t feel entitled to everything. Love is not a requirement for your happiness or self-worth. You don’t need other people to agree with you. You let yourself make mistakes and you don’t always have to try your best or be the best at everything. You can roll with life’s punches and your mind is a fortress that serves and protects you.
In the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated , Dr. David Burns shares the patterns of self-defeating attitudes and the patterns behind a healthy and supportive personal belief system.
Key Take Aways
Here are my key take aways:
- Know the key attitudes that affect your self-esteem. These include your attitudes around achievement, approval, autonomy, entitlement, love, omnipotence, and perfectionism.
- Beware of silent assumptions. Silent assumptions are your unchallenged assumptions that shape your attitudes and beliefs around your self-worth.
- Expose and challenge your own self-defeating belief system. Check whether your beliefs are serving you. The more you increase your awareness of your belief system, the more you can evaluate and reshape it to serve you.
- Adopt healthy patterns over unhealthy patterns. Some patterns are more counterproductive than others.
Remember that attitudes are a spectrum and a sliding scale. The key is to shift from negative or counter-productive patterns to ones that better serve you.
A self-defeating belief system
Silent assumptions are how you define your personal worth. They’re the base of your self-esteem. They represent your value system and your personal philosophy. Dr. Burns provides some examples of silent assumptions that lead to a self-defeating belief system:
- "If someone criticizes me, I feel miserable because this automatically means there is something wrong with me."
- "To be a truly fulfilled human being, I must be loved."
- "If I am alone, I am bound to be lonely and miserable."
- "My worth as a human being is proportional to what I’ve achieved."
- "If I don’t perform (or feel or act) perfectly, I have failed."
According to Dr. Burns, if you learn to expose and challenge your own self-defeating belief system, you lay the foundation for a personal philosophy that is valid and self-enhancing. You will be on the road to joy and emotional enlightenment.
Categories of Attitudes
Dr. Burns provides a summary of key attitudes:
- Achievement – your need for achievement.
- Approval – your tendency to measure your self-esteem based on how people react to you and what they think of you.
- Autonomy – your ability to find happiness within yourself.
- Entitlement – your sense of "entitlement."
- Love – your tendency to base your worth on whether or not you are loved.
- Omnipotence – your tendency to see yourself as the center of your personal universe and to hold yourself responsible for much of what goes on around you.
- Perfectionism – your tendency to perfectionism.
Negative Patterns (Self-Defeating Attitudes / Vulnerabilities)
Dr. Burns provides examples of beliefs, results and signs of self-defeating attitudes:
||Beliefs / Results / Signs
- You are a workaholic.
- You have a constricted sense of your own humanity.
- You see yourself as a commodity in the marketplace.
- Your sense of self-worth and capacity for joy are dependent on your productivity.
- Economic and emotional depression seem identical to you.
- You evaluate yourself through other people’s eyes.
- If someone insults you, you automatically tend to look down on yourself.
- You are easily manipulated because you are sensitive to what you imagine people think of you.
- You are still trapped in the belief that your potential for joy and self-esteem comes from everything outside.
- Your moods end up the victim of external factors.
- You feel "entitled" to things – success, love, happiness, etc.
- You expect and demand that your wants be met by other people and the universe at large because of your inherent goodness or hard work.
- When you don’t get what you expect, you are either depressed or irate.
- You consume enormous amounts of energy being frustrated, sad, and mad.
- Much of the time you see life as a sour, rotten experience.
- You complain loudly and often but do little to solve problems.
- As a result of your bitter, demanding attitudes, you get far less of what you want from life.
- You are a "love junkie."
- You see love as a "need" without which you cannot survive and much less be happy.
- Your resort to coercive, manipulative behavior.
- You tend to see yourself as the center of your personal universe.
- You hold yourself responsible for much of what goes on around you.
- You take things personally.
- You blame yourself inappropriately for the negative actions and attitudes of others who are not really under your control.
- The attitude that you should be omnipotent and all-powerful cripples you and leaves you anxious and ineffectual.
- You are hooked on searching for the Holy Grail.
- You demand perfection in yourself – mistakes are taboo.
- Failure is worse than death.
- Negative emotions are a disaster.
- You are supposed to look, feel, think and behave superbly at all times.
- You sense that being less than spectacular means means burning in the flames of hell.
- Although you drive yourself at an intense pace, your satisfactions are meager.
- Once you do achieve a goal, another more distant goal instantly replaces it, so you never experience the reward of getting to the top of the mountain.
- Your problem does not lie in your performance, but in the yardstick you use to measure it.
Dr. Burns provides examples of beliefs, results and signs of positive, healthy attitudes:
||Beliefs / Results / Signs
- You enjoy creativity and productivity but do not see them as exclusive or necessary road to self-esteem and satisfaction.
- You’re independent.
- A healthy sense of your own worth even when confronted with criticism and disapproval.
- You are able to find happiness within yourself.
- All your moods are ultimately the children of your thoughts and attitudes.
- You assume responsibility for your feelings because you recognize they are ultimately created by you.
- You don’t feel automatically entitled to things, so you negotiate for what you want and often get it.
- Because of your awareness that other people are unique and different, you realize there is no inherent reason why things should always go your way.
- You experience a negative outcome as a disappointment but not a tragedy because you are a percentage player, and you don’t expect perfect reciprocity or "justice" at all times.
- You are patient and persistent.
- You have a high frustration tolerance.
- You see love as desirable, but you have a wide range of other interests you also find gratifying and fulfilling.
- Love is not a requirement for your happiness or self-esteem.
- You radiate a healthy sense of self-love and are interested in many aspects of living.
- You know the joy that comes from accepting that you are not the center of the universe.
- Since you are not in control of other adults, you are not ultimately responsible for them but only for yourself.
- You relate to people effectively as a friendly collaborator , and you are not threatened when they disagree with your ideas or fail to follow your advice.
- Because your attitude gives people a sense of freedom and dignity, you paradoxically become a human magnet.
- Others want to be close to you because you have relinquished any attempt to control them.
- People frequently listen to and respect your ideas because you do not polarize them with an angry insistence they must agree with you.
- As you give up your drive for power, people repay you by making you a person of influence.
- Your relationships with your children and friends and associates are characterized by mutuality instead of dependency.
- Because you don’t try to dominate people, they admire, love, and respect you.
- You have the capacity to set meaningful, flexible, appropriate standards.
- You get great satisfaction from processes and experiences.
- You are not exclusively fixated on outcomes.
- You don’t have to be outstanding at everything.
- You don’t always have to "try your best."
- You don’t fear mistakes, but you see them as golden opportunities to learn and to endorse your humanity.
- You are likely to be much more productive than your perfectionistic associates because you do not become compulsively preoccupied with detail and correctness.
- Your life is a flowing river or geyser compared with your rigid perfectionistic friends who appear more like icy glaciers.
For more insights and actions, check out the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated .
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