Google+ Followers

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Downward Arrow Technique (If You Lose Your Pen, You Will Die)


The Downward Arrow Technique is a tool to help uncover the belief systems that influence our behaviour and mood. These belief systems are often unclear to us and uncovering them can make it easier to notice them and not act on them via painful patterns of destructive behaviour. Although there are many types of belief, there are two main types: core beliefs and core fears. Below are the steps to uncover each type followed by some suggestions about what to do to challenge core beliefs and core fears.

Here is the technique for uncovering a core belief.
1.            Write down a thought that has been bothering you.
2.            Ask yourself “What does this mean about me?”
3.            Keep going until you get to the underlying core belief.

For example:
My thought: My friend was rude to me when she blurted out a secret I had told her.
What does this mean about me? It means that she doesn’t care about me.
What does that mean about me? It means that she isn’t really my friend.
What does that mean about me? It means that I don’t have good friends that respect and care about me properly.
What does that mean about me? It means that there is something wrong with me where people don’t respect or care about me?
What does that mean about me? I am not worth caring about or respecting.
Core belief: I am not worth caring about.

Here is the technique for uncovering a core fear:
1.            Write down a thought that has been bothering you.
2.            Ask yourself “What is the worst thing that could happen?”
3.            Keep going until you get to the underlying core fear.

For example:
My thought: My boss is angry with me.
What is the worst thing that could happen? She might fire me.
What is the worst thing that could happen? I would be unemployed.
What is the worst thing that could happen? I might not be able to find another job for a long time (6 months)
What is the worst thing that could happen? I wouldn’t be able to pay my mortgage.
What is the worst thing that could happen? I wouldn’t have anywhere to live. I might become homeless.
Core Fear: I will become homeless

How To Challenge Core Beliefs and Core Fears.
Sometimes it will be immediately clear to you that the core belief/fear is illogical. For example, you might immediately understand the chance of homelessness from unemployment is very low. So you might not be so concerned about it because you understand the unconscious fear. The picture contains an example of this.

However, many people find their core beliefs/fears and think that the belief is very true. For example, you might really believe that you aren’t worthy of care or respect from others because there have been so many times when others haven’t respected you.

If you believe the belief/fear then a skill called thought challenging (or cognitive restructuring) can be very helpful. I will write more about this skill in future but very briefly this skill involves writing down all of the reasons why the belief ISN’T true. For example: you might make a list of all of the times when people HAVE been respectful or make a list of the reasons why you DESERVE respect as much as the next person or make a list about the reasons why people’s disrespect was more about them than about you etc.

This is a complex skill to learn. “Reinventing Your Life” by Jeffrey Young is a great book that explains how to break out of complex, long term beliefs and behavioural patterns. I would recommend getting it for more information about thought challenging and pattern breaking.