Our core beliefs are assumptions that we carry about the world and ourselves. These core beliefs develop over time as we grow and experience our world. If our experiences are negative then our beliefs are more likely to reflect that negativity. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy where our core beliefs limit our perspective or view of ourselves and the world. This also impacts our emotional state. When our internal world is full of negative, critical, judgmental thoughts, we feel bad—anxious, frustrated, depressed, hopeless or powerless. When the majority of our thoughts are positive, empowering and optimistic, we feel good, “on top of the world” and as if we can accomplish anything. Identifying core beliefs can be challenging as they are basic beliefs that we hold to be true.
Our core beliefs feel like truths and can be challenging to alter. They are responsible for our continual insecurity, self-doubt, low moods and constant desire for external validation and approval. They can lead to ineffective behavioral patterns such as people-pleasing and perfectionism. We also notice events and situations that confirm our core beliefs and ignore those that go against our core beliefs.
We have developed core beliefs in every area of our life and these beliefs impact our happiness, success, and personal fulfillment. We form core beliefs as a way to understand and live in the world around us. For example, if adults mistreated you as a child you may have formed the belief, “I am not safe.” As a child it makes sense to draw this conclusion and it also protects you from trusting other adults who may also mistreat you. However, as an adult this belief can limit you from creating connections and trusting others. In actuality, the truth may have been more realistically, “I can’t trust my father to protect me or care for my needs”. You can certainly be safe with others who are trustworthy.
It’s important to remember that core beliefs aren’t facts.
Core beliefs can be challenging to change as they are often hidden, automatic beliefs, which have also become part of our identity. Learning to identify, challenge and reframe your self-defeating thoughts and core beliefs is an important step in emotional health.
Common Core Beliefs
Identifying core beliefs can be challenging as they exist subconsciously as automatic truths. Considering common core beliefs can help you recognize ones that apply to you.
Common core beliefs fit one of the following categories:
I am ____________, people are _______________, the world is ___________________.
1. Unworthiness/defectiveness: (I’m unlovable/defective/bad/incompetent);
2. Shame/Guilt: (I did something bad, therefore I am a bad person).
3. Control: (I am powerless, I can’t handle this…)
4. Safety/vulnerability: (I am unsafe, the world is unsafe)
Identifying Core Beliefs
The following core beliefs worksheet can help you identify your own limiting core beliefs. This list is just a sample of what may be true for you. Identify ones that seem familiar to you. Feel free to write down others that might fit for you.
Once you have identified your core beliefs, assess the impact these beliefs have had on your life. How do these beliefs impact your happiness, your personal goals, your connection with others, or your relationship with yourself (ie., your inner critic)?
Next, experiment with reversing the belief. For example, “I must hide my true feelings.” Try reversing it by saying, “It’s ok to express my true feelings.” There are different ways that you could reverse a belief or express its opposite. Ask yourself if the reverse, or opposite, could be more true than the original.
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