Posts in therapy
Unmet Expectations

Dr. Larry Cohen (856) 352-5428

We are all imperfect and we all live flawed lives. Life can be tedious. If others would only behave how I see fit. Don’t they see life the way I do? Don’t they know that I have it all arranged, that they need only comply with my wishes to create a perfect world?  Most often, our family, our co-workers, and the rest of the world do not fall into line, and you are left expending valuable emotional energy in frustration.  

30 years ago, a wise man told me that the world is exactly how it’s supposed to be. He explained that  unhappiness lives in unmet expectations. That is, to find happiness, we need to change our ways of seeing and our attitudes toward the world. If I did not accept the world just as it was supposed to be, I would remain frustrated and unhappy forever. The rest of the world, I learned, did not want to comply with my perfectionistic plans.

Life is not often fair – but when we see reality clearly and accept it just as it is, peace and serenity have a chance to take hold. Acceptance allows you to stop fighting with the truth and being so miserable about it. Fighting against ‘what is’ leads only to frustration, and never leads to a peaceful resolution of one’s feelings and attitudes. We can choose to expend our energy in anger and outrage, or, we can face facts, accept life on life’s terms, and move forward toward greater things.  

 On the now famous page 417 of the AA Big Book, a member shares “acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life —unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.” 

I tell those I work with that each day is like a pie. The pie only has so many pieces, and I always ask ‘ok, how much of today’s pie do you want to waste on resentment and anger?’ You can sit in anger and shake your fist at the world’s unfairness, or you can work on acceptance – seeing and internalizing reality as it is, and not as you wish it to be. How much of today’s pie do you want to devote to acceptance, growth, flexibility, and contentment. It’s normal to be disappointed when life does not go as planned, but spending energy sitting in disappointment is just a waste of that energy.  

Decide: you can expend your energy on life events that you cannot change, or, you can begin to accept life as it is and focus your energy on the positive. Again, UNHAPPINESS LIVES IN UNMET EXPECTATIONS! Whether we are disappointed in our loved ones, in ourselves, or in the world around us. Ask “what’s in my best interest?” To sit with a negative, ungrateful attitude, or to change my attitude and be grateful for what I have within my control. Now you can begin to improve your life.  

Change requires focus, commitment, and an open mind. To change your life, you must count on your inner strength to accept difficult realities. Be accepting of yourself, of others, and of the world. Only then can you break free and find peace.

Examining Core Beliefs

Dr. Larry Cohen (856) 352-5428

Examining and Challenging our Core Beliefs

Take a moment to think about (or, even better, write down) what you believe about yourself. Who are you? Are you a good person? Do you believe you are a failure? Do you believe you are not good enough? Or, do you believe that you are worthwhile with important things to share? These belief statements are examples of what are called ‘core beliefs’ about the self. It is essential to recognize that your core beliefs are with you every moment of every day. Even though you may not be conscious of these beliefs from moment to moment, they are real. They may be locked away inside of you, but they are there, and they might be undermining your daily life, and sabotaging your personal happiness and success.

The Impact of Negative Core Beliefs

Let’s examine the impact of negative core beliefs. Let’s say that one of your core beliefs is that you are a failure. You often think, “I was a failure yesterday, I am a failure today, and I will be a failure tomorrow.” As the days, weeks, months, and years pass, this negative belief, now deeply ingrained, seems more and more true each day. You can no longer remember when you started believing that you were a failure, but at present, to you, this fact is absolute truth. Eventually, no matter how well you’ve hidden this belief inside yourself, it will activate and enter your consciousness. Because of this negative belief, you experience an emotional reaction. You wonder, “why am I so depressed and feeling bad about myself?” If at your core you believe you are a failure, it’s no mystery why you feel depressed and down.   Remember: our thoughts trigger our emotions, and our emotions affect our behaviors. Although core beliefs are often hidden from consciousness, they do enter our consciousness as thought quite often. For example, perhaps you get taken advantage of by your auto mechanic. Suddenly, this core belief activates, your emotions respond, and you feel like a failure. This chain of events – from thought to emotion to action – happens in the blink of an eye. So quickly, in fact, that the cause of your emotional dysphoria - the surfacing of the core belief - may elude you.

a second negative core belief worth examination is: “I am just not good enough”. This belief is primarily consciousness, as many life situations activate it. When this belief, “I am just not good enough”, becomes a thought, your emotional state sinks, you feel low, and fall into believing that you’re “just not good enough.”

As this belief is different than our previous example, “I am a failure”, one's emotional reaction may be different. The belief “I am just not good enough” will bring up feelings of insecurity, fear, worry, and anxiety. Have you ever felt highly anxious without knowing why? Consider if your feelings are the result of a negative core belief activation. we sometimes feel emotional without knowing why. I suggest you identify your emotions and investigate what thoughts may have brought on the emotions you feel. you may discover a clear link between your emotions, your thoughts, and a negative core belief.

Healthy Core Beliefs

Core beliefs aren’t just negative. A healthy core belief might be “I am a good, kind person. But I am human, and I sometimes make mistakes.” This core belief reflects positively on the self, while recognizing human imperfection and the need to be kind to oneself when a mistake occurs. Note the lack of perfectionistic fervor contained in this core belief. An expectation of personal perfection only feeds negative core beliefs. If you believe at your core that you are a failure, you are neglecting your humanness and the importance of self-forgiveness. If you expect to be perfect, you are doomed to a life of disappointment and self-loathing. It is near impossible to experience appropriate levels of self-esteem under such circumstances.

Internalizing the Negative

Before we address the extreme importance of challenging your negative belief systems and how to rewire your brain, let’s address how negative core beliefs form.  First and foremost, most if not all negative beliefs you carry are baseless and untrue. Don’t forget that your beliefs aren’t necessarily facts. Further, I believe that negative core beliefs are taught to us, handed to us, or forced upon us by other people.  

Take Your Life Back

Take a moment to reflect on a new born child. A child enters our world completely innocent. No child is a “failure”, and no child is “just not good enough”. All babies are inherently good and completely free of any negative beliefs about themselves. You were not born with negative beliefs about yourself. We internalize, accept, and come to believe that these beliefs are true because at some point in life, someone told us they were true. Later, we learn to create our own negative beliefs by comparing ourselves to others. I remember how early the comparisons began. In elementary school, I was taught that I was not the smartest kid in the class. Was I dumb? Part of me started to believe this. Then I discovered that I wasn’t the best athlete: aren’t men expected to be great athletes? Suddenly my virility was in question (in 3rd grade). Grade comparisons, waiting to be picked by a team at recess, making friends (do they like me? If not, what’s wrong with me!)  It’s too painful to go on! Shake yourself hard and begin to accept that many of your beliefs about yourself are based on how you view the past.

I challenge you to confront your negative core beliefs. Try to remember who taught you that you weren’t good enough. Revisit shameful experiences from your youth and recognize that a child really has nothing to be ashamed of. You will discover that many of the negative core beliefs you hold dear and believe so fully aren’t yours - they belong to someone else - someone who shamed you into believing they were true. And try to stop comparing yourself to others. Comparisons aren’t worth the energy required to perform them. Be who you are, be proud of who you are, challenge your negative core beliefs and recognize yourself for who you truly are. You were once an innocent baby, free of negative core beliefs, without shame, and without self-doubt. Work hard to shed your negative core beliefs and send them back from where they came.  Affirm and reclaim your life – snatch it back and start anew.

 “A positive, empowering belief system will attract the life you want to live. Your positive belief system provides the power to continuously create your vision.”