Dysfunctional Beliefs

Dysfunctional beliefs are negative thoughts you feel to be true about yourself. They drive low self-esteem, anxiety, depression. Dysfunctional beliefs impact chronic pain management, social anxiety and more. They also exist for a very good reason.

I’m Alyson Howatt, the founder of The Happiness Factory and a registered psychologist. Today I’m going to talk to you about dysfunctional beliefs. Where they come from and what they are; all that fun stuff. Dysfunctional belief is a term coined by Beck, who created Cognitive Therapy. So, it has a bit of history.

Difference Between Thought and Belief

I really like it because it illustrates the difference between a thought and a belief. A thought is logical and analytical. A thought says “here’s the evidence on one side and here’s the evidence on the other side. If we weigh these two sides, which one has the most evidence?” A belief can see the evidence (most times, not always). A belief says “I feel this way, so even if there’s more evidence on the other side, I’m going to toss that out and go with what I feel”. Dysfunctional beliefs are horrible, crappy no good ways of feeling about our self.

Dysfunctional Beliefs Come From Childhood

Because Kids Have No Context

Dysfunctional beliefs form in early childhood. This is because a number of things are true in early childhood that is not true later on in life. The first thing is that we don’t have a context for what’s going on, a ‘why’. This is important because if we have no ‘why’ we have no ability to predict anything. If we can’t predict it, we certainly can’t control it. Which means that everything is just happening randomly and it’s all chaos. That’s pretty fricken scary. Because we’re really young when this happens, say 5 years old, we really don’t have a lot of life experience to give us ‘why’s. It’s not that we’re smart or dumb or anything like that, it’s just a matter of life experience. Of which we have only 5 years.

Because Kids Are Egocentric

The second thing that’s happening, and this is true for every child of five, is we are very egocentric. Which means it’s all about us. This makes sense because a five-year-old can’t go out and track down a deer, shoot it, skin it, cook it, and eat it. Every five-year-old in the world can whine and complain about how hungry they are and it’s all about them and how hungry they are until somebody actually feeds them.

Because Life Is Emotional

The third thing that’s happening is that we stumble across this emotional situation. Maybe our parents aren’t getting along well so they yell at each other. Or our parents are yelling at us because we didn’t do something. Perhaps it’s at school and the teacher is upset, or there are bullies, or who knows what. It is very emotional for us and we weren’t prepared for it. Thus we have no context for it. We do know that somehow, someway, this is all about us. So we make up something about our self that explains this horrible, crappy, thing. Because it is a horrible, crappy thing the belief we make up about our self is equally horrible and crappy.

What Dysfunctional Beliefs Look Like

This can be a broad range of things. Including I’m not good enough, I’m worthless, I’m going to be abandoned, and I’m unwanted among others. Whatever this belief is it explains the way the world works. This is part of why, even as we grow older, we cling to this explanation. It is really hard to combat this explanation with logic because it’s based on a belief. It really doesn’t care about logic, it cares about the emotion. The emotion says that if this isn’t true the world is chaotic and that’s scary.

Beck calls these dysfunctional beliefs, and I really enjoy that phrasing. If we look at EMDR, which I think is fantastic for getting rid of these, they are called negative cognitions. They are the exact same thing. Thanks for watching my video. I hope you had fun. If you’d like you can subscribe and check out more videos. Or you can check out more of my blog.

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