118: The Beliefs that Defeat You, Part 1

The shows today and next Monday will focus on Self-Defeating Beliefs. These shows were triggered by two excellent questions from listeners.

Rajesh asked:

  • Is it possible to change an SDB?
  • Does the mere knowledge of an SDB change it?
  • How long does it take to change an SDB?
  • How do you change SDBs?

Nikola asked:

  • Aaron Beck said the SDBs never really go away. They just get activated and deactivated and activated again. Does this mean that depression is an incurable disease that will keep coming back over and over again?
  • What’s the point in battling against a core belief if it cannot be changed?

Fabrice and I appreciate your questions–they often give us ideas for shows! In today’s Podcast you’ll learn the answers to several questions about Self-Defeating Beliefs.

What’s the difference between Self-Defeating Beliefs (SDBs) vs. Cognitive Distortions?

The thoughts that contain cognitive distortions, such as All-or-Nothing Thinking, Overgeneralization, Discounting the Positive, and Self-Blame are distortions of reality, they are the cons that trigger depression and anxiety. When you’re upset, these thoughts will flood your mind. These thoughts can be show to be false, and when you crush a distorted negative thought, you’ll immediately feel better.

Self-Defeating Beliefs are stipulations, values that you’ve set up for your self. For example, you may base your self-esteem on your accomplishments due to your belief that people who accomplish more are more worthwhile as human beings. SDBs like this cannot actually be shown to be false–they are simply your personal, subjective values, and they are thought to be with you all the time, and not just when you’re depressed, anxious, or angry.

The question with an SDB is this: What are the advantages and disadvantages of having this value system? How will it help me–what are the benefits–and how might it hurt me? What’s the downside?

Why are Self-Defeating Beliefs thought to be important?

When you challenge and defeat a distorted thought, you feel better in the here-and-now. When you challenge and change an SDB, you change your value system at a deep level. This is thought to make you less vulnerable to painful mood swings and relationship conflicts in the future.

What are the different kinds of SDBs?

  • David’s list of 23 Common SDBs is attached. This list is not comprehensive, as there are many more, but the ones on the list are very common. There are several categories of SDBs.
  • Individual SDBs are often “Self-Esteem Equations”
    • Perfectionism
    • Perceived Perfectionism
    • Achievement Addiction
    • Approval Addiction
    • Love Addiction
  • Interpersonal SDBs are expectations of what will happen in certain kinds of relationships, or relationships in general
    • What’s your understanding of the other person’s role in your relationship? What adjectives describe him or her?
    • What’s your understanding of your person’s role in the relationship? What adjectives describe you?
    • How would that kind of relationship feel?
    • What rules connect the two roles?
  • Other kinds of SDBs
    • Anger / conflict cluster
      • Entitlement
      • Truth
      • Blame
    • Anxiety cluster
      • Niceness
      • Conflict Phobia
      • Anger Phobia
      • Emotophobia
      • Submissiveness
      • Spotlight Fallacy
      • Brushfire Fallacy

How can you identify your own, or a patient’s, Self-Defeating Beliefs?

  • Look at the list of 23 individual SDBs (easiest). You might want to do that right now. Review the list, and you’ll probably find many of your own beliefs!
  • Individual Downward Arrow
  • Interpersonal Downward Arrow

Next week, Fabrice and David will show you how to modify an SDB.



Dr. Fabrice Nye currently practices in Redwood City, California and also works with individuals throughout the world via teletherapy (although not across U.S. state lines). You can reach him at fabrice@life.net. You can reach Dr. Burns at david@feelinggood.com. If you like our jingle music and would like to support the composer Brett Van Donsel, you may download it here.


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8 thoughts on “118: The Beliefs that Defeat You, Part 1

  1. Really looking forward to this podcast! I very much appreciate all the work and preparation that goes into your podcast and facebook videos. Thank you. Also I don’t know if you’ve addressed seasonal affective disorder. Is S.A.D. a real thing in your opinion? Today where I live the sun comes up about 8:40 and goes down at 4:15. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Warm regards,

  2. Thank you for today’s program. I have always felt that my SDB’s were the result of and shaped by my life experiences. For example, If I were verbally abused in my family I learned from them that I was defective or unlovable. If my father took off and left our family it was because of something I did or did not do. Even though I didn’t know it at the time what was happening was that I was interpreting those experiences and developing core beliefs…my SDB’s weren’t the result of the experiences themselves. Correct?

    • Hi Roger, Thanks for the question. We just don’t know the causes of things, like Self-Defeating Beliefs, and you can make really persuasive arguments for all kinds of causes–childhood experiences that shape us, powerful societal influences, genetic causes, and more. Since I have some experience in research, I have learned not to jump to conclusions, since good data (which is hard to come by) generally disproves our most cherished theories and beliefs about causality. So I’m agnostic–and most humans prefer to be “believers.” Especially if a theory SOUNDS good and compelling and persuasive. All I specialize in is quick and (reasonably) lasting “cures,” so to speak! I find the process of treatment and rapid recovery exhilarating, and that’s enough for me. Eventually, we will learn more about causes of our thoughts, beliefs and feelings, but not quite yet, I think.

      I must admit that I do get somewhat annoyed by all the “gurus” in psychology who go around given “knowledgeable” and impressive talks on why we are the way we are, why we feel shame, depression, insecurity, and so forth. And people eat it up! They love charismatic and charming “gurus!”I guess I am a cynic of sorts, and apologize!

      Great question, at any rate! david

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