April 30, 2014
Uncovering Your Core Beliefs
Part of a therapist’s job is to ask you tough questions that lead you to discover yourself. This past week, my therapist asked a doozy that I’m having trouble processing. My two best ways to process are to do research and to write, so I thought I would combine both—and maybe we will all come out a little more self-aware.
The question didn’t sound that hard at first. “What are your core beliefs?” I’m supposed to make a list and bring it back with me. But as I started thinking about it, I realized I wasn’t sure exactly what “core beliefs” were. Here comes the research.
Greene’s Release defines them as “those things you just know and trust to be true – they serve as an internal ‘guide to life’ – telling you how to behave and react to the world.” That sounds pretty straight forward, right? But it sounds like core beliefs are good things. As my therapist explained to me, they are like the voices you hear in your head when you are trying to do something. That voice that tells you that you are beautiful, or the one that tells you that you will never be skinny enough, the one that tells you that you can do anything you set your mind to, or the one that says you will never amount to anything.
As you can probably tell, many of our core beliefs are developed in childhood. We absorb them from our parents and other role models in our early lives. They can also come from adult interactions as well, such as a mentally or emotionally abusive spouse, or a negative boss.
Basically, your core beliefs dictate the following: who you are, what you think of yourself, what you are and are not allowed to do and be, how to behave and react to people, what to expect, what you can and can’t have, and your level of success.
According to the website Pathway to Happiness, the really important part is that, at some level, we had to agree to accept this vision of ourselves. I think they are right, even if we aren’t aware of the core belief, or the internal agreement to it.
So how do we, I, figure out what these core beliefs are?
There are a couple of good ideas I’ve discovered.
First, start a thought journal. Journaling is a time-honored therapeutic technique, especially for Cognitive Behavior Therapy. There are two main types of thought journals in therapy, the Traditional Thought Record and the Step Thought Record. CognitiveTherapyGuide.com provides this template for the Traditional style. It is in columnar format, with specific questions to answer about your thoughts. And an example of a Step Thought Journal is here. The Step journal is much more free form, giving you more room and freedom to express yourself.
I’ve been working on a journal for a few days, using part of the Step Journal idea and the idea from Pathway to Happiness to step back for a couple days, then come back and look at the thoughts with a fresh pair of eyes.
The second way to identify your core beliefs is to start paying attention to what comes out of your mouth. We tell the truth about ourselves when we make jokes at our own expense, or complain about the actions of others. For example, when you say “He/She makes me mad/sad/guilty/crazy.” Do you believe you have the power to make someone else feel a particular emotion? They don’t have that power over you, either. Or, when you make a joke about being fat/ugly/stupid. You are revealing your core beliefs about yourself.
So what core beliefs have I uncovered in this journey? I’m not sure I’ve found them all, but I have found a few I really don’t like—which was the point of the whole exercise, I think. They are a mix of good and bad.
My Core Beliefs:
I don’t deserve to be treated well by men. (Bad)
I am not pretty. (Bad)
I will never be enough. Smart, pretty, good.. never enough (Bad)
I am strong. (Good)
The final one is both good and bad… on one hand, I can’t rely on anyone else (Bad) which has made me very self-sufficient (Good).
What are your core beliefs?
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