(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Does happiness depend on what your deepest beliefs are? - A short interview with Dr. Jeff Riggenbach
(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Male 1: Let me read some.
Male 2: Oh, no, no, no. I never let anybody read my stories.
Male 1: Why not?
Male 2: Well, what if they didn't like them? What if they told me I was no good? I don't know if I could take that kind of a rejection.
Dr. Kenner: And that's from Back to the Future, part one. We've all had those moments of vulnerability and sometimes they're not moments. Sometimes it's just the undercurrent of our lives. We're real anxious, we're real nervous, or we just feel depressed. We feel like it's hopeless for us or that we're unlovable. With me to discuss core beliefs, our deepest beliefs, is Dr. Jeff Riggenbach. He's a cognitive therapist in the state of Oklahoma, practicing at Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital and he has completed training with the gold standard of training in my book, with the Beck Institute of Cognitive Therapy and is certified with the Academy of Cognitive Therapy and he gives seminars routinely and has been a professor and I'm delighted to have you on the show, Dr. Riggenbach.
Dr. Riggenbach: Hi Ellen. Thanks for having me.
Dr. Kenner: It's wonderful that you're here. When a person goes through life saying, "I'm afraid to show anybody my writing. I'm afraid I'll be rejected." What's going on there?
Dr. Riggenbach: Well, as you talked about at the beginning, a lot of times - actually always - our specific thoughts that we have are products of what you mentioned which are called core beliefs. Our core beliefs are really these deeply engrained or deeply held beliefs or assumptions or rules that we've developed over time and they really serve as kind of filters for how we see ourselves, how we see other people and how we see the world. So they kind of serve as templates through which we process the information that we encounter as we live our lives.
Dr. Kenner: What would be a core belief about myself that might mess me up in life?
Dr. Riggenbach: Oh boy, there's several of those. Just listening to your clip there, I'm reminded of the core belief that a lot of people have that see themselves as a failure. If you are one of those people who catch yourself - let me back up. A lot of times, core beliefs are unconscious, so we don't even catch ourselves. We don't actually realize that we're telling ourselves when we're telling ourselves. I actually had a guy not too long ago I'm reminded of that said, "I guess I've been telling myself all this time that I'm a loser and I'll never amount to anything."
Dr. Kenner: Fascinating.
Dr. Riggenbach: He said, "I realize my dad always told me that when I was growing up, but I didn't realize that I continued to tell myself that. That belief of failure is a big one that a lot of people struggle with.
Dr. Kenner: So that's one core belief about yourself. What about a core belief about others that a person might have?
Dr. Riggenbach: Well, some people see others as kind of incompetent or never able to do the right thing -
Dr. Kenner: They're so stupid. You can't trust anybody.
Dr. Riggenbach: Yes. Untrustworthy, those kinds of things. Depending on exactly what the belief is, you might act in different ways or feel different ways. But people who see others as incompetent or never able to do the right thing often times kind of walk around life feeling angry. A lot of irritability with people and never seem to be happy with life. If we see people as not trustworthy, we're probably going to be more prone to not wanting to be vulnerable or keeping secrets or not opening up or not sharing what's going on or those kinds of things.
Dr. Kenner: So some commitment problems with marriage or you're dating, dating, dating, but they can't commit - it could be that they're just afraid to take that chance? Because they have a core belief that good things can't happen to them. That could be one belief about the self or that other people will always let you down.
Dr. Riggenbach: Absolutely. Those are two really big ones that a lot of people struggle with and those come from experiences that people have had in the past where people have let them down or people have hurt them and so they've come to perceive themselves as vulnerable or not able to succeed or those kinds of things. They do act in ways that serve to keep them safe, whether it's getting angry with people or defensive or some people don't believe it that strongly maybe and so they're able to get along socially pretty good with people and have some good social skills and have some surface level friends, but they just put those walls up and they don't let anybody get too close. Those walls work for people who are trying not to be hurt because they work to keep people out from hurting them again, but the problem is, they keep people out that might hurt them but they also keep people out that might be able to help them.
Dr. Kenner: The good people. Or potential friends and they never find out without taking a risk, they never find out that what? That not everybody is untrustworthy. Not everybody is going to hurt them. In order to break through that barrier, to let your wall down, what do you need to do? What would a cognitive therapist do to help a person break down that wall?
Dr. Riggenbach: Well, you're right, it is a matter of being willing to take a small risk and maybe identifying one person that is currently in your life that you think might be worth taking a small risk for and a lot of people aren't willing to take that risk. So they live their entire lives with their walls up and keeping themselves safe, but never really experiencing any intimacy or happiness or joy or support or those sorts of things.
Dr. Kenner: And sometimes blaming it on the world.
Dr. Riggenbach: Right, it's everybody else's fault.
Dr. Kenner: Everybody else's fault. If only.
Dr. Riggenbach: That's always the answer, isn't it?
Dr. Kenner: So what are some other common destructive beliefs about one's self that we carry around?
Dr. Riggenbach: Well, I mentioned the vulnerability belief. A lot of people see themselves as being vulnerable to harm or unsafe. I'm thinking of a lady I've been working with who is in her 30s and she was abused by her father and went through several other horrible things growing up that caused her to see herself as vulnerable and the world as unsafe. As recently as last week, her husband kind of reached up to the refrigerator to get out a jug of milk and in her corner of her eye, she saw a hand go up. Well, because those two beliefs were filtering it in such a way that, gee, when somebody raises their hand, I'm in danger. She still flinches to this day. So because she filters, kind of everyday events in that way, she perceives there to be danger in many situations in life when there really isn't any actual danger.
Dr. Kenner: So what she would need to do is to really work and see her husband raise his hand 100 times or something or other people raise their hand and realize there are two categories - one where the hand will come down and hit you, but that was from her childhood. Another category where people are just getting a jug of milk or just doing something that is not harmful or even going to shake your hand or throw confetti.
Dr. Riggenbach: That's right. And you can do those sorts of exposure techniques, they call them, doing those things over and over and over and having them look at how they're thinking about it in each situation but yeah, the goal is to help them realize that just because certain things happened in the past with certain triggers doesn't mean they'll happen in the present.
Dr. Kenner: So if a person feels unlovable or feels that they're a loser or feels somehow inferior or defective or feels like a failure, they don't have to go through life having that unchallenged, as if that's just the given. They could go see a cognitive therapist such as yourself - this is Dr. Jeff Riggenbach - and they could work on these problems so that they would have a whole skills basket that would help them put their lives back together in a much better way.
Dr. Riggenbach: Absolutely. That's one of the things I love about cognitive therapy is that it gives people hope. People that thought maybe their life was hopeless or they didn't have any help and they kind of struggled with the same sort of feelings, depression, anxiety, irritability, whatever hurtful emotions they have experienced over and over and over, so they assumed it would always have to feel that way. A lot of people who work with this sort of therapy come to see that they don't have to continue to feel those feelings and they don't have to live the life in the way they've been living it previously.
Dr. Kenner: What I love so much, this is Dr. Jeff Riggenbach, cognitive therapist, but what I love so much about cognitive therapy is your comment that the job of a cognitive therapist is to work our way out of a job, meaning that we teach the clients thinking skills, the method, to challenge negative ideas and problems in their life so they can embrace their life and love it more. Thank you so much for being with me today Dr. Jeff Riggenbach.
Dr. Riggenbach: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Kenner: I'm Dr. Ellen Kenner, see you again next week.