Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: How powerful are our thoughts?

Adapted from Centre for Clinical Interventions: Overcoming low self-esteem

Different life experiences from both our past and present can influence how we view and feel about ourselves; however, for many people lack self-confidence and self-esteem it usually involves past experiences. It can be frustrating, when you really think about it, that something which occurred so long ago can still have such a lasting effect on you today. It turns out there’s a few different ways this works.

Negative Core Beliefs

Do you ever in your mind still hear things that your parents or other people said to you as a kid? Things like, “this isn’t good enough, you could’ve done better, you’re so stupid.” Even though our circumstances now are likely different from that of our childhood, we still say these things to us because of our “negative core-beliefs.” These are conclusions about ourselves we arrived at when we were kids or teenagers. For example if a kid was constantly punished or criticised, they may develop an idea that they are worthless or bad. When we were going through those experiences, these core-beliefs made sense to us because we didn’t yet have the understanding to explore alternate explanations to what we were experiencing. These include thoughts like, “I am stupid,” or “I’m not good enough”

Rules and assumptions

When we develop these strong, negative core beliefs, it’s not surprising that it would make us feel bad. It’s during this time that our brain goes into “survival mode.” In survival mode, our brain will do whatever it takes to ensure we survive and keep functioning. For this reason, we tend to develop rules and assumptions. Their purpose is to guard and defend us from the truth of our negative core beliefs.  For example, “I must never make any mistakes, if I do everyone will know I’m worthless.”

How it guides our behaviour

What you do on a day to day basis is largely determined by what rules for living you have. If your rule is that you must never make any mistakes, then you’ll likely check your work many times so that you’re less likely to turn something in with mistakes, if any at all. This means you’re less likely to be criticised, keeping your self-esteem protected. This means you can feel good about yourself in the short term. The problem is that these rules and assumptions are often very difficult to live up to because they’re so strict.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

When we engage in these unhelpful behaviours, they reinforce our original negative core beliefs. Take the example, “I’m worthless”

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies


So by engaging in these unhelpful behaviours, we begin behaving in a way that we would consider consistent with the negative core belief. So if you act as if you are “worthless” you will continue to think you are “worthless” and feel low.

Can negative self-talk be good?

Some people would say that thinking negatively about yourself can be good; that it keeps you grounded, stops you from getting too big for your boots, or that it spurs you on and motivates you to be better.

Is putting yourself down and criticising yourself a good and healthy thing to do? If it is true, then wouldn’t we be doing this to our loved ones to help spur them on? When something goes wrong, and your friends or family are in distress, do you help them by calling them names and telling them off? Most of us would say, no, this is not something that we. When loved ones are in distress we show them compassion and kindness; we try to encourage them on and comfort them. So if we can do this for the people we love and care about, why can’t we do it for ourselves?



Thoughts are powerful

Self-fulfilling Prophecy


Remember, although we may not give them much power, our thoughts are a very powerful thing. Two of the best ways to challenge them are using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness. If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to contact us to find out how CBT and mindfulness can help you overcome your own negative self-talk.

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: How powerful are our thoughts?
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