What are core beliefs?
These are ideas which we use as a benchmark to judge ourselves and those around us. We see the world, our own behaviour and the behaviour of other people through the ‘lens’ of the core beliefs.
We are generally not aware of them unless we stop and really think about the messages that we are giving ourselves, every day.
They are generally inflexible and very strongly held. We do not question them – we just accept them as true. They underpin our actions and our thoughts, and can cause problems when they are negative. They can and do affect how we live our lives.
If negative, they can lead to issues such as low self-confidence, anxiety, poor adaption to stressful situations, withdrawal from social situations, and (in the extreme) phobias.
Examples of some negative core beliefs are:-
- I am worthless
- I am vulnerable
- I always fail
- People cannot be trusted
Where do they come from?
They are formed when we are young from:-
- How we are treated by others
- How we are spoken about by others
- What we hear said by people who influence us such as caregivers, our friends and other adults.
- How we see caregivers, friends and other adults act towards us and others
Once we hold a core belief, we then selectively filter the information we receive from the outside world to support this belief. As an example, if someone had the belief that “I am not good enough”, then they would focus on times when they have failed, and not acknowledge (or else explain away) their successes.
As core beliefs are formed when we are children, they include childish thinking and reasoning. Thus, it is useful to re-examine them from an adult perspective.
Identifying our core beliefs
We can start to identify our core beliefs by noticing our frequent thoughts, and analysing them to reveal the basic assumptions underlying the thoughts.
As an example, if someone (Susan) finds that they think “I eat too much junk food”
- Susan can then ask herself “ What does that mean about me?”
- The answer might then be “I can’t be bothered to cook proper meals” or “I lack confidence (in cooking)”.
- Susan can then ask herself “What does that mean about me?”
- The answer might be “I always fail when I try something new”.
- Susan can then ask herself “What does that mean about me?”
- The answer might be “I’m a failure”.
When the answer cannot be analysed any further, this indicates that Susan has reached one of her core beliefs.
If we want to analyse a core belief about other people, we can use the question “What does that mean about other people”.
Changing core beliefs
Many people do not pay much attention to their thoughts in daily life. They come and go so quickly. The above exercise can make us more aware of our thoughts, and core beliefs.
Once we have identified some negative core beliefs, we can start challenging them, by listing examples of when the core belief was not true, or was not completely true.
In the example above, Susan could start to list the times when she has not been “a failure”. Perhaps she has hand-knitted several garments, perhaps she has been complemented on her beautiful garden, maybe she is good at negotiation at work, or customer service.
To help this process along, or if she cannot think of any examples to contradict the belief, Susan could also do some experiments to test the original core belief.
- Think of actions or activities that she could do to test it. It is best to start with low-risk activities, as this gives her greater confidence as she progresses along the list of activities. (The action or activity also needs a measurable outcome – something that is easy to count or see, and is not just an opinion.)
- Make a note of what she expects to happen if the core belief were true
- Carry out the action / do the activity
- Note the result – what actually happened
- Compare the results in (4) with what she wrote in (2), and note the difference.
An example of this is as follows:-
- To counteract the beliefs of “I always fail when I try something new” and “I’m a failure”, Susan could try a new activity such as learning to ride a bicycle.
- She notes that she expects to fail – that she will not be able to learn to balance, and will not succeed in learning to ride the bicycle.
- She then goes to lessons, or perhaps she has a friend who is able to teach her.
- She finds that after an hour, she is able to balance and lift her feet of the ground. After another hour she is able to pedal a short distance.
- Comparing the results in (4) with what she wrote in (2), she notes that her prediction was overly negative, and in fact she has succeeded in learning to ride a bicycle. Her new prediction is that with further practice she will become competent.
Susan would continue to test her core belief by doing other new activities, and, along with her recollections of past events where she did succeed, she can then re-write her negative core belief as a more balanced core belief affirmation.
“I’m a failure” could thus become “I can succeed at many activities when I make an effort”.
It is also a good idea to continue to do activities that were previously avoided due to the old negative core beliefs, e.g. in this case trying new activities.
Our negative core beliefs were created when we were children, from a child’s understanding of the world. We did not have the adult perspective to realise that other people may have criticised us or made us feel unimportant because of issues in their own lives, not necessarily because of our behaviour.
It is certainly worth examining our core beliefs. If we let negative core beliefs determine how we live our lives as adults, we are living our lives according to the understanding of a child – our younger self.
If you would like further help with re-examining and changing any negative core beliefs, or if you feel that they are causing problems in your life, please contact me at Sunset Coast Hypnotherapy. You can call 0403 932311, or email email@example.com for a free phone consultation. We can discuss your specific requirements, and there is absolutely no obligation to proceed with hypnotherapy unless you choose to do so.