One of the negative effects of being raised in a difficult environment is a warped self-perception that manifests itself in various false beliefs. In this article, we will explore a few of the more popular ones.
1. I’m worthless
Believing that you are worthless is extremely common. Many children grow up into adults with a diminished sense of self-worth. That is the reality: if you treat someone whose mind is still developing as if they are worthless, they will believe that they are worthless.
This is understandable because if you are repeatedly told that you are stupid, incompetent, and useless, or even subtly or explicitly treated as though you are worthless, you receive the same message.
This is especially the case when those treating you this way are the very people that you are dependent on. You will, then, internalize this feeling and it will become your self-perception. Children pick up on these signals from their caregivers and adapt to their reality.
This belief is often accompanied by similar toxic beliefs:
- I am unlovable.
- I don’t matter.
- I can’t do anything right.
- There’s no point of even trying.
- I don’t deserve anything.
2. Everything is my fault
Excessive, unjust guilt is another common problem people suffer from. This belief develops if a child is punished for making mistakes, if they are micromanaged, if they are expected to meet unrealistic or unfair standards, and if they are blamed for things that they are not responsible for.
As a response to such treatment, the person learns to believe that whatever “bad” happens it’s their fault—because that’s how they were treated and led to believe. It often leads to feeling severe social anxiety and being in a constant state of alertness. It makes a person’s personal life quite challenging since they constantly concentrate on others and think that everything is somehow related to them.
- I deserve to be treated this way.
- It wasn’t that bad.
- I was a bad child.
- I am inherently bad or defective.
- Someone’s always watching me.
- Everyone hates me.
3. I have to take care of everyone
This is an extension of the previous belief. Here, the person believes that they are responsible for things that they are actually not responsible for. It is very common for such individuals to try to take care of other people’s needs, preferences, and emotions at the expense of their own.
If a child is not allowed to be a child and is forced to take up on a role of a parent—to their own parents, their siblings, or others—then they grow up feeling responsible for others. Such role reversal in a person’s early life predisposes them to neglect their own well-being, dreams, aspirations, and life for other people. The easiest form to recognize is people-pleasing, but it takes other shapes as well.
- I am responsible for other people’s emotions.
- If others are suffering it’s my fault.
- It’s my responsibility to save others.
- I have to make sure that everyone’s happy.
- My needs and wants are unimportant.
4. I can’t do anything myself
Many people who grow up in a controlling environment become overly dependent. This is because they were treated as if they are incompetent and weren’t given freedom to pursue their own goals, to make mistakes, and to overcome obstacles. Instead, they developed codependent tendencies and a sense of incompetency.
Here, instead of being an individual, facing life’s challenges and developing competency, the person stays stuck in the role of a helpless, dependent child, where they need someone else to take care of their financial, emotional, and even physical needs. A common, more extreme example would be a battered spouse who is afraid to leave because they think they can’t survive the separation.
- I’m not good at anything.
- Everything’s so complicated.
- I don’t understand anything.
- I am waiting for my savior.
- I just want for someone to take care of me.
- I just want someone who will make me feel safe.
5. I have to do everything myself
This is, in many ways, the opposite of the previous belief. Instead of being passive, the person feels that they have to do everything on their own. As a child, they had to take care of themselves because their caregivers were not very caring or reliable. They were forced to grow up quickly and deal with their struggles alone.
For people like this it is difficult to trust others, ask for help, or be vulnerable. They were routinely hurt by other people’s insensitivity, betrayed by those who were supposed to love them, and let down by people’s incompetency and unreliability. So they learned that you have to do everything yourself.
- Showing emotion is “unmanly” or weak (i.e., dangerous).
- I can’t trust anyone.
- I don’t need anyone.
- Everyone is just selfish and doesn’t care about anybody else.
- Asking for help is a sign of weakness.
- You have to carry everything inside.
- Nobody can understand me.
What false beliefs do you struggle with? What false beliefs did you have in the past? What helped you overcome them? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section or write about it in your personal journal.
Photo by DeeAshley
For more on these and other topics, check out the author’s books: Human Development and Trauma: How Childhood Shapes Us into Who We Are as Adults and Self-Work Starter Kit.