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Bringing Our Past Into The Present…More On Core Beliefs

Our core beliefs have a large impact on how we view ourselves, other people, the world around us and predict the future.

I work with my clients to help them discover their core beliefs, which is a significant part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”). Our  core beliefs are typically formed in childhood years and generally have an impact on how we view ourselves as present adults. These core beliefs are usually difficult to change, due to the length of time that they have been in place and globally/absolutely accepted as truth.

Wilding & Milne (2008) developed a useful way of thinking about the nature of core beliefs through a hierarchy of beliefs. In this hierarchy, our core beliefs make up the foundation, with assumptions being the next layer, topped by our negative automatic thoughts. Negative automatic thoughts (“NATs”) can be defined as thoughts which pop into our brains without warning (thus the name “automatic”). Oftentimes, these NAT’s are extreme, distorted and counterproductive ways of thinking about an event or life situation.  Unlike NAT’s, which generally tend to relate to specific events, our core beliefs are absolute and consistent. Core beliefs can be about ourselves (i.e. “I am stupid”), other people (i.e. “Everyone dislikes me”) and the world around us (i.e. “The world is a scary place”).

Our relationships with our family members (particularly our parents) have a great deal of influence over the thoughts we develop about ourselves. Other important individuals in our early lives, such as extended family, siblings, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends and teachers can have a large impact on the beliefs that we form about the world around us.

Think about the following questions, which will assist you in forming an idea of how your past has influenced your present:

  • Who were the most significant people in your early life during childhood/teenage/early adult years?
  • Were there recurring themes to some of your early experiences?
  • What beliefs did you form from these experiences?

A word of caution…please try not to use this exercise as an opportunity to assign blame. When working with my clients, I remind them that blaming parents/others from our past for our current difficulties as an adult can make it more challenging to heal and move forward. Past aspects of your life may have contributed to the unhelpful ways you think in the present, but you are now the one with the power to change your ideas and live in a more positive way. Don’t get sucked into the past…but instead acknowledge/review it with the idea of better understanding and moving forward in the present.

Challenging the validity of core beliefs is important. I often ask my clients to make a pros/cons list which lists the various advantages and disadvantages of maintaining old beliefs about yourself/your relationships and the world around you. In doing this exercise, you will be able to see whether your core beliefs are helping you or holding you back.




Wilding, C. & Milne, A. (2008) Teach Yourself CBT

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