As a survivor of incest, I felt shame in the deepest part of me – my soul. I believed I was damaged; my insides felt like a criss cross of ugly scars that no one could see. I hid my shame by always looking “good” on the outside, while believing I was “getting one over” on everyone. I always thought to myself, “If only they knew.” I believed I was unlovable and unworthy since I was merely an outlet for my father’s perverse sexual needs coupled with my mother’s lack of protection. How could I develop self-worth out of this?
Negative beliefs are an outgrowth of abuse and are always reminding us of our unworthiness. They act as a relentless voice honing in on all the “wrong” we do and constantly challenges the good parts of ourselves. This is a never-ending fight between the Good Us vs. the Bad Us, resulting in making us want to retreat more inside ourselves and hide or self-destruct.
In order to begin healing our negative beliefs, we must be willing to address them head on. This is not an easy task because survivors of abuse are ashamed of their wounds. But to heal we must address our shame. It is the willingness to see the truth about ourselves that creates the freedom to be ourselves . . . something we all desire.
Step 1 – Identify Your Negative Beliefs.
This is whatever your negative voice tells you. These include statements such as:
I don’t deserve love
I am not good enough
I am a bad person
I am damaged
I am terrible
I am different
I am worthless
I did something wrong
I am not lovable
I am stupid
I am inadequate
Start with one negative belief that is relentless in your day-to-day life and write it down.
Step 2 – All Negative Beliefs Have a Story Attached.
Say the belief out loud. For example, “I am stupid.” Notice sensations in your body.
Do you cringe? Do you want to hide? Has your breathing shifted? Do you notice anxiety?
Ask yourself, “What age do I feel when I say this negative belief to myself?”
We all feel younger when negative beliefs surface.
Write down an approximate age that you experience now when saying the belief.
What do you remember about that time in your life? Do not sensor.
Step 3 – How Does This Negative Belief Hold You Back?
If one of your negative beliefs is “I am inadequate,” consider these questions:
Will it prevent you from asking for a raise?
Will you shy away from recognition of your accomplishments?
Will you deflect a compliment?
Do you want to pursue a dream but believe you aren’t “good enough?”
There is always a way in which the belief manifests itself in both your professional and personal life and holds you back.
Step 4 – Take One Negative Belief and Turn it Into a Positive Belief.
Look at the one negative belief you identified in Step 1 and turn it into a positive belief. For example, “I am not good enough,” to “I am good enough.” “I did something wrong,” to “I can learn from this.”
On one line, write the negative belief. How does it hold you back?
On the next line, write it as a positive belief.
(Example: If I believed I am good enough, what would I change? What would I do differently? Would I continue in a relationship? Would I do something different at work? In school? At home?)
You may not believe the positive version of the belief at this time, so just imagine it for now. It will take some time to move from internal to external progression with our beliefs.
Step 5 – Identifying Positive Traits.
Create a list of everything you like about yourself. An important part of this step – do not discard or cancel out these positive traits with a negative thought. It is OK if this exercise makes you feel uncomfortable. It is part of the process in shifting from the negative to the positive.
Select one positive statement from your list and write examples. If you say, “I am smart,” identify ways that you are intelligent. Fight the desire to downplay these positive traits; do not say, “I am smart, but …” The “but” in that thought will discredit the positive trait.
STEP 6 – Keep a Daily Journal.
Change can only happen if you are willing to give it attention. Start keeping a daily journal and commit to one week for now. Going forward, commit to a week at a time for one month, and keep building up your commitment to writing daily in your journal.
For each journal entry, ask yourself, “Did the negative belief I identified surface today?” There may be other beliefs that come to mind but keep the focus on the one negative belief that frequently shows up. What was the experience that led to it?
Next, turn the negative message into a positive one and ask yourself, “If I believed this positive message, what would be different today?” In addition, write down experiences in your day where you felt good about yourself and explain why.
STEP 7 – Interrupting Negative Beliefs When They Surface.
Start practicing interrupting negative beliefs as soon as they surface in your day rather than trying to push the thought aside and dealing with it later. When it is not dealt with immediately, this negative belief “hangs” over you and causes an emotional downward spiral for the rest of your day.
Create something that can be silently repeated several times until the negative belief dissipates. It can be a prayer, a poem, a song, or inspirational words. I repeated the Serenity Prayer many times quietly to myself to interrupt my negative thinking because I did not want to continue putting myself through such emotional turmoil.
Saying your phrase, quote, or song as soon as the negative belief happens helps to create this as a habit. In addition, healing is a daily practice; it is not a quick fix and needs to be practiced consistently.
Step 8 – Schedule a Daily Reminder to Silently Repeat Your Chosen Words.
Add a daily reminder on your phone or calendar to silently repeat your chosen words every time a negative belief surfaces. Change requires practice – be willing, be patient, be relentless and be courageous.
You deserve to make yourself a priority in healing. Remember healing is a daily practice, and you are worthy!