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What are core beliefs?

Core beliefs refer to an individual’s most central beliefs about themselves. Core beliefs are formed by various experiences we have had and different messages we received throughout our upbringing. These beliefs are the way we see ourselves and the way we view the world around us. Our core beliefs also impact how we interact with others and how optimistic we may feel about the future. Because core beliefs are so unique to our own, individual experiences, different people can have different reactions to the same situation. 

How can core beliefs be harmful?

We all have core beliefs. Some of these core beliefs can be positive; however, many times clients find themselves having to deal with the distress of harmful core beliefs. Some common harmful core beliefs that people hold are “I am a failure,” “I am unlovable,” “I am a bad person,” and “Nothing ever goes my way.” These beliefs are often rigid and evidence that contradicts these beliefs are often ignored. This is because core beliefs often feel real despite their inaccuracy. Holding harmful core beliefs can be damaging to a person’s self-esteem and can lead to anxiety, depression, and other problems that can affect multiple domains of functioning (e.g., social and occupational). 

How can I challenge harmful core beliefs?

Holding a harmful core belief can be very difficult to manage. It can often feel overwhelming and may make people feel hopeless that things may change. However, it’s important to know that no one is born with these core beliefs. Core beliefs are learned responses to a variety of stressful and traumatic events that occurred throughout our formative years. Because core beliefs are learned, they can be unlearned. You can also work with your therapist to help challenge harmful core beliefs. One thing you can do to challenge your harmful core beliefs is to reflect on all the (specific) experiences you have that disprove the belief. For instance, if you feel that you are a failure in school, think about all the times you succeeded. Write down these examples and then try to come up with a balanced thought. This could be something like, “I am smart and succeed when I put effort in studying.” It may be difficult at the beginning, but the more we challenge these thoughts the easier unlearning these harmful thoughts can be.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.