How False Beliefs About One’s Self Can Play into Anxiety and Depression

What makes you, you? According to Brian Little, PhD, author of Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being, there are five consistent traits humans embody.

“Many personality researchers have concluded that the hundreds of different trait dimensions can be reduced to five major factors that consistently emerge in data collected across different cultures and language groups. The so-called big five dimensions are: open to experience (vs. closed-minded), conscientious (vs. careless), extraverted (vs. introverted), agreeable (vs. disagreeable) and neurotic (vs. stable).”

Are these qualities cast in stone at birth or are they mutable?  It may come down to the question of nature vs. nurture. Those who take the former stance are referred to as ‘nativists’ who view personality traits as immutable, while others who are in the second camp are referred to as ‘empiricists’.  Each makes a valid point and yet, we are an adaptive species with daily opportunities to take a different path an alter our decision making by changing our beliefs about the person in the mirror.

In an article entitled “Identity Formation.” Boundless Sociology. Boundless, 26 May. 2016, “Identity formation is defined as, “development of an individual’s distinct personality by which he or she is recognized or known.”

Identity is delineated in several categories that include:

  • Cultural
  • Ethnic
  • Religious
  • National

Each is part of a puzzle that comprises the ways in which an individual is viewed by the world and even more importantly, by themselves.

Who Are You? Who, Who, Who, Who. I Really Wanna Know

Rock lyrics aside, an exploration of the ways in which we perceive ourselves and our place in the world, is worth attention.

A therapist who has worked with a variety of clients over three decades has observed that the hardiest and most resilient among them have been able to acknowledge their core essence, and cultivated the ability to become chameleon-like when needed. She recalls an older gentleman who grew up in a working class home, situated in a multi-ethnic neighborhood. He and his three siblings were first generation American born of immigrant parents who fled persecution in their homeland. They were told that they needed to assimilate in order to succeed; speaking their native language in the home, but only English outside the home. She witnessed that he was able to maneuver his way through nearly any encounter with people from all walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds. He had developed that ability by imagining ‘walking a mile in their shoes’.  Although he had a clear idea that he fit into each of the aforementioned categories identity based categories: Blue Collar-Russian-Jewish-American, he knew he was far more than that and as a result was highly successful in his relationships. He exhibited the open minded, conscientious, extraverted, agreeable and stable classifications.

Another, who had experienced abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father, developed the belief that he needed to consistently prove himself and that he would never measure up. Although he presented as confident at times, deeply committed to excellence, affectionate and demonstratively loving, there was another aspect of himself that demanded loyalty and agreement with his world view. As a result, he was often at odds with his finer qualities. He saw himself as the reflection of his father’s perspective and it created conflict in relationships that he desired to be harmonious. Episodic depression and anxiety, as well as OCD behaviors infiltrated his home, work and social life. He exemplified close minded, conscientious, extraverted (with occasional introverted tendencies), disagreeable and neurotic traits. His identity was formulated, also as was the first man, Middle-Class-Irish-American-Protestant; although it had less impact on shaping his affect than did the personality traits.

How Do We Change Our Self -Assessment?

  • Ask yourself, “What am I believing about myself or this experience?”
  • Be aware of when you are making broad generalizations about your behaviors labeling you. An example might be, “I made a mistake vs. I AM a mistake.” Or “I have so many flaws, so I am not worth loving.”
  • Challenge those thoughts.
  • Be willing to re-write the narrative you have running through your head.
  • As is encouraged in the recovery community, do a ‘searching and fearless moral inventory,’ as you take an honest look at what you have done, the decisions you have made and how they impact your life.
  • Choose to change what you can.
  • Put down the proverbial whip which you have brandished at yourself.
  • Embrace your strengths.
  • Accept lovingly offered praise and critique.
  • Learn to offer yourself the same quality of love that you give others.