Core Beliefs – accessing them

Publication1CPEveryone looks at the world differently. Two people can have the same experience, yet have very different interpretations of what happened. Core beliefs are the deeply held beliefs that influence how we interpret our experiences.

Think of core beliefs like a pair of sunglasses. Everyone has a different “shade” that causes them to see things differently. Many people have negative core beliefs that cause harmful consequences. To begin challenging your negative core beliefs, you first need to identify what they are. Here are some common examples:

  • I’m unlovable
  • I’m stupid
  • I’m boring
  • I’m not good enough
  • I’m ugly
  • I’m worthless
  • I’m a bad person
  • I’m abnormal
  • I’m undeservingWhat is one of your negative core beliefs?

    List three pieces of evidence contrary to your negative core belief.

Further CBT strategies to access core beliefs:

I am…..

Other people are….

The world is….

Helpless core beliefs

“I am incompetent” “I am needy”
“I am ineffective” “I am trapped”
“I can’t do anything right” “I am out of control”
“I am helpless” “I am a failure”
“I am powerless” “I am defective – I do not measure up to others”
“I am weak” “I am not good enough in terms of achievement”
“I am vulnerable” “I am a loser
“I am a victim”


Unlovable core beliefs

“I am unlovable” “I am different”
“I am unlikeable” “I am bad so others will not love me”
“I am undesirable” “I am defective so others will not love me”
“I am unattractive” “I am not good enough to be loved by others”
“I am unwanted” “I am bound to be rejected
“I am uncared for” “I am bound to be abandoned”
“I am bound to be alone”


Worthless core beliefs

“I am worthless” “I am immoral”
“I am unacceptable” “I am dangerous”
“I am bad” “I am toxic”
“I am a waste” “I am evil”
“I don’t deserve to live.”


Another way a person can access their core beliefs is by reviewing their journal or their thought diaries, looking for statements which begin with the following phrases:

  • I am…
  • Others are…
  • The world is…
  • The future is…

Another way for a person to go deeper so as to access their core beliefs, is to ask themselves: if that is true, what does that say about me?

To challenge core beliefs, the person is asked to review the facts of the situation, to examine rationally the facts so as to shift these core beliefs to a more balanced view of their core beliefs. For e.g.

  • Is it consistent with reality?
  • Is the belief rigid?
  • Is the belief extreme?
  • Is the belief illogical?
  • Is the belief unhelpful?

Behavioural Experiments

Behavioural experiments are used to test reality and challenge those deep-seated and difficult to change negative core beliefs.

Core beliefs are challenged by:

  • Writing down the core belief you wish to challenge
  • Thinking of a few tasks that could be used to challenge the core belief
  • Writing down your expectation or prediction
  • Carrying out the task
  • Recording what actually happened
  • Then evaluating the core belief by comparing the prediction to the reality – that is, what actually happened.
  • Developing, as a result of this process, a more balanced core belief that recognises the reality and full-complexity of life.
  • Developing reminders for yourself about your more balanced-core belief. – A note in your wallet/purse, an electronic reminder in your phone, a reminder in your thought diary.


Another way of conducting a behaviour experiment is for a person to ask themselves the following questions:

  • What is the evidence that your thought is true?  What is the evidence that your thought is not true, or not wholly true?
  • What is a possible alternative way of viewing this particular situation?
  • What is the worst that could happen, and how could you cope if the “worst” actually did happen?
  • What is the best that could happen?
  • What is the most realistic outcome of this situation?
  • What is the effect (on you) of believing your automatic thought, and what could be the effect (on you, and others) of your changing your thinking?
  • If your [friend, family member] were in this situation, and had the same automatic thought, what advice would you give him/her?
  • What should you do instead as a way of bringing about change?

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