The Internal Working Model

Each of us has our own unique internal working model that we use to make sense of the world around us and what happens to us in that world.

It contains three sets of beliefs that we use to understand our experiences in the present by comparing them to events in the past.

It also provides a template for us to predict what might happen in the future should we encounter experiences similar to that which we have already experienced.

You can think of the internal working model as a kind of cognitive filter that allows us to give meanings to sensory information.

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The Three Core Beliefs

All internal working models are built around core beliefs which can be categorised into THREE principal domains:

  1. Beliefs about oneself.
  2. Beliefs about others.
  3. Beliefs about the external World or environment.

Everything you know about life fits into one of these three domains.

The internal working model as core beliefs

The Two Types of Belief

All of the beliefs contained within the internal working model are generated through one of two basic mechanisms:

  1. Beliefs based on direct experience – experiential beliefs.
  2. Beliefs that are socially acquired – socially acquired beliefs.

It is impossible to determine, from an outside perspective, whether another person’s belief is based on their own direct experience or whether they have assimilated that belief socially.

To explain that a little more clearly consider the following thought exercise:

Do YOU believe that fire is hot?

Presumably your answer is yes, of course it’s hot!

You have, of course, answered the question according to what you believe to be ‘true’, that fire IS hot.

Your answer is consistent with what you believe and any other answer would appear to be non-sensical (at least according to what you believe).

How you came to believe that fire is hot though is not so straightforward.

fire is hot as an internal working model

“Fire is hot” as a direct experience.

If, at any point in your life, you have touched a flame, the chances are that you will have experienced a painful sensation as your central nervous system sent urgent signals to your brain that mass cell damage was occuring where your body came into contact with the fire.

Your brain will almost certainly ‘store’ that experience as being negative and one to be avoided in the future.

You would sum up this experience by asserting that fire is hot (or fire hurts).

“Fire is hot” as a socially acquired belief.

If you had particularly diligent parents during the time you grew up then at some point they may well have warned you to keep away from the fire in the lounge because;

‘fire is hot and will burn you, so keep away from it’.

If this message was also delievered with a sense of urgency and importance (maybe they shouted it out loud to you as you crawled next to the fire!) then you will almost certainly have stored the belief that fire is hot and should be avoided.

So why am I making this distinction and why does it matter?

For a great many of our beliefs ‘how’ we came to believe them may be of little consequence, afterall, believing that fire is hot, whether or not you have actually burnt yourself or not, seems rather academic if having this belief proves to be beneficial.

On the other side of the coin, however. people hold a wide range of beliefs, some of which can prove to be significantly disadvantageous for either the individual or for the society in which that person lives.

Commercial jet in a storm

Direct Experience or Socially Acquired?

Think about the following commonly held beliefs;

  • “What other people think about me is incredibly important to my life”
  • “Air travel is dangerous”
  • “I am useless”
  • “God is looking out for me”
  • “Killing another human being is wrong”
  • “I must obey the law”
  • “I am unlovable”
  • “The Earth is flat”

Whilst some of these beliefs might seem rather benign, some of them can produce very negative emotions and behaviours.

For example, believing that you are ‘unlovable’ or ‘useless’ can lead to very low self-esteem and self-deprecating behaviours and is more than likely simply not true!

This is an important point because beliefs are NOT truth, they are simply beliefs.

Henry Ford Quote

Helpful or Unhelpful?

Ultimately, the most important thing to take into consideration when examining the beliefs that make up a person’s internal working model, is whether or not any particular belief is helpful or unhelpful to that person.

If believing in (a) God enhances the quality of your life on a day-to-day basis, then you should stick with it.

Remember, however, that beliving in God does NOT mean that God is real, it is just something that you believe.

In the same way, NOT believing in God does not mean that God does NOT exist, it’s just something you believe.

Beliefs are rarely factual and everybody is 100% entitled to believe what they want to – it’s your right as a human being and nobody can stop you believing what you want to!

Internal Working Model Core Beliefs

Assessing Core Beliefs

Because our experience of life is largely determined by our internal working models, it may be useful to assess what some of those beliefs actually are.

Technically, in order to measure them in a meaningful way, we have to ‘operationalise‘ them.

This has led to the construction of three types of self-administered questionnaire used to determine the configuration of these core beliefs.

  1. Beliefs about oneself – (Self-Esteem Test)
  2. Beliefs about others – (Social Anxiety Test)
  3. Beliefs about the external World or environment – (Locus of Control Test)

The combined configuration of these three core beliefs defines the character of your internal working model and, to a large extent, defines how you experience your life.

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Arrange your FREE initial consultation here.

If you’d like to find out more about the internal working model and how to overcome your mental health problems then why not arrange a free initial consultation with us.

During this consultation we will discuss your particular issues and the different types of mental health counselling we offer (including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – CBT) without you having to commit to any counselling going forward.

The consultation lasts around 50 minutes and is a great opportunity to meet with either Paul or Joan and decide if you would like to proceed with any support.