What Are Negative Core Beliefs?
Negative core beliefs are long standing, negative views we have of ourselves. In general, core beliefs are the stories we have in our head about ourselves, our lives and the people around us. Core beliefs are the pieces that make up our sense of self, our judgments, and the ways in which we perceive the world around us.
When these core beliefs are negative, our sense of self, our perception of others opinions, and our experience of the world around us also become negative. And, because they are core beliefs, we often find ways in which the world around us is reinforcing them–even if it’s not.
Negative core beliefs often also deal in absolutes–they are all or nothing beliefs. We demand or expect perfection from ourselves, and if we don’t achieve it, we see ourselves as a failure. This cycle repeats over and over again, reaffirming these negative core beliefs.
Some examples of negative core beliefs are:
- “I’m inadequate”
- “I’m a failure”
- “I’m unlovable”
- “I am weak”
- “No one cares what I have to say”
- “Everyone expects me to fail”
- “I have to be perfect”
- “My boss doesn’t like me”
- “I don’t have anything to offer”
How Do Negative Core Beliefs Develop
Core beliefs develop as a response to our early life experiences.
For example, let’s say you grew up in a home where “negative” emotions, or any type of vulnerability wasn’t tolerated. If you tried to express these emotions (through crying, talking to a parent about what you’re upset about, etc.) you may have been yelled at, or maybe told to “suck it up.”
This response to these intense emotions taught you that you were weak for being so sensitive, or that you were silly, or stupid, or annoying when you allowed yourself to show some vulnerability. With this message ingrained in you over and over again as a child, you would grow up thinking that your feelings didn’t matter, that they made you weak, that people found you annoying when you expressed yourself, that you had to be perfect & quiet to earn affection from others.
How Do They Impact Thinking & Emotions
These negative core beliefs continue to follow us, far past the experiences that formed them. If you grew up believing that in order to be deserving of affection or support, you had to be quiet, composed & perfect, then expressing needs or vulnerability may leave you uncomfortable or embarrassed. Expressing needs, even simple ones, will feel like you’re burdening those around you, and if they can’t be met it will just reaffirm your belief that you’re undeserving anyway.
Another example of this can be commonly seen in the workplace.
If a core belief of yours is “I’m inadequate” or “my boss hates me”, no matter what the reality of your circumstances are, you will find evidence in your experience to support that. Say you are working on a new project at work, and your boss gives it back to you with notes on changes that need to be made. Instead of identifying all the parts they were happy with and feeling proud of that accomplishment, you will likely fixate on the things that need changing.
Each bit of feedback will feel like your boss is personally pointing out things they don’t like about you, or ways they think you’re stupid, or reasons they think you did a poor job. The reality is probably that a second set of eyes brought a new perspective and therefore your boss was able to build off of what you had already done. But when you are operating from these negative core beliefs, you’re not able to see anything but the negatives that reaffirm what you already think of yourself.
Changing Your Core Beliefs
The first part of changing any type of negative belief or behavior is to identify it. Take time to notice how you are interpreting your experiences. Are you always expecting things to go poorly, and just looking for evidence to support that?
Once you have taken the time to identify some of these negative thought patterns:
1. Offer yourself an alternative:
Maybe your boss doesn’t hate you. Maybe they gave you notes on your project because they came into it with fresh eyes and were able to see something you couldn’t after working on it for so long. Maybe they think you have a lot of potential and want to challenge you, to see how they can push your work to be even better.
When you find yourself thinking “See, I was right, I’m a failure because…” (or whichever negative belief you find yourself reverting back to most often) remind yourself that you’re only looking at part of the whole picture. Even if you don’t fully believe it at the time, force yourself to come up with 2 or 3 other explanations for the event in question.
2. Challenge yourself:
Instead of working on a case by case basis with these core beliefs, set some real time aside for self-reflection.
Take out a journal or open a word doc, and at the top of the page write down your negative core belief. Then, whatever it is, make a list below it of as many instances you can think of that prove that belief is not true. Keep returning to it any time you think of a new experience to add. Keep the list around to read when you are stuck in a pattern of negative thinking.
3. Find the evidence:
Pick a negative belief you have. Maybe it is “everyone expects me to fail.” For the day, exchange it for the exact opposite. “Everyone is confident in my abilities.” As the day goes on, make note of everything that happens that reaffirms this belief. When you find yourself falling back into negative thought patterns, remind yourself that it is largely an issue of perspective. When you are looking for the negatives, you will find them. But when you allow yourself to look for positives, you will be able to find those too.
4. Be kind to yourself:
Changing core beliefs doesn’t happen overnight. They really are at the core of us, and they will take a lot of work and time to shift. Practicing with these tools will help, but it will take doing them over and over again before things really start to change. If you don’t see an instant change, remember it’s not because you’re a failure–it’s because you’re only on your first steps of a long journey.
Carmen Riley is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Virginia and the District of Columbia. She specializes in the treatment of anxiety, mood disorders, and trauma. Carmen is the owner of Zion Restoration Counseling Services, a group practice in Fairfax Virginia.
When she isn’t learning, teaching, and speaking she loves spending time meditating, hiking, and spending time with her family.
To learn more or if you would like to make an appointment check out her website at ZRCounselingservices.com.