Artwork © 2015 Jocelyn Patrick

Challenging Mistaken Beliefs

Edmund Bourne PhD (2015) asserts:

There are six basic belief systems that abuse survivors can tend to fall into. Hopefully, if you fall into one or some combination of the belief systems listed below, the following information can give you some ideas on how to start looking at yourself and your life from a more realistically and empowering point of view. Keep in mind that all of the belief systems below are indeed mistaken. They are not reality.


  • I'm powerless or helpless.
  • I'm a victim of outside circumstances.
  • I am unworthy. I am not good enough
  • Often I feel a sense of defeat and resignation: "Why bother!"
  • My condition seems hopeless.
  • There is Something fundamentally wrong with me.
  • If I recovery fully, I might have to deal with realities I would rather not face.

People with this belief system believe they are powerless, have little to no control over outside circumstances, or are unable to do much that could help their situation. In sum, "I am powerless" or "I cannot do much about my life."

Dependent Upon Love

  • I am nothing (or cannot make it) unless I am loved.
  • I cannot stand being seperated from others.
  • If a person I love does not love me in return, it is my fault.
  • It is very hard to be alone.
  • If I did not have my safe person (or safe place), I could not cope.
  • A reluctance to come to conclusions
  • I am afraid to face the world out there on my own.

You are likely to belief that your self-worth is dependent on the love of someone else. You feel you need anothers (or other's) love to feel OK about yourself and cope. In sum, "My worth and security depend on the love of others."

Dependent Upon Approval

  • What others think of me is very important.
  • I feel personally threatened when criticized.
  • It is important to please others.
  • People will not like me if they see who I really am.
  • I need to keep up a front in front of others or they will see my weaknesses.
  • I should always be pleasant and nice no matter how I feel.

You likely believe that your self-worth is dependent on other's approval. Being pleasing and getting acceptance from others is very important for your sense of security and your sense of who you are. In sum, "My worth and security depend on the approval of others."

Dependent on Success

  • I need to achieve or produce something significant in order to feel okay about myself.
  • My accomplishments at work/school are extremely important.
  • Success is everything.
  • I have to be the best at what I do.
  • I have to be somebody - somebody outstanding.
  • To fail is terrible.
  • I should always be effecient.
  • I should always be competent.

You likely believe that your self-worth is dependent upon external achievements, such as school or career performance, status, or wealth. In sum, "My worth is dependent on my performance or achievements."

Dependent Upon Independence

  • I cannot rely on others.
  • I cannot recieve help from others.
  • If I let someone too close I am afraid of being controlled.
  • I am the only one who can solve my problems
  • It is risky to trust other people.

You likely believe that you cannot trust, rely on, or recieve help from others. You may have a tendency to keep a distance from people and avoid intimacy for fear of losing control. In sum, "If I trust or get too close, I will lose control."

Dependent Upon Perfection

  • I should be the perfect employee, professional, spouse, parent, lover, friend, student, son/daughter, etc.
  • I should be able to endure any hardship.
  • I should be able to find a quick solution to any problem.
  • I should never be tired or fatigued.
  • I feel anxious about making mistakes.
  • I demand perfection of myself.

You believe that you have to be perfect in some or many areas of life. You make excessive demands on youself. There is no room for mistakes. In sum, "I have to be perfect" or "It is not OK to make mistakes."

Are you able to identify those mistaken beliefs which have the greatest impact on you? If you have, now how do you go about changing them?

Five Questions for Challenging Mistaken Beliefs:

  1. What is the evidence for this belief? Looking objectively at all of my life experience, what is the evidence that makes this true?
  2. Does this belief invariably or always hold true for me?
  3. Does this belief look at the whole picture? Does is take into account both positive and negative ramifications?
  4. Does this belief promote my well-being and/or peace of mind?
  5. Did I choose this belief on my own or did it develop out of my experience of growing up in my family?

A few words need to be said about this last question. Many of your mistaken beliefs were likely acquired from your family while growing up. There are atleast two (2) ways this could happen. First, one or both of your parents may have held the belief and you simply learned it from them. For example, beliefs such as, "The world is a dangerous place" or "It is risky to trust people" might have been attitudes of your parents that you adopted wholesale, because no alternative views were presented to you as a child.

The other way you might have acquired a mistaken belief is as a reaction to what happened and/or the way you were treated as a child. For example, if your father died and then your mother went to work when you were five (5) years old, you may have felt abandoned and developed the belief, "Being alone means being abandoned or unloved." Or if your parents expected you to achieve and criticized your mistakes and performance at school, your reaction would likely involve developing such beliefs as "My accomplishments are extremely important" and "It is not OK to make mistakes."

It is often helpful in the process of evaluating mistaken beliefs to see how they arose from unfortunate or dysfunctional circumstances during childhood. While such beliefs may have helped you survive as a child, they have long lost their usefulness and only serve to create anxiety or stress for you now.

Use your answers as guidelines for challenging your own mistaken beliefs. If there is some evidence of a particular belief, it is not always true, or if it does not promote your well-being, then it most likely mistaken. If the belief was acquired out of dysfunctional family circumstances rather than having been freely chosen by you as an adult, it is equally likely to be mistaken. It is important to go through the process of questioning if you feel attached to any particular belief.

Once you have completed the process of challenging any mistaken believe you've found that you have, then be ready to develope positive affirmations to counter each of them. Although it is preferable to develop your own, the examples on the affirmations page of this website can also be options to use. After you've developed your affirmations, write down each affirmation in capital letters underneath or next to the particular mistaken belief it is intended to counter.

The process of countering mistaken beliefs with affirmations is very similar to that of countering negative self talk with positive self-statements. The difference is to make the affirmations as compact and easy to rehearse as you can. Writing the affirmations repetitively on a sheet of paper, or listening to them repetitively on tape can, with persistence, actually result in their supplanting unwanted mistaken beliefs in your mind. In continually writing out counter-statements to negative self-talk, you eventually develop the habit of noticing and countering these anxiety provoking things that you tell yourself. In confronting mistaken beliefs, the important part is working on the affirmations, because it will actually change the core beliefs that underlie your negative self talk.


Bourne, E. J. (2015). The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook [6th edition]. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.