Distorted Beliefs That Stand in The Way of Your Healing
What are beliefs? They are what you perceive to be true or think is true. Your beliefs and how you think about yourself, other people, and your environment have a great impact on your behavior, actions, and choices you make in life. It is common for trauma survivors to hold distorted beliefs that were formed as a result of their trauma exposure. These beliefs are typically related to their needs for safety, trust, control, esteem, and intimacy.
Below is the list of some of the common distorted beliefs that reinforce negative thinking process and may be detrimental for any relationships and stand in the way of PTSD healing and recovery. The following list has been adapted from the PTSD workbook, Third Edition by Mary Beth Williams, Phd, LCSW, CTS and Soili Poijula, PhD.
I tend to focus on negatives rather than positives in daily situations
I use black-and-white thinking – it’s all or nothing
Once something bad has happened to me, I expect similar bad results every time I am in a similar situation
I am always expecting a disaster. Things will turn out bad no matter what I do.
I tend to make premature conclusions about how others view and feel about me without having any clear evidence.
I take everything personally.
All or most bad things are my fault.
I resent when others don’t view the situation my way and have different judgement or standards.
I am a helpless victim, controlled by others.
I believe what I feel about something or someone must be true.
I believe that I am worthless and damaged goods with no value.
I make excuse when things don’t go my way to protect myself from being hurt.
I tend to see things much worse than they really are.
I believe that I am always right, being wrong is not an option for me.
I justify my anger outburst by my poor emotional state.
Your traumatic experiences may have also let you believe that no one can ever understand what you went through, why you react as you do, think as you do, or feel as you do. Some of these beliefs may have been interjected in your belief system by others, but most of them are likely to be your own. Psychological trauma disrupts the way you experience world around you and distorts your beliefs regarding your sense of safety, trust, control, esteem, and intimacy.
These believes then have a significant impact on your identity, your general happiness in life, and your relationships with others. If you continue to view the world and threatening and dangerous, you are most likely suffering from anxiety and panic attacks. If you have difficulty trusting others, you are most likely guarded and reserved, frequently struggling with self-doubt, disappointment, betrayal, loneliness, and bitterness.
Now, here is the good news. Most negative, distorted beliefs can be challenged, modified, and changed if you choose to do so. This is by no means an easy process and it certainly takes time and effort. This work is best done with a help of a therapist; however, there are some things you can do on your own.
A good start is to ask yourself the following question about each of your core beliefs:
What facts and information do I have to prove that this belief is correct?
Is this belief a true fact or it is rather a habit?
Am I thinking in a black-and-white, all or nothing pattern?
is my judgement based on actual facts or my feelings?
Does it make me feel bad?
Is this belief hurtful to me or others?
Am I making excuses?
Is this my own belief or did I adapt this from someone else?
Does it fit in with my values?
Many of my clients believe that they are helpless in controlling their actions and what happens to them and to others around them. A trauma survivor will cope with this belief by either becoming passive and giving in to other’s demands or attempting to become dominant and controlling over others.
Mary Beth Williams, PhD., developed the following exercise that I find very helpful in work with my clients. It is a journaling exercise, called My Power Shield. I would like to challenge you to give it a try and let me know how this works for you. Here are the steps to complete the exercise:
In your journal draw a shield of any shape your prefer.
Divide the shield into 6 parts and each section draw or write something that is a symbol of the power you have or potential sources of power. You can use words or pictures to symbolize your skills, abilities, , accomplishments, support system.
If this is difficult for you to complete in your present situation, imagine what you would like your shield to look like in the future. You may even draw two shields, one that reflects your current reality and another based on your vision for your future.
Here are some examples of possible sources of personal power:
Your life’s motto (Example” The happiest people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything.” or “I can and I will. End of story.”
Names of those who love you and support you
Passions and hobbies
A symbol of energy from which you draw your strength on daily basis
A promise to yourself
A promise to others
A belief that protects you
A symbol of a place where you feel safe
A self-care strategy that helps to soothe you
A life experience that made you stronger
5. Each morning, or at night before going to sleep, spend some time (maybe 5 to 10 min) meditating and thinking about your power shield. Keep it in your journal so you can always have it with you as a source of an instant encouragement or make a copy to hang by your bed or your bathroom mirror.
As you look at this shield, preferably a few times a day, you will start accepting new beliefs about who you are and how much power you have. It takes human brain about 20 repeated exposure to a certain fact in order for it to start internalizing the fact as a belief.