How Negative Self Beliefs Contribute to Mental Health Issues including Anxiety and Depression
Updated: Oct 16
Negative self-beliefs are part and parcel of our everyday experience for many of us. “I always make mistakes.” “There’s something wrong with me.” “I am flawed in ways that no one else is.” “I am alone and I am unlovable.” These are just some of the beliefs many of us have about ourselves on a daily basis that keep us feeling isolated and unworthy, preventing us from living a life that feels aligned and fulfilling. We don’t often consider how impactful our thinking can be on to our mental health, but Anxiety and Depression are just some experiences that can be brought on or exacerbated by these negative self-beliefs. Believing that we are inherently flawed and not worthy of love and connection, for example, can mean that we isolate ourselves, don’t reach out for help when we need it, and don’t allow ourselves to pursue our interests. This behaviour not only exacerbates feelings of anxiety or depression, but also fuels the negative self-beliefs by providing ‘evidence’ in support of them. If we isolate ourselves we will indeed feel alone and cut off from others. If we feel we are unworthy of being loved we may not pursue romantic relationships and in turn this may contribute to the stockpile of ‘evidence’ we have that supports how we are unloveable/worthy of love.
One way we can address the negative beliefs we may have about ourselves is by first becoming aware of them - what they are saying, and how often they are saying it. Awareness of this type of thinking can help us make connections between these thoughts and how they make us feel. Once we are aware of these negative-self beliefs we can then begin to consider where these beliefs are coming from. Have we always felt this way? If not, when did we begin to feel this way? Where do these thoughts come from? Do we actually, on a deep level, believe these thoughts?
Byron Katie, author and teacher of “The Work of Byron Katie”, invites us to question the thoughts that are causing us pain. Her experience of severe depression led her to a point where she felt she could no longer be in the world. She felt that she did not even deserve to sleep in a bed, so she would sleep on the kitchen floor. One morning as she lay on the floor, a cockroach crawled over her body and she had a moment of clarity.
She realized that if she believed her thoughts of unworthiness then she would be in deep pain whilst when she questioned the validity of these thoughts she felt lighter and happier.
From that point on when limiting, harsh, negative self-beliefs arose for Katie she would question whether these thoughts were true and whether she, on a deep level, actually believed them or agreed with them. Just because we think or believe something, Katie realised, does not make it true. This allowed Katie to go from a place of unbelievable inner pain and agony to living a life of love, connection, compassion and joy, travelling the world and helping others do the same.
Real But Not True
Tara Brach, a clinical psychologist and proponent of Buddhist meditation and philosophy, talks about how our negative self-beliefs are often “real but not true”. The beliefs we have about ourselves that keep us small, isolated, alone and in fear have real impacts on us. These beliefs live in our minds and affect our bodies and that impact and experience is real. However, oftentimes, these beliefs are not true. We may believe that we have no worth or value but this is not true, no matter how much we believe that it is. We may believe that no one cares about us and that the world would be better off without us. The experience that we go through when we believe these thoughts is very real. The pain is real. However, again, these beliefs are not true. Understanding that these negative self-beliefs are real but not true allows us to both hold our experience with compassion and give ourselves the opportunity to find a different truer way of thinking about ourselves and the world around us.