Core Beliefs and Happiness

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Mandy has been working in the mental health field for more than eight years and has worked with a diverse group of clients. These range ...Read More

Core beliefs begin to form in childhood and they are resistant to change. Even when confronted with ample evidence to the contrary, core beliefs can remain rigid. Often associated with intense emotions.

Underlying assumptions are intermediate-level beliefs. They maintain core beliefs by explaining life experiences that otherwise might contradict the core belief. Assumptions work as partners in crime with core beliefs and maintain the consistency of core beliefs across many situations. For example, if you had a core belief that you were unloveable, you would maintain that core belief in most situations, even when faced with a situation that does not fit with your core belief. ie. someone tells you and/or shows you that they love you. Assumptions find ways to justify the core belief. Eg. This person is probably lying or wants something from me, that’s why they are being nice to me. There must be an underlying motive.


Related Reading: The Science of Affirmations: The Brain’s Response to Positive Thinking

Assumptions act well as ‘partners in crime’ because they protect the individual from the pain associated with the core belief. If a person who believed they were unloveable decided to actually believe that someone really did care for them, they would risk finding out that they were wrong and the ensuing rejection would cause intense unwanted emotions. Assumptions therefore, support core beliefs and protect us from insecurities.


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Example: I am unloveable ——- If I am not special and different, no one will love me ——-I’m not special

Underlying assumptions operate beneath the surface of automatic thoughts and can be considered an individual’s “rules for life”. Examining underlying assumptions is an important part of cognitive behaviour therapy because when we identify our underlying rules for life, we can begin to test their validity instead of following them blindly.

Reframing assumptions into a “if this….then that….” format helps us to hypothesize and test. Beliefs stated in an “if this…then that” form are predictive and can thus be checked out. CBT therapists help their clients to test out their assumptions regularly by asking their clients to do behavioural experiments out in the real world to test whether their belief is 100% true. I have never come across a client who has a belief that is 100% correct all of the time. There will always be an exception, there will always be a chance to challenge the belief. This is very powerful as it allows the client to shift old core beliefs that no longer work for them and replace them will more realistic and self serving beliefs. Your beliefs affect your thinking and your thinking affects your mood.

Core beliefs are a primary way of constructing ‘reality’ about ourselves, others and the external world. Core beliefs don’t automatically predict associated assumptions though as many different underlying assumptions may exists to maintain a particular core belief. Core beliefs develop and become set in a person’s pattern of thinking through various learning processes – operant conditioning or classical conditioning. It can be amazingly beneficial for a client to understand a core belief and associated assumptions and behaviour, understand how these beliefs once served them but how these same beliefs now hinder them and are unhelpful/outdated for them as adults.

Automatic thoughts tend to be specific to situations/triggers and often operate unconsciously. More often, a person becomes aware of the associated emotion rather than the automatic thought that led to the emotion.


1)The next time you feel an intense emotion, stop and try to trace back to the thought. Write the thought down.

For example: Emotion – Anxiety

Underlying automatic thought: I may never find the right partner for me

2) Try to reframe the thought is the “if this, then that” format.

“If I don’t find a partner soon, it will mean that I am defective in some way”.

Core Belief: I am defective.

3) Challenge the core belief:

Ask yourself where the evidence is for the core belief. What is the evidence against this?

Write down For/Against:

eg> Evidence supporting: I am single. I have been single for over two years.

Evidence against: I have had relationships in the past. I have friends/family that love me as I am

Reframe: I may not have a partner currently but this does not mean that I am defective. Not every single person on the planet is defective.

Core beliefs and happiness are intertwined. Thoughts need to constantly be checked and validating. We often thinking irrationally and allow ourselves to sink into the quagmire of self loathing. The process of challenging thinking and identifying underlying beliefs and assumptions takes practise but if you can get into the habit of being a better “thought/mind manager” you will definitely notice that your happiness levels increase.

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