How to Change Your Self-Defeating Beliefs

Mistaken Beliefs Associated With Panic and Anxiety

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Cognitive therapy is one form of psychotherapy that is modeled after the idea that our thoughts and beliefs contribute to our mental health. Cognitive therapy aims to shift negative thinking patterns and beliefs that contribute to personal unhappiness. It has been theorized that both mood and anxiety disorders, including panic disorder and depression, are greatly influenced by one’s negative thoughts and faulty beliefs.

Your personal values, perceptions, and attitudes make up your belief system. Self-defeating thoughts are any negative views you hold about yourself and the world around you. Also known as mistaken or faulty beliefs, these views impact your self-esteem, the feelings you carry about your personal abilities, and your relationships with others.

Self-defeating beliefs are categorized as either being negative views you have about yourself or the beliefs you hold about your relationships with others. Either of these types of self-defeating beliefs may be contributing to your anxiety and panic symptoms. The following describes a summary of self-defeating beliefs that are common among those who struggle with panic disorder, panic attacks, agoraphobia.


Often thought of as a positive attribute, perfectionism can actually set you up for procrastination and failure. Perfectionism describes the belief that one is never quite good enough. For example, you may believe that any little mistake you make or imperfection you have makes you a less worthy person. You may put off completing tasks, fearing that you will never be able to complete them as well as you would like to. People who hold the self-defeating belief of perfectionism often think that others will not accept them for who they truly are.

Perfectionism can affect your entire belief system and is often revealed through your personal self-talk and thinking. For instance, "should statements" are a type of negative thinking pattern that is often associated with perfectionism. One example would be thinking that you “should be able to control your anxiety.” Perfectionism also often takes on the form of negative self-labeling, such as believing that you “must be crazy” for having panic attacks. Such self-criticism only tears down your self-worth and can derail your attempts at coping with your condition.

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The mistaken belief of perfectionism can greatly impact one’s relationships and decided to tell others about their panic disorder. For instance, perfectionism may make you believe that others would be unaccepting of your condition. Perfectionism can also affect you at the workplace, as you may believe that your coworkers would discredit your work or avoid you if you showed any amount of anxiety or vulnerability. Such beliefs can add to the feelings of loneliness and isolation that are so common for people with panic disorder.

A Need to Achieve

Many people have personal goals that they hope to achieve. These goals typically revolve around the themes of health, relationships, or career. Accomplishing your goals should provide you with a degree of pride and fulfillment. However, many people with anxiety and/or depression falsely believe that their accomplishments make up their self-worth. You may believe that your personal value can only be attained through your wealth, status, intelligence, or achievements. People who fall into this self-defeating belief system are rarely ever satisfied with themselves or fulfilled in life.

Constant Need for Approval

Most people want to be liked by others. However, this desire can become self-defeating when one’s self-esteem is tied to the approval of others. A constant need for approval from others can leave one feeling hurt, anxious, or angry. The truth is that no matter who you are, not everyone is going to like you. Remember that you are a worthwhile person whether everyone agrees with or approves of you.

Those who measure their worth by how much they are liked by others will easily become upset over any form of criticism or difference in opinion. Simple suggestions by others can lead them to feel hostile and defensive. Ironically, wanting constant approval by others can push people away. If you struggle with the need for approval, keep in mind that others may approve of you as a person and are only offering advice and other ideas to be helpful or to engage in conversation. Try to be open to the suggestions of others and continue to build upon your support network.

Overcoming Self-Defeating Beliefs

Our belief system is always with us, shaping our opinions and attitudes about our selves and the world around us. Sometimes we fall into self-defeating beliefs that negatively impact our lives. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome negative thinking and mistaken beliefs.

Changing our self-defeating belief system begins by recognizing its role in our lives. Review this list of mistaken beliefs and start noticing when they pop up in your life. Once you have begun to identify your typical faulty beliefs, you will start to notice what situations seem to trigger you the most. This knowledge gives you the opportunity to change your belief system.

Begin to test out your typical self-defeating thoughts by examining if there is much truth in your views. For instance, do people reject you for your imperfections? Do most of your loved ones still care about you if you don’t get promoted at work, reach your desired weight, or make a certain amount of money? Is someone offering you advice because they don’t approve of you or is it because they care about your well-being? By continually confronting your mistaken beliefs, you can begin to develop new ones that are potentially more realistic and less anxiety-provoking.

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  • Burns, D. D. (2006). When panic attacks: The new drug-free anxiety therapy that can change your life. NY: Broadway Books.

By Katharina Star, PhD
Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness.