Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT) is an effective treatment for a wide range of psychological and emotional problems. The underlying theory of CBT is that our emotions are affected by our cognitions - put another way, "We feel what we think". As a Psychiatrist and Therapist in Edinburgh I use CBT techniques extensively in the treatment of common problems such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). |
CBT views emotional problems as the result of unhealthy and irrational thinking. It employs terms such as Negative Automatic Thoughts and Thinking Errors to describe the different ways in which unhealthy thinking can cause emotional problems. Having identified these unhealthy thinking habits, CBT also provides us with the tools to develop alternative, healthier ways of thinking about ourselves and the world around us. By thinking in a more balanced way we will feel better emotionally. Please see my articles on Negative Automatic Thoughts and Thinking Errors for a more detailed explanation of the above methods.
However, Negative Automatic Thoughts and Thinking Errors are not the whole picture. Many people will wonder why they have such ways of thinking when other people don't. CBT uses the term Negative Core Belief to describe the fundamental root cause or causes of a person's emotional difficulties.
A Negative Core Belief (or NCB) is a strongly held, intrinsic belief that a person holds about either themselves, others, or the world in general. Frequently people will have NCBs about all 3 categories. NCBs are usually an integral part of a person's personality - so much so that they're often blissfully unaware that they even have such a thing. One of my other articles on NCBs outlines ways that people can identify their NCBs - this article will focus on their causes.
Negative Core Beliefs arise most commonly during childhood and adolescence. This period would seem critical in the development of a person's personality - it is the time when they first form opinions about themselves, others and the world around them. In lay terms, we are "impressionable" in our younger years.
If our experiences during these years are generally positive and empowering, then we are likely to develop healthy Core Beliefs. If we have loving parents, a pleasant and supportive schooling experience, and are lucky enough to have good friends when we are growing up etc, then we are very likely to see ourselves, others, and the world in general in a positive light. We may end up with Core Beliefs such as "I'm a generally nice person" or "People are usually OK".
Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. Children grow up in violent or abusive households, children are bullied at school, children are ostracised by their peers - all these experiences can have a detrimental effect on a person's core beliefs. Even seemingly minor experiences - perhaps having "pushy" parents or over-critical teachers - can influence our views of the world. Negative Core Beliefs are the result of such an environment, examples of such beliefs being "I'm bad" or "People are aggressive".
It can seem reasonable (even logical) that a child forms these beliefs. After all, they're young and have limited alternative experiences to compare. If your father is aggressive, or your teacher critical, then it can easily seem like every adult is aggressive or critical. Also, these people are powerful figures in your early life - role models - and you are likely to believe what they say. A father saying "You're bad" or a teacher calling you "Useless" is, as far as you can see, the truth. You begin to believe that these are undeniable facts about yourself, facts that obvious to everyone.
These CBT beliefs are the conclusions that are formed in a child's mind based on his or her limited experience. You only have your parents judge how all parents are, and you only meet a certain number of teachers and schoolmates in your formative years. As a child, your view of the entire world is based on these few contacts and experiences.
The Core Beliefs we form as a child and adolescent tend to persist throughout our adult lives. This is not a problem if they are healthy, but Negative Core Beliefs predispose the individual to emotional difficulties. If you go through life believing, deep down, that you're a bad person or a failure, then you're prone to seeing much of your adult experiences in these terms. If a loved one is upset then you feel guilty even if it wasn't your fault, or the passing comment by a boss can seem like the end of the world. Negative Core Beliefs are the cause of Negative Automatic Thoughts and Thinking Errors - and these are the causes of emotional difficulties.
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