Self-Defeating Beliefs: What they are, what types exist, and how to challenge them.

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Self-Defeating Beliefs: What they are, what types exist, and how to challenge them.

At MTLC, many of our teen clients struggle with self-defeating beliefs.  

What are they?

Self-defeating beliefs are more than negative thoughts. This attitude can be part of your life philosophy and value system.

Self-defeating beliefs make us feel like we are not good enough, worthy, or deserving of happiness. They get in the way of accessing the determination and motivation needed to reach our full potential.


  • I must always be productive and successful in being a worthwhile person.
  • I must be popular and well-liked by everyone to see myself as excellent or valuable.
  • If I act like my true self, no one will be my friend.


  • The emotional perfectionist: “I should always feel happy and in control of my emotions.”
  • Performance perfectionism: “I must never fail.”
  • Perceived perfectionism: “I will not be loved if I am flawed or vulnerable.”
  • Fear of rejection/criticism/failure: “If I am not loved and perfect, then life is not worth living.”
  • Fear of being alone: “If I’m alone, I will always be miserable.”
  • Conflict phobia: “If I disagree or argue, I won’t be loved.”

Challenging Self-Defeating Beliefs:

  • Untwist your thinking! When you have a self-defeating belief, ask yourself:
  • If that were true, what would it mean to me?
  • Go through a costs and benefits analysis.


  • Self-defeating belief: I want to be part of this group at school. If I don’t find a way in, I’ll never belong anywhere or be accepted.
  • Challenge: If that were true, why would it upset me?
  • Answer: I would feel rejected and not good enough and end up alone.
  • Challenge: If that were true, why would it upset me?
  • Answer: It would mean that what others think of me would define me.
  • Challenge: If that were true, why would it upset me?
  • Answer: I want to express myself because I don’t want others to define me. 

Parents – Understanding the Origins of Self-Defeating Beliefs + What to Ask Your Teen.

–      Self-defeating beliefs can be adopted as early as infancy. As a baby, we make assessments to protect ourselves and our loved ones. For example, when the baby cries, the mother gets upset, and the baby is ignored. The baby learns that when they call, they will not receive love and care. So, the baby will cry less – and perhaps grow up to stifle their emotions in attempts to receive love and affection from family and friends.

–      As adolescents and young adults, we absorb cultural and societal values that tell us not to be needy or that men don’t show emotions.

–      “Always” and “never” are often words that are included with self-defeating beliefs. You can learn to spot those words – and ask yourself how the idea makes you feel as you think about it. If you feel small or inadequate – it’s unhelpful and could use reframing.

–      Start a discussion! Ask your teen this question: “Do you base your self-esteem, value, or worth on your achievements or relationships with others?” Listen to what they say, and share these learnings on self-defeating beliefs with them.  

If you are struggling with this and need help, contact us at to schedule a consultation.

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Are you procrastinating?

“I want to finish my homework and go to bed, but before I know it, I was scrolling on my phone for 2 hours.” Follow these tips: 1. Ask: What is the benefit of my procrastinating? (eg. I can scroll) 2. Ask: What does procrastination cost you? (e.g., I want to sleep, but because I procrastinated, I have to stay up late to finish my homework.) 3. Do: Break it down into little tasks. What’s the first thing you need to do to get started? (Sharpen pencils. 1 page/problem at a time.) 4. Do: Plan for the distractors that may come up when you are working – before you start the work. (eg. My phone is a distraction, so I will leave it in the kitchen while I do my homework in my room.)

To focus on Procrastination and Get Help

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