Self-Defeating Beliefs

Hello! It is good to be back; I took a bit of time off from writing blog posts (and am still out of the office until mid September) as my family welcomed a baby. We are truly enjoying this time with our new addition, and I am also happy to begin to return to my practice and clients.

My last blog post focused on thinking errors- examples and ways to combat these errors. I’d like to follow-up with this a bit more, this week focusing more specifically on self-defeating beliefs. Similar to thinking errors, self-defeating beliefs can go unnoticed and unchecked- silently wreaking havoc on relationships with yourself and with others. The “self-defeating” aspect of these beliefs stems from the fact that these beliefs are unrealistic; so while you may hold on dearly to these beliefs, it is fundamentally impossible for you to live up to these beliefs, and thus, you are constantly letting yourself down.

What are some common self-defeating beliefs?

1.     I need others to love me and approve of me.

Here’s the thing. It is impossible to please and obtain the approval of all people at all times. What may garner the approval from one person may ignite the judgment of another. If you adhere to the belief that you must have the love and approval of all others in order to be complete, a good person, worthy, etc., etc., you will spend your life with constant metaphorical whiplash. This also often leads to you living your life for others rather than for yourself; you might find yourself feeling detached from your life, experiencing depression or anxiety, feeling “lost” or “off”, or feeling in a rut.

2.     I need to be able to do all things perfectly.

This is a self-defeating belief that I continue to disentangle myself from. An expectation and belief that I should be able to achieve perfection in every area of my life and on the first try led me to avoid a lot of opportunities- if I was unsure of my ability to achieve a perfect outcome, I passed. The risk was just too great. You know what happened? I missed out on a lot of experiences. And I still failed to achieve perfection in my life! Perfection is unattainable. Progress is achievable. The inability to do something perfectly is not a reason to drop out of the race.

3.     If something is difficult or uncomfortable, it is better for me to avoid it.

When I think of this self-defeating belief, I am really thinking of the difficult emotions that are part of life. Oftentimes, acknowledging and experiencing difficult feelings can be challenging and uncomfortable and something that you just might not want to deal with! Underlying this belief is a message that you are not strong enough or able enough to cope with this difficult or uncomfortable experience- that is not true!

How Can I Respond to Self-Defeating Beliefs?

1.     I can cope.

We all often need reminders that we are, in fact, strong enough and capable enough to deal with difficult things! It may be unpleasant to experience someone’s lack of approval. It may be frustrating to not have mastery over all aspects of your life. It may be hard to face emotions head on. These statements are all true. But if these things arise, you can cope with them! It might not be your favorite experience, but you can cope.

2.     I am enough.

I will explore this more in future posts (for such a simple statement, it sure carries a lot of weight!). In those moments when you experience a self-defeating belief, remind yourself that others’ approval or perfection (or lack thereof) do not determine your self-worth. You are enough even without the approval of others and even without being perfect.

3.     Confronting something means that I can move forward.

It can be intimidating to face a difficult emotion or conversation (hence the avoidance). Facing difficult things means that we can move on from them, and maybe even grow from them. Avoiding difficult things may provide you with short-term relief, but it also means that the difficult thing is still there and just temporarily hidden.

To learn more or to book an appointment, contact me via telephone or email.

Brenna Burke, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Santa Clarita, CA. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling. Information provided through this website is for informational purposes only. It does not create a therapist-client relationship and does not replace clinical assessment or professional consultation.