Core Beliefs

Women Sitting on a Black Couch Looking Upset

Written by: Robyn Campbell, Registered Provisional Psychologist, MC, (She/Her)

Core beliefs are the fundamental ideas that individuals hold about themselves, others, and the world around them. They have a strong impact on how people perceive things, make decisions, and see themselves. Core beliefs often start to form in our childhood, and they can be altered through our experiences throughout life as well.

The stronger the roots of a core belief are, the more powerful their influence can be. Negative core beliefs can impact our overall mental health significantly. For example: A negative core belief of “I’m unlikeable” will lead to automatic (and often irrational) thoughts about how other people might be feeling towards us, feelings of sadness/worry/shame/etc., and behaviours such as avoiding social gatherings or opportunities to connect with others.

One way we can learn to identify our core beliefs, is by first catching an irrational or unhelpful thought. Then, ask yourself – If this thought was true, what would that say about me? For example:

Situation → The person sitting next to you on the bus moves to another seat.

Thought → They probably can’t stand to be near me.

If that is true, what does that say about me? → I’m weird/I’m unlikeable/I don’t belong/etc.

Examples of other negative core beliefs:


–        I’m not good enough

–        I am a failure

–        I’m weak

–        I don’t deserve love


–        Other people can’t be trusted

–        People will hurt me

–        People will leave


The World

–        The world is dangerous

–        The world is unfair

–        The world is out to get me


Journaling is an exercise you can do to start building awareness and reshaping negative core beliefs. Once you have identified a negative core belief, you can use the following journal prompts to get started:

  • Can you remember the first time you felt this belief was true? Describe the memory.
  • How does this belief make you feel? Does this belief serve you a purpose?
  • What are the situations that trigger this belief?
  • What would you rather believe about yourself?
  • How do you think your life would be different if you were able to change this belief?

 Note: Negative core beliefs are sometimes formed due to traumatic experiences we have endured in our past. In some cases, it may be best to do this work with the support of a therapist.