Core beliefs are central, often unshakeable convictions that shape an individual’s understanding of themselves, others, and the world around them.
By reflecting upon our own core beliefs, we can develop deeper insights into how our behaviors are shaped by the base premises in our minds about our world, identity, morality, and so forth.
Psychologists tend to examine core beliefs because they understand that our core beliefs will often drive our behavior, thoughts, and emotions.
For example, in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a therapist will help work with a patient on their core beliefs. They may help a patient to realize that the assumptions underpinning their core beliefs are affecting their lives. These core beliefs may be flawed, unhelpful, or causing unnecessary anxiety, so reflecting upon them and challenging them can help us reframe situations in our lives.
Core Beliefs Examples
Self-related core beliefs fundamentally affect how we see ourselves and our social identities.
For example, a patient may enter therapy, where the therapist helps them to realize that they have a core belief that they’re destined to fail. By using strategies such as motivational interviewing, the client and therapist can work together to find scenarios and explanations that objectively demonstrate that this core belief is incorrect: you, indeed, have done plenty of things that didn’t lead to failure.
Through this process, we can develop metacognitive skills that help us make more constructive decisions in the future.
Here are some examples of self-related core beliefs:
- I am competent and capable.
- I am worthless.
- I have a lot to offer the world.
- I can’t trust my judgment.
- I am responsible for my own happiness.
- I always make mistakes.
- My worth is determined by my achievements.
- I am unlovable.
- I am resilient and can handle life’s challenges.
- I am destined to fail.
- I am an inherently creative person.
- I am boring and uninteresting.
- I am in control of my own destiny.
- I am weak and need protection.
- I am a natural-born leader.
- I am insignificant.
- I can learn and grow from my mistakes.
- I don’t deserve happiness.
- I am a constant work in progress.
- I am not enough as I am.
- I have the power to change my circumstances.
- I am bound to repeat the mistakes of my past.
- I am a source of positive energy.
- I am always the victim.
Others-related core beliefs are based upon how we perceive other people, such as whether we see them as threats, opportunities, etc.
These beliefs shape how we interact with other people, our expectations of others’ behaviors, and our ability to form positive interpersonal relationships.
For example, a therapist may work with a client to figure out where their inability to get close to people comes from. They might trace it to mistrust of parental figures during childhood or bullying in school.
Here are some examples of others-related core beliefs:
- People are generally good and kind.
- Everyone is out to get me.
- People can’t be trusted.
- Everyone has something valuable to contribute.
- People are fundamentally selfish.
- The world is full of kindness.
- Everyone has the capacity to change.
- People always let me down.
- People are fundamentally loving and compassionate.
- People will always judge and criticize me.
- No one understands me.
- I can inspire others to do their best.
- Everyone is battling their own struggles.
- People are intentionally hurtful.
- All individuals deserve compassion and understanding.
- People are naturally competitive and will try to outdo each other.
- People should earn my trust before it’s given.
- Everyone wants to be seen and acknowledged.
World-related core beliefs are beliefs about how the world works and oeprates. It may be seen as our ‘core worldview’.
These beliefs may still be concerned with how we see other people, but now, it would be more about society, communities, and large groups, rather than our beliefs about the core motivations of individuals.
It can also be a reflection of our past experiences, which have shaped our expectations of what would happen in a broader sense.
Examples of world-related core beliefs include:
- The world is a dangerous place.
- Life is inherently fair.
- The world is abundant and there’s enough for everyone.
- The world is full of opportunities.
- Life is unpredictable and uncontrollable.
- The world is inherently unjust.
- There is beauty everywhere in the world.
- Life is a constant struggle.
- The world is full of innovation and progress.
- Success in life is determined by luck.
- Nature should be respected and preserved.
- The world is a chaotic, confusing place.
- Life is an adventure to be embraced.
- The world is declining and future generations will suffer.
- Change is the only constant in the world.
- Life is a cycle of birth, growth, decay, and death.
- The world is a place to explore and understand.
- The world is filled with more pain than joy.
Morality-related core beliefs refer to our ideas about what a moral life looks like, what our moral responsibilities are, and how we should interact ethically in the world. They may overlap with your core values.
This is deeply philosophical, reflecting our understanding of our responsibilities and rights in the world, how we should interact with other people, and what we understand to be right and wrong. It may stem from personal experiences, religious conviction, or even philosophical reflections.
Examples of morality-related core beliefs include:
- It’s important to always tell the truth.
- The ends justify the means.
- Everyone should be treated equally.
- It’s every person for themselves.
- Kindness should be the guiding principle in all actions.
- Power and wealth are the most important things in life.
- Everyone deserves respect and dignity.
- It’s crucial to respect the customs and beliefs of others.
- Honesty is the most important virtue.
- Success is more important than integrity.
- It’s necessary to stand up for the less fortunate.
- The only thing that matters is my own comfort and happiness.
Future-oriented Core Beliefs
Future-oriented core beliefs reflect our beliefs about what is going to happen in the future, which affects what we do in the present.
For example, if you have a belief that you cannot affect the future no matter what (you have an external locus of control), then you might be less inclined to take action to improve your life, reveling in your melancholy. If you have an internal locus of control, on the other hand, you might believe that what you do can affect your future:
- Everything happens for a reason, and things will work out in the end.
- I am shaping a better future for myself and others.
- I am building a legacy that will outlast me.
- In the future I will be dead, and therefore what I do now is irrelevant and unimportant.
- I don’t see a chance that I’ll be able to get ahead, no matter what.
Examining our core beliefs is, fundamentally, about challenging ourselves: why do we have these core beliefs, and are they correct, beneficial, biased, skewed, helpful, and so forth? Ideally, our core beliefs should be moral, realistic, and productive for our own lives. Through reflection, we can ensure our core beliefs are aligned, helping us to live a meaningful and satisfying life.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]