Core beliefs

What are core beliefs?

I use the term ‘core belief’ to refer to a deeply held negative affirmation about ourselves or about reality which effectively blocks our growth or self-realisation. Using classical NVC, the observation has been made, the feelings have been heard, the needs have been identified, but we are actually not much further forward. Tomorrow the same or a similar situation will upset us in the same way. Ideas such as “I always get it wrong“, “Nobody cares about me“, “It’s not safe to be myself“, “Girls should stay in the background“, “Boys shouldn’t show feelings” etc tend to paralyse our processes of growth and self-determination because they are held unconsciously. Even when a part of us knows these beliefs are not true, another part holds on to them, they become the filter through which we see the world and in fact help to create the reality we experience.

Having worked with many people’s core beliefs, I have identified four types:

(1) INADEQUACY: “I’m not good enough” / “I’m not attractive/ worthy / lovable / deserving / etc”
(2) SEPARATION:  “I am alone” / “I am different / I am separated...”
(3) SCARCITY:        “There’s not enough (resources, space, time, love…) for me
(4) EXISTENTIAL: “The world/ life itself  is…. dangerous/unsafe /hostile etc

Beliefs of inadequacy are closely linked with shame, while beliefs of separation lead to depression. Beliefs of scarcity are associated with anxiety, while ‘existential’ core beliefs produce terror.

The part of us which holds the core beliefs is the wounded inner child. For the child, the core beliefs were often a way of making sense of reality or of providing some protection in an unsafe environment. “It’s best to keep quiet and not say what I think” serves the little boy well who gets a slap everytime he opens her mouth. As a grown man, it doesn’t work so well of course, and gradually other needs than safety come to the surface and struggle to be heard.

Core beliefs are hard to shift not just because they met needs in the original situation but because they have become habitual and act like a reality filter we look through, so it’s hard to even imagine the world could be another way. They’re also self-fulfilling, thus adding evidence to the pile as we go through life. “I’m no good at relationships” gets even more convincing after the third failed marriage wrecked on the altar of self-blame and lack of confidence!

Some of the most insidious core beliefs were formed when we were just learning about the power of language to form our reality. They are deeply ingrained from this very sensitive stage of childhood, a time when we were both acquiring verbal reasoning and  discovering how words are used in our culture. Others came in at a later stage when natural developmental changes such as learning to walk, wanting to explore the world outside the home and of course puberty came as massive challenges to our ill-prepared parents, who then responded with violence of one form or another. Many of these childhood beliefs basically come down to a simple and perfectly logical assumption, given the kind of upbringing most of us had: “I’m not good enough“. A conclusion which was inevitable when we were found wanting in oh so many ways by our parents and teachers and apparently were not accepted as we were. Even as adults determined to reclaim our true identity, and understanding that there was never anything ‘wrong’ with us, the nagging fear can remain buried deep inside  – “maybe they were right, I’m just no good really”. And from there it can sabotage our every effort to step into our full power and live the life that we long for.

Read more about core beliefs and what is needed to change them!