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Thinking About Your Core Beliefs…The CBT Way

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”) teaches us that long-standing beliefs about people, yourself and the world around you are called “core beliefs.” Many of us consider these core beliefs to be 100% true and valid at all times, which can lead us to engage in “tunnel vision” of sorts…selectively ignoring evidence around us which is contradictory. Core beliefs are at the very heart of our belief system…the way we understand ourselves and everything which is around us, thereby making them very important to the emotional/mental health picture.

Our past experiences and childhood memories can influence the way we think about ourselves, others and how we make sense of the present world around us. We learn certain messages from our parents, extended family, teachers and friends (just to name a few)…sometimes these messages are positive and helpful while other times they are extremely detrimental.  Negative early life experiences, such as an unstable home environment, the death of someone close to you, abuse/neglect, illness, injuries and accidents, bullying at school or at home, rejection from peers or family are just some specific examples which can contribute to the development of unhealthy core beliefs. These negative core beliefs can make it more difficult to problem solve and cope with negative circumstances, undermine self-esteem and can contribute to interpersonal relationship problems.

As we continue down the path of life and time progresses, we continually reassess the validity and usefulness of some of these early beliefs and lessons learned. Other times, we don’t take the time to re-examine these ideas and continue to live according to these past ingrained philosophies and beliefs.

I work with many of my clients to help them identify techniques which can help them identify their core beliefs and replace unhelpful/inaccurate/toxic beliefs with more useful ways of thinking.

As many of us know, beliefs which are learned early in life can be challenging to change. Many of my clients can identify that they hold unhelpful beliefs about themselves (i.e. “I’m unlovable” or “I must be perfect to be loved” or “I am not strong enough”) BUT refraining from listening to these beliefs can be extremely difficult (even though they are clearly damaging and limiting).

A first step in thinking about your core beliefs is to step back and identify/understand the ways in which your past experiences have influenced the beliefs that you still continue to hold today. Here is an example (try this exercise yourself):

  • My core beliefs about myself: I’m unlovable.
  • My core beliefs about others around me: Others are not reliable or trustworthy.
  • My core beliefs about the world/my life: The world is a lonely and bad place.
  • Recent trigger event: My girlfriend ended our long-term relationship.
  • How my core beliefs determine what this event meant to me: She was right to break up with me. I am not good enough to keep a woman interested in me for a long period of time. I deserve to be all alone. Other people always abandon me and leave me to fend for myself.

As you can see from the example listed above, negative core beliefs can greatly influence our thinking and conclusions about ourselves, others around us and can dictate our future. Stay tuned for more posts this week on the subject of examining/changing your long standing core beliefs.


Please note, this post was informed by “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Workbook” written by Rhena Branch and Rob Wilson, published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 2007.


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