This blog entry is the second in a series on Cognitive Therapy.

Core beliefs underlie many of the automatic thoughts discussed in the previous blog entry. Identifying and then challenging such core beliefs can not only change feelings but can also transform a person’s approach to life. Assumed to be true, core beliefs often go unnoticed and unchallenged. Through identifying automatic thoughts, we can sometimes uncover the main beliefs that underlie our personalities.

Core beliefs can arise from childhood experiences, innate dispositions, cultural influence, and/or any combination of the three. Consequently, they can be difficult perceive and/or change. When reading the following descriptions of typical core beliefs, determine whether any seem characteristic of your personality and/or notice any childhood experiences or other environmental factors that may have contributed to the belief.


Beliefs about defectiveness reflect a general sense that one is inherently flawed, incompetent, or inferior. Often times, people who maintain thoughts characteristic of a defective core belief withdraw from close relationships in fear that others may discover that they are inherently bad. Examples of thoughts patterns characteristic of defectiveness include:

·         I’m not good enough
·         I can’t get anything right
·         I’m stupid
·         I’m inferior
·         I’m nothing
·         I’m worthless
·         I’m insignificant
·         I’m a bad person
·         I’m unattractive (ugly, fat, etc.)
·         I’m useless
·         I’m a failure
·         I don’t deserve anything good
·         There’s something wrong with me
·         I do not measure up to others
·         I’m always wrong
·         I’ve done things wrong
·         I’m abnormal


Those who uphold beliefs about being unlovable often make assumptions about the extent to which they belong and question whether they deserve love or can be loved. Individuals who believe they are unlovable may withdraw from relationships or maintain superficial companionships to avoid the suspected pain that will arise when they are inevitably rejected. Furthermore, the belief that one is unlovable can lead to significant feelings of loneliness even in the presence of others.  Some thoughts related to an unlovable core belief include:

·         I’m not lovable
·         I’m unacceptable
·         I’m always left out
·         I don’t matter
·         I’m not wanted
·         I’m alone
·         I’m unwelcome
·         I don’t fit in anywhere
·         I’m uninteresting
·         Nobody loves me
·         Nobody wants me
·         I’m unlikeable
·         I’m bound to be rejected


Individuals who maintain core beliefs rooted in abandonment often assume they will lose anyone to whom they form an emotional attachment. Abandonment and unlovable core beliefs can often be related or even one and the same. Often times, those concerned with abandonment believe that people will ultimately leave, which will result in misery and loneliness. Consequently, people with abandonment beliefs often seek reassurance and silence opinions out of fear that others will desert them in the presence of differing viewpoints. Examples of thoughts related to abandonment can include:

·         People I love will leave me
·         I will be abandoned if I love or care for something/someone
·         I am uninteresting (and people will leave me because of it)
·         I’m unimportant
·         If I assert myself, people will leave me
·         I can’t be happy if I’m on my own
·         I’m not as good as other people
·         My partner is no longer interested in me
·         I’m bound to be rejected/abandoned/alone


Helplessness or powerlessness beliefs generally result in people assuming they lack control and cannot handle anything effectively or independently. Individuals who believe they are helpless often face difficulties making changes. Furthermore, a sense of powerlessness can cause people to try to overcontrol their environment or completely give up control. Some common thoughts reflecting helplessness/powerlessness core beliefs include:

·         I’m helpless/powerless
·         I’m out of control
·         I must have control to be okay
·         I’m weak
·         I’m vulnerable
·         I’m trapped
·         I’m needy
·         I’m ineffective
·         I do not measure up to others
·         I’m unsuccessful
·         I can’t achieve
·         I can’t change
·         I can’t handle anything
·         There’s no way out
·         Other people will manipulate me and control my life
·         I am trapped and can’t escape
·         If I experience emotions, I will lose control
·         I can’t do it
·         I’m always number two
·         I finish last
·         I can’t stand up for myself
·         I’m a loser
·         I can’t say ‘no’


Entitlement core beliefs are sometimes not entirely apparent. Generally, they reflect a belief related to specialness that causes individuals to make demands or engage in behaviors regardless of the effect on others. Those who maintain an entitlement core belief assume they are superior and deserve a lot of attention or praise. Often times, people develop an entitlement core belief to compensate for feeling defective or socially undesirable.  Entitlement beliefs can lead to unreasonable demands that others meet your needs, rule-breaking, and resentment of successful others. Some entitlement-related beliefs include:

·         If people don’t respect me, I can’t stand it
·         I deserve a lot of attention and praise
·         I’m superior (and am entitled to special treatment and privileges)
·         If I don’t excel, then I’m inferior and worthless
·         If I don’t excel, I’ll just end up ordinary
·         I am a very special person (and other people should treat me that way)
·         I don’t have to be bound by the rules that apply to other people
·         If others don’t respect me, they should be punished
·         Other people should satisfy my needs
·         People have no right to criticize me
·         Other people don’t deserve the good things that they get
·         People should go out of their way for me
·         People don’t understand/get me (because I am special/brilliant/etc.)
·         I can do no wrong


Caretaking, responsibility, and self-sacrifice could be separated into independent categories, but they reflect similar beliefs and can be addressed as a group. Self-sacrifice beliefs refer to the excessive forfeit of one’s own needs in the service of others. Individuals often feel guilty, and compensate by putting the needs of others ahead of their own.  Such people often believe they are responsible for the happiness of others and apologize excessively. Responsible individuals may take pride in their diligence and dependability, without necessarily feeling a need to care for others or engage in self-sacrifice. People who maintain core beliefs rooted in caretaking, responsibility, or self-sacrifice may have felt overly responsible for family members in their youth. Related thoughts include:

·         I have to do everything perfectly
·         If I make a mistake, it means I’m careless/a failure/etc.
·         I’ve done something wrong
·         It’s not okay to ask for help
·         I have to do everything myself
·         If I don’t do it, no one will
·         I’m responsible for everyone and everything
·         If I care enough, I can fix him/her/this
·         I can’t trust or rely on another person
·         If I trust people, they may hurt me (and I won’t survive)
·         People will betray me
·         People are untrustworthy
·         My needs are not important
·         I shouldn’t spend time taking care of myself
·         When I see that others need help, I have to help them
·         I’m not a worthwhile person
·         I’m only worthwhile if I’m helping other people
·         If I express negative feelings in a relationship, terrible things will happen
·         I have to make people happy
·         It’s my fault

The above core beliefs and related thoughts represent some common possibilities. Other core beliefs may relate to approval-seeking (“I’m only worth something if people like me”), glamour (“I must be beautiful and admired”), autonomy (“if someone enters my world, I will have no freedom at all”), failure (“If I don’t succeed, I’m worthless”), unwanted (“I don’t belong anywhere”), etc.  

In noting your own thought patterns, you may notice consistencies and/or discrepancies with the information above. These core beliefs and/or resulting thought patterns are not true; they are merely thoughts resulting from a combination of childhood experiences, environmental factors, and your innate temperament. Some people believe these ideas so strongly that they cannot see the untruths in such extreme lines of thoughts. Because core beliefs are often born in childhood, they may reflect messages that were overly or implicitly communicated by family members. It can be helpful to determine where your core beliefs materialized, but it is not necessary. While maladaptive thoughts patterns and core beliefs may be difficult to challenge, many techniques exist that allow change to be possible. Recognizing such beliefs can be an excellent first step. 



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