CBT session 8

Hey again folks,

Me again, with session 8!

Core Beliefs

So far we have looked at some of the automatic thoughts that cause us distress, and how to challenge them and replace them with more balanced thoughts. You may have noticed that sometimes it is harder to believe the new balanced thought, with the old thought seemingly very powerful. A possible explanation for this difficulty, is there may be a strong core belief at the root of that unhelpful thought.

Core beliefs are the most central ideas about the self; the essence of how we see ourself, other people, the world and our future. They develop over time, usually from childhood, and then they are shaped by life experiences and circumstances. They tend to be very strongly held and inflexible.

Negative core beliefs fall into two broad categories:

  1. Those associated with helplessness – e.g I am powerless
  2. Those associated with unlovability –  e.g I am unlovable

Sometimes it’s clear which category a CB falls into, other times it’s not.

Some people maintain relatively positive core beliefs for most of their lives; for these people, negative core beliefs may surface only during times of significant distress. However, for others, they may have negative core beliefs that can be activated in an on-going way.

They become activated in certain situations, for example, it may be harder for someone to challenge their negative thinking in situations that involve friends, or other people, where the meaning behind the NAT’s (negative automatic thoughts) is about being unlovable (theme), with an identified core belief like “I am unlikeable”. In this example the beliefs are maintained by a tendency to focus on information that supports the belief, whilst ignoring evidence to the contrary. Even neutral events will be interpreted negatively. Over the year, this narrow focus gives strength to the belief and is totally accepted as true without question.

Our minds are constantly trying to make sense of our world, forming judgements and opinions about every situation, event, and interaction. Those judgements and opinions will be affected by our core belief system. It is as though we are looking at life through distorted or coloured lenses, and everyone has their own prescription!

The process of identifying a negative core belief is building on and extending what we have done so far. The first step is to look over your thought diaries. Look for common themes or patterns in the things you say about yourself, others and the world. The idea is now to extend the thoughts column to reveal the bottom line of what you have been thinking.

Summary of core beliefs:

  • They are ideas, rather than truths
  • They can be believed strongly and felt to be true, yet at the same time, be mostly or entirely untrue.
  • They are ideas that can be tested
  • They are often rooted in childhood, from a child’s perspective and could have been interpreted differently at the time
  • They continue to be maintained through the operation of thought processes that support it
  • Over time, core beliefs can change to enable a more realistic perspective

Once the unhelpful core belief has been identified and categorised, you can then begin to question it. How strongly do you believe it? (% rating), Are there any exceptions to the rule (e.g is this true in all areas of your life? does anything contradict it?), what experiences have you had that show this belief is not completely true all of the time?, what about evidence for and against?

Consider the utility of the belief. You can take the dual theory approach:
Theory A and Theory B
Theory A: That the core belief is accurate
Theory B: The problem is that you believe it so strongly that you act as if it is true

This is where we need to examine the belief, and change it. It can be useful to reflect on the origin and evolution of the belief, by standing back and doing so in a compassionate manner. Relevant childhood experiences can include significant events, such as bullying in my case. The experiences may be more subtle, and relate to the child’s perception, for example not meeting expectations of parents or teachers. Asking yourself for example; do you remember feeling like this at other times in your life? As a child? How might the belief have originated and been maintained over the years? Where is the scope for alternative perspectives? For some people with very difficult past experiences, this may be better undertaken with the help of a therapist.

Developing a more realistic, functional or helpful alternative core belief

Old core belief: I’m completely unloveable
New core belief: I’m generally a likeable person

Beliefs can be changed, it just takes time and patience.


I hope this has been helpful; thanks for reading!

Until next time……

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