loathing. There are other symptoms of self-loathing such as depression, eating disorders, and bullying behaviour. Self-loathing is the result of an accumulation of negative beliefs that we hold about ourselves such as “I’m bad”, “I’m not good enough”, “I don’t belong”. We all have them – some more than others. What you need to know is that negative beliefs form in early childhood and they drive subsequent behavior. By the time a child is six or seven they’ve already developed negative beliefs about themselves and have established patterns of behaviour that can lead to addiction or other mental health disorders. The good news is that once we become aware of them we can do something about them.
So how do negative beliefs get started and how do they drive addictive behavior?
Let me tell you how one of my daughter’s negative beliefs developed.
My daughter took ballet lessons at Kerrisdale Community Centre when she was in Kindergarten. One day I dropped her off there as usual and decided to take a nap while she was there. I set an alarm but it didn’t go off. I woke up when the phone rang and it was the ballet teacher calling to tell me to come and pick up my daughter – class had ended half an hour earlier. By the time I got there I was nearly 45 minutes late and she was clearly upset and anxious. Children are ego centric in their world until they are six or seven and so she believed that it was somehow her fault that I was late and she made up right then and there that she was not good enough – that she was worthless and unlovable in fact – otherwise her mum would have picked her up on time. “I’m worthless” became a very stubborn negative belief for her.
My daughter’s example illustrates two key points:
Here’s a diagram of how a negative belief cycle operates:
When I was late picking her up from ballet, my daughter’s feeling was one of abandonment, and worry that I’d forgotten her. She judged herself as worthless and that became her core belief. Her belief that she was worthless prompted her to try to establish her worth by doing things perfectly – she became a perfectionist. Perfection is impossible to achieve so it is always a set up for failure and further evidence of worthlessness. Perfectionism often goes with eating disorders, so that was the first of her self-destructive behaviours to emerge. Smoking, and drinking provided lots of evidence of unworthiness, so the belief got stronger and stronger as her behavior got worse and worse. The things that she had to do to maintain these habits made the situation even worse.
Negative beliefs don’t always lead to substance abuse, but they do lead to feelings that are unpleasant. Substance abuse is a choice some people make to numb feelings that are too painful. A client reported becoming addicted to cocaine the very first time she tried it because the drug produced an incredible feeling of wellbeing – she experienced what it was like to be without emotional pain.
If we want to change behaviour such as substance abuse, we have to tackle the cause of that behaviour which is the belief that triggered it. Healing a subconscious negative belief actually changes behaviour.
So to summarize:
I know firsthand the emotional and financial costs of having a troubled teenager and I don’t want that to happen to you. That's why I wrote my book What They Don't Teach in Prenatal Class: The Key to Raising Trouble-Free Kids and Teens (available on Amazon).