Addiction is often rooted in negative core beliefs we have about ourselves that we acquire from traumatic episodes in childhood.
A part of overcoming addiction is examining how a person adapted their behavior as a response to trauma during childhood.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a talking therapy that was specifically developed to assist people to reframe traumatic experiences and learn healthier coping strategies.
This form of psychotherapy is evidence-based, which means it is clinically proven to successfully treat a range of psychological disorders such as:
- Bipolar disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
CBT improves a person’s self-esteem by transforming their negative core beliefs about themselves.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Improve Core Beliefs
Cognitive-behavioral therapy works on the premise that what we do and think impacts how we feel. If we feel anxious, sad, or depressed all the time we can change these feelings by reprogramming how we think and what we do.
What we think and do is largely governed by beliefs that sit in the back of our minds. If these beliefs are positive, we think good thoughts about ourselves.
To live a positive, fruitful, and productive life we need to have our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors positively influence each other. Thoughts can influence feelings, and feelings can influence thoughts. Equally, behavior can influence thoughts and feelings.
For instance, a woman who has eaten a whole pack of biscuits while sitting on the couch is feeling depressed. If she got up and went for a walk or a run, she would feel better about herself. She would feel less guilt and she would boost her mood.
What Are Core Beliefs?
In cognitive behavioral therapy and all forms of psychotherapy, you will hear the term core belief. We all have core beliefs about ourselves. They are what we believe about ourselves subconsciously. These beliefs determine the direction of our internal dialogue, thoughts, and behaviors.
These deep-seated beliefs sit in the back of your mind. When an event happens in your life, your mind consults with certain beliefs that will keep you safe and protect you. These are beliefs that you acquired during childhood and adolescence. Often these beliefs are untrue, but because you believe them you behave in a way that confirms them.
So, in a way, core beliefs act as a filter to your everyday thoughts. These beliefs are so convincing and deep-rooted it’s difficult to change them.
Core beliefs are extremely powerful, they decide whether you perceive yourself to be loved, competent, powerful, safe, and worthy.
If you have negative core beliefs, you won’t be living your life to your full potential and you are at a higher risk of substance or alcohol use disorder or behavioral addictions. If you’re addicted to substances or alcohol you will probably have some very deep negative core beliefs as you have to contend with social judgment daily.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy gets you to step back to see your thoughts in a more objective and realistic light. It takes some work, but if you work hard enough at it, one day you’ll have a kind of epiphany where you realize that the thoughts that have been holding you back were untrue.
Everyone can benefit from digging out their negative core beliefs as they control our thoughts, decisions, and behaviors. If you’re struggling with a substance use disorder, improving your self-esteem and building emotional resilience is key to maintaining a prolonged recovery. Knowing what your core beliefs are is an important step in the journey to emotional healing.
So how do you identify and remove those beliefs that are holding you back?
How to Identify Core Beliefs
To work out your core beliefs you need to reflect regularly on your thinking and identify common themes that pop up.
It can be tricky to identify them accurately so it takes some serious reflection and honesty. The best way to pinpoint core beliefs is to use a thought record.
The problem with identifying negative core beliefs is that our thoughts happen rapidly and automatically, so we can often miss the fact we had the thought. We don’t realize that we are having these negative thoughts.
Using a thought record can help to train you to spot the negative thoughts as they happen. Once you’ve managed to capture some negative thoughts you can then move on to the challenging stage.
Once you’ve practiced challenging your thoughts for a while, thinking more positively will come naturally. But, it takes commitment and dedication.
Positive Thoughts and Negative Core Beliefs
Everyone has thousands of thoughts every day, some are positive and some are negative. For example, some thoughts lift us and make us feel better such as “I enjoy doing this,” “I love this song,” or “this outfit suits me.”
Gloomier thoughts can drag us down and feel more pessimistic such as, “I’m such an idiot,” “no one likes me,” or “I’ll never be able to do it.”
At the same time, we can have accurate automatic thoughts such as, “Damn, I screwed up this time,” or “I didn’t do that as well as I could have.”
The thing to remember with automatic thoughts is that:
- They just pop up in our minds.
- They’re not usually based on facts, they’re filtered by the mind’s assumptions.
- Just because your beliefs are convincing, doesn’t mean that they are fact.
Thought records are an invaluable tool in identifying your negative core beliefs as by recording them you can reflect on them and view them more accurately. They reveal our negative thoughts, problematic thinking, and help us to change unhelpful thinking into helpful thinking.
Recording Your Thoughts
To capture your thoughts you need to tune in to them during the day. Try to make a conscious effort to take note of your thoughts and feelings when something happens. Ask yourself, “What was going through my mind?”
You might become aware that you have a lot of mental chatter such as “I’m going to screw this up.” You might get some thoughts in the form of mental images, such as walking into a room and everyone snubbing you. That’s ok, just write it down making sure you note what you were doing, who with and where.
It’s important to write these thoughts down quickly as soon as you have them. If you try to remember them later you will most probably forget. Writing your thoughts down can be a powerful exercise.
The most vital aspects of your thoughts you need to record include:
- The situation you were in when you had the thought
- What the thought or mental image was
- How the thought made you feel (bodily sensations and emotions)
When To Record Your Thoughts
It’s always best to record your thoughts as soon as you have the thought of when you feel a change in your thoughts and emotions.
When your emotions shift suddenly, that’s when you should get your notebook out with your pen. Recording it while it is still fresh in your mind will help you to assess your thoughts and feelings more accurately.
If you can’t complete a record immediately try to take a mental note of the details of the situation. When you come to record the thought later, try to be as accurate as possible.
The first thing you record is the context or situation you find yourself in when the thought arises. Include details such as:
- Date and time
- Your location
- Who you were with
- Write a summary of what went through your mind as you experienced a shift in your emotions
Next, describe the emotions you felt while you had the thought. Try to explain why you suddenly experienced a shift in emotions.
- You can just use one word to explain your emotion such as anxious, sad, angry, drained, irritated, or excited.
- Record the physical sensations in your body as you felt the emotion e.g. butterflies
- Give the emotion a rating on a scale of 0 to 10.
Write down the thoughts that led to the emotion. Some useful questions you could ask yourself include:
- What was I thinking at this moment?
- What kind of mental chatter was I saying to myself?
- Why does the situation I’m thinking about affect me or my future?
- What mental picture did I have at the time?
Challenging The Thoughts
Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to help you to think more accurately. So, when you have negative automatic thoughts that aren’t true, you challenge them so that you see yourself as you are.
Once you’ve captured your automatic thoughts in a thought record, you can then start to assess each thought and challenge them.
A good way to challenge negative thoughts is to create a For and Against argument. You can put each thought in a trial and examine the evidence for and against.
When you challenge a thought, make a list of the reasons why you believe this is true. Ask yourself, “What is the evidence?”
Next, list the reasons why the thought may not be true. Again, ask yourself honestly, “What evidence is there that shows this is not true.”
After you have written down the for and against arguments, read them through. It may help if you read them aloud to yourself. Do this several times. Think about them, then summarize your thoughts. Ask yourself if you’re being harsh on yourself.
When you summarize your thoughts, ask yourself if there is a more balanced way of thinking that is more helpful to you.
After you’ve accurately assessed those thoughts, write down a new thought that would be more accurate for the situation. Rate the strength of the new thought and compare it with the strength of the old thought. Hopefully, you’ve managed to shift a part of your thinking.
Over time, you should notice some common themes in your thinking patterns. The patterns that manifest in your automatic thoughts will lead you to the negative core beliefs that inform these thoughts.
Common Negative Core Beliefs
Several common themes arise when people do cognitive behavioral therapy work such as:
I Am Unlovable
This core belief is responsible for thoughts such as “Nobody wants me,” “People find me boring,” and “I’m better off alone.”
I Am Not Good Enough
This core belief is responsible for low self-esteem and can lead to depression. This belief is characterized by thoughts of “Everyone is better than me,” “I’ll never succeed,” or “I’m a failure.”
It’s All My Fault
People with this negative core belief tend to find themselves in codependent relationships, have difficulty saying no, and maintain poor personal boundaries. This belief results in sentences such as, “I’m always wrong,” “Everything is my fault,” or “I mustn’t hurt others.”
I’m An Outsider
If you have thoughts such as “Nobody understands me,” “I don’t fit in,” or “I don’t belong,” you might suffer from loneliness or feel confused about yourself and your emotions.
The World Is A Dangerous Place
This belief can be the source of great anxiety. A person with this core belief tends to play it safe rather than take a risk to get what they want. This can create a pervading sense of missing out and not fulfilling one’s potential. This belief can also make someone controlling. This belief creates thoughts such as, “You can’t trust anyone,” “Don’t let your guard down,” or “Don’t reveal who you really are.”
These negative core beliefs lead to negative emotions, which can be painful and make life miserable. If we don’t know that our thoughts are making us feel bad then we try to make ourselves feel better in some way. If you use drugs or alcohol to feel better you lose the opportunity to use the thoughts constructively to examine where they come from.
The Relationship Between Negative Core Beliefs and Addiction
People turn to substances, alcohol, or addictive behaviors to escape difficult emotions. People with undiagnosed mental health disorders may be navigating through life while quietly coping with excruciating anxiety symptoms. The only thing that provides respite from these symptoms may be substances such as heroin or fentanyl or behaviors such as shopping.
But, if you can learn where the negative emotions come from in the first place you can learn how to reverse them so you feel better. If you feel better you will feel less likely to use drugs.
It is a struggle after years of a substance-use disorder, especially if you’ve experienced stigma from the community.
Attitudes towards addicted people are gradually shifting. Addiction is not a moral failure, nor is it a choice. No one ever chooses to become addicted to anything.
The official medical definition of addiction is that it is a chronic relapsing brain disease, although some psychiatric circles dispute that it’s a medical condition. Some argue that addiction wholly originates as a result of traumatic experiences.
Whether it’s a disease or not, the consensus is that emotions are integral to addiction.
People use drugs, drink alcohol, or engage in a certain compulsive behavior because it makes them feel good temporarily.
And, people want to feel good because they want to escape from negative thoughts and emotions. Anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, anger, and frustration are not pleasant emotions to experience. Many people with severe substance use disorders have grown up subjected to sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and neglect. As they grow up in an unsafe environment they learn to adapt to the traumas they experience in childhood.
The soaring rates of opioid use disorder in the US signifies the magnitude of unresolved trauma among Americans. 81,000 people died of an opioid use disorder between 2019 and 2020, the highest number in US history.
This figure is expected to rise as the pandemic coincides with COVID.
So to help to stop the crisis from getting worse, try seeking help to identify your negative core beliefs and learn to live a fruitful and productive new life.