Have you ever stopped to notice your thoughts? The quality of your thinking reflects the quality of your life. If you have empowering thoughts, they will create a wonderful nourishing life with high self-esteem, resulting in you feeling fantastic about yourself. Alternatively, if your thoughts are critical of yourself and the people in your life, they will weaken you and in the long-term affect your self-esteem and the quality of your marriage.
Your thoughts are based on your beliefs. Many beliefs are formed during the first seven years of life because we rapidly absorb what is going on around us at a young age. The beliefs that we develop at that time become what we regard as being true about ourselves. If they go unquestioned, they can continue to influence us into adulthood.
We are not conscious of all our beliefs. The experiences that we have influence our unconscious mind, which does not delete the aspects that are painful. Instead it plays everything back in the form of beliefs and behaviours. As a result, you may be influenced as an adult by things that your parents said and did when you were a young child. You may have internalised what you were told and developed beliefs around them, even if they are negative and harmful for your own well-being. These beliefs may cause you to sabotage yourself and prevent you from having a more peaceful, productive and meaningful life. They persist because they have formed patterns in your neurological system and created attitudes and habits that have become part of you. It is difficult to give up something that has been with you for a long time.
Questioning and challenging your thinking helps you to understand the beliefs that you currently have about yourself. Once you have uncovered the limiting and sabotaging beliefs, then it’s necessary to find ways to change them. This will help you to develop a healthy self-esteem.
Activity: Question Your Thinking
- Think about your childhood.
- What messages did you receive from your parents, guardians or significant adults during your childhood?
- What messages did you give yourself?
- Did you grow up in a family where there was a lot of criticism? If so, are you a critical adult?
- Did you grow up in a family where you were unable or not allowed to express your emotions? If so, do you continue to do this and does it affect your relationships today?
- Did you grow up in a family where you were not allowed to express anger? If so, do you keep your anger inside you as an adult and does it occasionally erupt in a destructive way when it has built up inside you?
- Did you grow up in a family where you were controlled and manipulated? If so, do you as an adult often apologise and do you find it difficult to ask for what you want?
- Did you grow up in a family where you felt that you didn’t belong? If so, as an adult, are you still trying to find where you belong?
- Do any of these thoughts or sabotaging beliefs feel true for you?
- I need love and approval from others.
- I’m not very clever or I’m not smart enough.
- I don’t belong.
- I am different.
- It is wrong to have money.
- I am not important.
- I need people to like and understand me.
- It’s not safe to speak up or ask for help.
- I was born damaged.
- Change is not safe.
- I am not good enough.
- I need to do it on my own.
- I don’t deserve it.
- Think about how you may be self-sabotaging areas of your life. You may find that your sub-conscious believes that you are not worthy of a certain amount of success or happiness.
- Do you say or do things that ruin your happiness?
- Do you feel like you never get anywhere…that you do everything you can, but just seem to remain where you are?
- Do you achieve a high level of success, then suddenly lose it and find yourself back where you started?
- Do you associate change, such as starting a new job, getting married, or moving house, with pain or unhappiness?
- Do you connect failure with pleasure? This may come from receiving love and attention when you failed at something in your childhood.
It is really important to recognise that you do not do any of this consciously. Deep inside your unconscious mind your limiting negative beliefs are working and when you have low self-esteem, they will stop you every time. As a result, you limit yourself and your abilities in your marriage and in what you can achieve in life.
However, there is hope and the key is to identify the beliefs you have about yourself.
Take some time to think about the beliefs that you have uncovered about yourself from answering the questions above.
Tools to Change Your Sabotaging Beliefs
Once you have identified your negative beliefs, the ones that limit the quality of your life, you are able to start to make positive changes in your life. Remember to be gentle on yourself. It takes work and commitment to change your beliefs. If you have been thinking a certain way since childhood, it is going to take time and patience to change.
- Map a belief
This activity enables you to begin to see how all experiences in life are connected through a belief. It is an empowering process that enables you to see the impact that a belief has on you.
For this exercise you need to choose one of your sabotaging beliefs and ask yourself a number of questions. See the example below and the list of questions to help you understand the task before you begin. These are the questions that you will need to ask:
- What are the feelings I associate with this belief?
- What are the thoughts I associate with this belief?
- What are the physical reactions I have when I focus on that belief?
- What evidence do I have for this belief?
- What are my expectations in having this belief?
- What are my reactions to this belief?
Sabotaging belief: I’m not good enough.
Feelings: Anxious, scared, regret, disappointment.
Thoughts: Could have tried harder. I have to prove myself. What’s the use?
Physical reactions: Tight chest, tense, stressed, restless, irritable, not sleeping.
Evidence: My teacher said I wasn’t. I don’t have evidence. I just know.
Expectations: No one believes I’m good enough. It happened before and it will happen again.
Reactions: Shy, defensive, take things personally.
- Do I want this belief to run my life?
- Am I willing to let go of this belief?
When you are prepared to change the belief, do two things:
- Turn the negative into a positive and make an affirmation from it.
- Rework the responses to the questions about the sabotaging belief for the positive affirmation.
Positive affirmation: I am good enough.
Feelings: Proud, content, energised, self-motivated.
Thoughts: I’ve done my best. I can do it. I am good enough. I’m optimistic.
Body reactions: Calm, peaceful, content.
Evidence: I am pleased with myself. I tell myself I am good enough.
Expectations: I can achieve what I want to achieve. I deserve the best life has to offer.
Reactions: Involved, social, self-confident, intuitive.
It is very important that you immerse yourself in the new belief until your subconscious accepts it as true. Repeat the new belief – for example, I am good enough – over and over again in your mind as an affirmation.
- Notice your thinking
Recognise what you are thinking and the importance of replacing negative thoughts and beliefs with positive, more accurate ones. This will support and encourage you and help you to develop self-esteem.
Do you use the following when you think about yourself?
- Self put-downs: Do you over-react to a situation and put yourself down? I am such a dummy.
- Mental filtering: Do you only focus on the negatives? Do you distort your opinion of a situation or a person because the negatives are all that you see? I made such a fool of myself because I made a mistake at the beginning of my speech.
- All or nothing: Do you label events that occur in your life as either good or bad, with no in-between? If I do not get an A in my exam then I am quitting.
- Jumping to a negative conclusion: Do you reach a negative conclusion without any evidence? I must have done something to upset Sophie. She didn’t even wave at me when I drove past her in the parking lot yesterday.
- Mistaking feelings for facts: Do you confuse your feelings with facts? I feel lost so I must be lost.
- Not recognising positives: Do you act like achievements are unimportant? Do you recognise big and small personal accomplishments? I spent hours cooking the meal for my family to give them a healthy dinner, but it isn’t really a big deal. That’s what mums are supposed to do, isn’t it?
Change takes a lot of courage and requires you to go through a process you haven’t endured previously. It can be daunting to confront the beliefs that are familiar to you. You may find yourself peeling off the false self that was created during your childhood and then uncovering your authentic, true self that may have been hidden away.
Be patient with yourself because it can take time for a new positive belief to take hold. It does depend on the amount of internal resistance. If there is no resistance you can instil a new belief in one day. You will know when your new belief has taken hold because you will act in accordance with it, without even thinking about it consciously.
Realising the beliefs that you hold about yourself that are not true is just as important as realising who you are. You are not necessarily everything your parents or other significant adults said you are and what you say about yourself may also be far from the truth.
Working on your thinking will result in a more empowered you and empowered marriage.