Core beliefs: Vicious circles and changing the game
If you haven’t heard of core beliefs, it’s worth developing some understanding of what they are and how they affect you. The term ´core belief´ refers to the deeply held foundational beliefs we have about life. They form very early on in our cognitive development (in our early childhood) and most of our rules and strategies for living are built on top of the them. By the time we are adults, our core beliefs are generally stable.
You can have positive core beliefs like, “I am a good person”, or, “I am loveable”, which are generally benign and helpful to have. Unfortunately, the reality is that many of us end up with at least some less than helpful core beliefs like “I’m not good enough”, “I’m worthless” or, “I’m a bad person” (and various others). The reasons we form unhelpful core beliefs include cultural conditioning, ancestry, traumatic or emotionally distressing experiences, intentional and accidental neglect and abuse and various other factors that shape our experience of life in a less than helpful way.
You know an unhelpful core belief is activated because a deep and familiar unpleasant feeling comes up. The trigger will often be something stressful, upsetting or potentially challenging happening. This even includes positively challenging things, like opportunities to do something new or meet some new people. It is likely to feel very familiar and may not even seem like a clearly articulated thought. It might seem more like a deeply felt sense or perception about yourself or the world. It often just seems like “the way things are”. Sometimes, the very familiarity means we don't realise we are actually perceiving things in a very specific way, through the lens of a biased and subjective core belief, rather than any kind of objective truth.
It might seem hard to imagine seeing yourself or the world any other way. Most of our core beliefs are almost as old as us and operate partially unconsciously. Our habits of perception and behaviour reinforce them. If it’s the way things have always been then we assume it’s the way they always will be!
So can we actually change them!?
Core beliefs can be sneaky, stubborn and painful little buggers to work with. But, yes, with some (considerable) determination, you CAN change them! This involves several stages. Firstly, we need to realise that intentionally changing our beliefs IS possible. Secondly, we have to make the decision that we do want to change our beliefs. Thirdly, we need to find ways of doing that.
You do not have to know how, or to have perfect confidence in yourself to begin. These things can be discovered and developed along the way. There are various skills and strategies that can help you, but in general, persistence and time are the key ingredients, regardless of which methods you are using to try to change your beliefs.
Sometimes you can get lucky, and change comes easily or even accidentally when the circumstances of life conspire to give you the opportunity to see things differently without much effort on your part. But, for the most part, if you really want to get anywhere, it comes down to being willing to work gradually through things and create the opportunities to learn something new about yourself and the world. The reason it can be hard work is we are less impressionable when we are older than when we are children.
We are trying to change when we are actually not as flexible or fast at learning new things as we were when we formed our beliefs in the first place. That might sound a bit pessimistic, but it helps to be realistic and to understand why you might sometimes feel it’s so hard to change some aspects of yourself, despite your heartfelt wish to. Once you realise that is totally normal to find changing your core beliefs hard, at least you can be reassured it’s not your fault! (Repeat after me: “It is NOT my fault!”). This is true regardless of what you may have heard or may even tell yourself.
Even though it is not your fault you formed the beliefs you did, you can choose to take responsibility for the opportunity to change. No one else can do that for you. That doesn't mean you have to do everything yourself. People can help you, sometimes a lot, so do ask for help when you can. Help can come in many forms, not even just from other people. Inspiration can appear anywhere in the world and can emerge from inside your mind in the most unexpected ways. But in the end, you are the one who is going to carry the change as it emerges within yourself. Your conscious commitment to that is the most reliable aspect of all this that is within your control.
So, why is this even a thing!?
We are creatures of habit, and it can seem more comfortable to stay the same, than try to change, and face the potential to fail or to feel worse. The very core beliefs we want to change can create a vicious circle. For example, imagine you have a core belief like: "I'm not good enough". Therefore, when you think about trying to change, chances are you will think: "If I try, I'll fail"...Then you might be tempted not to try at all; or if you do, to give up easily assuming any small setback is a sign of failure.
Sound familiar? Such thinking is more common than you might realise. Not a very helpful thinking pattern is it!? But in reality, most of us carry this or other vicious circles in our thinking habits to some degree. And they interact with each other like a web of lies, distorting everything we look at and experience. Like I said, sneaky little buggers!
So, yes, you are normal if this happens to you. But, you CAN change. If you are willing to put in the work, the benefits are absolutely worth it! No doubt about it!! Core beliefs are the beliefs at the very heart of how we see ourselves and the world. They effect all our experiences on a daily basis. So even if you only partially change even one of the unhelpful ones to something more helpful, you carry that benefit into every experience you have from then on! So the benefits compound long after the initial effort has passed.
Once you have made one change, it becomes easier to believe that a second change is possible. Once you've made a few small changes, you can start to see the cumulative effect. Once you experience a significant shift in perception, all of a sudden the whole of life begins to look like a very different game than it did before....
So, what have we got to lose!?