Sunday, February 13, 2011

Core Beliefs

I know I've talked a lot over time about how our subconscious beliefs influence our thoughts, our feelings, and our perception of reality.  Most people aren't aware those beliefs even exist - remember, they are subconscious.  Most of the time there's no real need to uncover them; they serve a valuable purpose (helping our brain to attend to important information and to filter out insignificant information).  However, sometimes these beliefs cause problems, such as low self esteem, anxiety, depression, chronic anger, interpersonal difficulties, etc.  When problems like these emerge in your life it is time for you to take a look at the underlying core beliefs that are driving them.

So how do you know when a problematic core belief is at work?  Look for strong emotional reactions.  Notice times when, for example, you become extremely distressed when a friend forgets that you'd agreed to get together and makes other plans or when you erupt with anger over something trivial.  When your emotional response seems to be more extreme than what the situation would warrant you know that a negative core belief has been triggered.

Here's an example from my own life.  I used to belief I was unlovable.  Now if you met me on the street of course I wouldn't say, "Hi, nice to meet you.  I'm unlovable."  Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I feared that I was unlovable.  A string of bad relationships caused me to worry that maybe something was wrong with me.  Maybe there was something about me that caused the men in my life to treat me badly or to completely disregard my feelings.  Maybe there was something inside me that made me inherently unlovable...

Anyway, this belief (or fear) led to a lot of suffering.  If a romantic interest didn't call me the day after a date I became first extremely anxious and then despondent.  I'd lay in bed sulking, unable to think of anything else.

It's obvious to me now that this was a rather extreme response.  A "natural" response would probably be to feel a little disappointed for a day or two before moving on.  The fact that I reacted so excessively was a sure sign that a negative core belief had been triggered.

When a potential love interest didn't call it triggered my belief that "I'm unlovable."  Subconsciously, I perceived the love interest not calling as evidence that he didn't like me.  This quickly led me to recall other relationships that ended with me feeling rejected.  This brought up fears about whether or not I would EVER find the "right" person.  What if there was no right person for me?  What if no one could ever love me because I was simply unlovable?

I share this example because I strongly believe in practicing what I preach.  I spend a lot of time with my patients identifying their negative core beliefs and talking about how to change them.  The first step in changing negative core beliefs is to recognize when they are at work.  If you can't recognize them then you can't change them.

I know it is possible to change negative core beliefs because I've done it myself.  First I started noticing when my belief had been triggered.  Then I identified and acknowledged how the belief made me feel.  I countered the negative belief with more balanced ones -- "Everyone deserves love, including me," or "You are a lovable person."  I also tried to make a more realistic appraisal of the situation that triggered the negative belief.  Sometimes that meant having to accept that the person was not interested in pursuing a relationship with me.  Sometimes it meant he was at work and just hadn't had a chance to call.  Either way, I realized, his actions said nothing about whether or not I was lovable.


  1. I'd like to understand more about the 'subconscious' as my skeptic brain immediately "shrugs it's shoulders" but that may be out of ignorance.

    Do you happen to have any good links or resources that include scientific evidence about our subconscious? Thanks. The brain is an amazingly complex and mysterious piece of material.

  2. After my kids died in the accident I went thru a few brief but pretty dark periods of depression. I found it was like getting stuck in a revolving door, of negative thoughts. My therapist and I worked to identify the thoughts find what the triggers were. When I was in my darkest moments I call it “being a mother of dead children” that’s what it felt like to me. What it served to do was keep me stuck in grief unable to move forward. Once I realized I was being a victim of myself, my own thoughts I was able to shed this belief and move thru it shed it, and just be “a mother” to step out of the revolving door of pity for good. This realization didn’t stop my sadness, but the depressive episodes ended. Great post!

  3. Good post. My daughter worries that she is "Unlovable" after a rash of break ups in her life...We talk about it and I will share some of your reflections with her.


  4. Rockstar - Right off the top of my head I can't think of any specific websites about the science of the subconscious. However, I do know that research has been done. There are all sorts of studies showing, for example, how a word is flashed across a screen so quickly that it doesn't register consciously with the study participants; the results show, however, that it must have registered subconsciously because participants responded based on the nature of the word flashed across the screen. That's just one example I remember reading fairly recently but there are countless others. I would do the easy thing and just google "science of subconscious" or even "science of unconscious" and see what you get. It's an increasingly popular field of study. Let me know what you find.

  5. Hey nice post. In fact, I have been trying to uncover my core beliefs for months and those downward arrow techniques ain't quite working because I seem to have many negative core beliefs. I believe, however, a very small set of core beleifs are affecting my life and all other beliefs are just adding on top of them. I have gone through a rough childhood. It was rought because of financial situation and living under one parent. Something like that. Anyway, the reason I'm trying this is....all my life I have been lonely even if I had friends in the past. Right now I have no frinds and for most of my life (i'm not that young) I didn't have girlfriends. The reason I am not having any relationship with girls is basically this. If they find out my past failures, if they find out I don't have friends and all they will think I am not normal and turn me down. This emotional pain is worse than being single. I also, seem to be suffering from this serious annoying psychological warefare with myself that has been killing me. Everytime when I get into conversation with someone and that someone seems to be annoyed by my voice, tone, or conversation topic or when I talk to that someone nicely and that someone didn't respond nicely, I always arrive at the same conclusion "It is my fault. If I said it better, if was a smarter, If I was more successful, that someone wouldn't have said it like that. He would've been nicer. It's alwayys my fault." This toxic thinking has been killing me....I just don't know what the fuck core beliefs I have. I just had to let that out.


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