Uncover Your Core Beliefs so You Can Change Them
Core beliefs are deeply buried assumptions that guide our behavior, how we see ourselves and perceive situations. These beliefs impact how we feel, how we relate to others and guide our success and satisfaction with life and relationships.
Core beliefs are just that, core to our identity. They can feel as a deeply entwined as our gender or our name. If you think about having a different name, it just doesn’t feel right. The same is true with our beliefs, we’ve worn them for so long that adopting new beliefs doesn’t feel right, thus it takes time to change. Beliefs are nothing more than thoughts that over time we come to believe as true. However, they are often developed based on our early experiences, which for many people don’t reflect what is actually “true”. Because they feel so real and so true, they can be very strong forces in shaping our perceptions and difficult to change.
For example, let’s say that as a child you shared your feelings and emotions with your parent who consistently told you that you were “wrong.” Perhaps they did so in a very well-meaning way. If you said, “I don’t feel like I fit in and I’m scared the other kids don’t like me.” Your parent may have not wanted you to have these negative thoughts and feelings and simply said “you’re wrong, that’s not true.” If this happens over and over with each negative emotion you experience, over time you may develop a belief that you’re wrong, you can’t trust yourself and you can’t trust your emotions. If you believe at a fundamental level that you’re wrong, you might find it difficult to express yourself assertively, to feel worthy or deserving, or to trust yourself. The belief then drives many different aspects of your life.
Why Uncover Your Core Beliefs?
If you’ve ever felt stuck in a pattern that you keep repeating, a behavior you want to change (such as addiction, overeating), or feelings and perceptions of others then you’ve likely got a core belief running the show. For example, If you have a core belief, “the world is not safe, I cannot trust others”, then you might feel anxious, have difficulty forming or maintaining relationships, and have habits or behaviors that can be exhausting such as obsessive thinking, compulsive behaviors, or perfectionism.
As you can imagine, you might never really notice the connection between your anxiety and a deeply embedded belief that the world is not safe. You just notice that you feel anxious! This is why it’s so important to identify your core beliefs. It helps you to start to make the connection between your beliefs and how you’re feeling. It gives you an opportunity to take a step back and look at the situation in a different way. You can challenge the belief and remind yourself that you are safe, right now, which can help you to shift your focus from the anxiety to what action needs to be taken and get present in the moment.
Another example might show up in your career or in relationships. Let’s say you are working towards a career dream that you have. However, you notice that as you take steps towards your career goal, you find yourself sabotaging your success, procrastinating, feeling anxious and avoiding what you need to do. You might wonder “what’s wrong with me! Why do I keep stalling? I want this goal!!” What you might not realize however, what is actually occurring behind the scenes could be a deep belief that you don’t deserve success, others will find out that you’re a fraud, or that achieving success will involve having to maintain more than you can handle.
Again, these aren’t thoughts we are aware of on a daily basis. What you might notice instead while working on your dream career is, “I need to take a break,” “Maybe I should update my resume again.” You’re not thinking, “I’m not worthy, I can’t have what I want”, though this could be the core belief running the show. Uncovering your core beliefs helps you to take charge of your life. To recognize the unconscious forces that drive your thoughts and behavior, which ultimately empowers you to do something different. To change your beliefs, and ultimately change your life.
Question & Answer Technique to Identify Core Beliefs
Discover core beliefs by starting with an Automatic Thought and until you reach the core belief you keep asking the following questions:
“What does this mean to me?”
“Assuming that’s true, why is that so bad?”
For example, Jane has expressed a feeling of helplessness and worthlessness because her daughter refused to clean her room. Here is an example of the Q & A technique applied to the Automatic Thought: “This room is a mess.”
|Automatic Thought||This room is a mess.|
|Question:||What does that mean to me?|
|Answer:||She’s a slob!|
|Question:||Assuming that’s true, why is that so bad?|
|Answer:||My friends will come over and see her messy room.|
|Question:||Why would that be so bad?|
|Answer:||They’ll think I’m an inadequate mother.|
|Question:||Assuming that’s true, why would that be so bad?|
|Answer:||I can’t feel worthwhile if my friends disapprove of me. = CORE BELIEF!|
In reaching this core belief, you’ve assumed that each answer along the way is true. The key is to recognize that the automatic beliefs aren’t necessarily true. Now go back and look for distortions among your answers, responding reasonably at each step. For example:
|Initial Responses (ATs)||Reasonable Responses|
|She’s a slob!||Actually she’s quite neat in areas that matter to her, like her appearance.|
|My friends will come over and see her messy room.||Even if they do, lots of worthwhile people have daughters with sloppy rooms.|
|They’ll think I’m an inadequate.||They might just think I’m fallible, just like them.|
|I can’t feel worthwhile if my friends CORE BELIEF!||I don’t have to be perfect disapprove of me. or have everyone’s approval to be happy, or to consider myself worthwhile. It would be nice if everything I did was beyond reproach. But since no one is perfect, I’d better decide to feel worthwhile anyway.|
Some Common Core Beliefs:
- Core Belief: I must be loved or approved by everyone I consider significant.
Rational response: I want to be loved or approved by most people, and I will try to act in a respectful manner so they will. But it is inevitable that some people, for their own reasons, will not like or accept me. This is not catastrophic; my self-esteem can’t depend on the whims of others.
- Core Belief: I must be thoroughly competent and adequate in everything I do. I should not be satisfied with myself unless I’m the best or excelling.
Rational response: I will strive to do my best rather than to be the best. I can enjoy doing things even if I’m not particularly good at them. I’m not afraid to try things where I might fail; I’m fallible, and failing does not mean that I’m a lousy person. Rather, taking risks is courageous and is a necessity if I’m to grow and experience life’s opportunities.
- Core Belief: If something is or may be dangerous or fearsome I must be terribly concerned about it and keep on guard in case it happens.
Rational response: it is probably in my best interest to face this thing and render it less dangerous, and, if that is impossible, I will stop dwelling on it and being fearful. Worry will not stop it from happening. Even if it happened I could cope with it.
- Core Belief: It is easier to avoid than face life’s difficulties and responsibilities.
Rational response: I’ll do those necessary things no matter how much I dislike them. Living is just that; resting and avoiding are often legitimate intervals in a full life, but they are counterproductive if they occupy the major part of my life.
Working With Your Core Beliefs
Identifying and working with your core beliefs takes time and practice. Not only do we need to challenge the validity of our assumptions/beliefs, but we also need to own the impact the belief has had on our lives. Another way to challenge your core beliefs once you’ve identified them is to then ask if the opposite is true. Pay attention to how you feel when asking yourself this as well. Another important step for working with your core beliefs is getting in touch with the emotional impact of the belief, as well as what it would be like if it weren’t true. Sometimes, those beliefs are scarier because they require us to be vulnerable. For example, if you believed, “I’m capable of being successful beyond my wildest dreams,” or “the world is a safe place,” then you might have to put yourself out there and feel vulnerable. This can be scarier than having a negative core belief.
Here is a core beliefs worksheet you can use to work on identifying and reversing your core beliefs.
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