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How Negative Core Beliefs Affect Your Emotions

Updated on June 14, 2010
lisaschaos on flickr
lisaschaos on flickr

Everyone suffers from a bad mood, feels bad about themselves, or has low days now and then. Even anxiety in certain situations is quite normal and can sometimes even be helpful. But when your mood is persistently angry, low or anxious, you begin to realise that you could be dealing with a more serious problem.

Sometimes problematic moods can begin to slide down to the illness side of the wellness spectrum. The intent of the following discussion is not to outline the symptoms or diagnostic criteria of mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. There is already tons of very good information on these subjects published in print and on the Internet. Rather, my intent is to explore the underlying psychological processes that influence negative mood states – whether or not they could be classified as ‘illnesses’. There is one main reason for this: these psychological processes are the same for everyone – depressed, anxious or neither of the above. The things that go through a depressed or anxious person’s mind are no different than what goes through every person’s mind from time to time. Only, when you have depression or anxiety your negative thoughts and beliefs tend to be more severe and pervasive. Nevertheless, we are all prone to negative mood states and understanding what influences these states can be an important step in overcoming them. And ultimately, the more control we have over our moods, the happier we will be!

What Are Core Beliefs?

Core beliefs are the long-standing views that we hold about ourselves, other people, the world and the future. Usually formed during childhood or other important times in our lives, they serve us as a sort of ‘guide’ to life – they tell us how things are. We filter our experiences according to our beliefs - in a way, its how we make sense of the world.

These core beliefs are sometimes helpful, and sometimes just the opposite. They can work against us, thwarting all our efforts to grow, be happy, and get ahead in life. They aren’t always accurate, and in fact can be grossly skewed at times. But nevertheless – they always make sense, at least according to our experiences. If you were able to rewind your life and watch it in slow motion from its very beginning, you would be able to see the key times when certain beliefs were formed and you would understand why you developed those beliefs.

Core beliefs, especially negative ones, can lie dormant most of the time and only become activated when a crucial situation triggers them.

How Negative Beliefs Harm Us

The problem with negative core beliefs is that they tend to be exaggerated, absolute, and very rigid. A healthy, helpful belief is one that is open to new evidence, meaning that it will reshape itself according to new information that presents itself, even that which contradicts the old belief. But an unhelpful belief is one that is unbending. For example, an enduring belief that ‘I am a failure’, even in the face of many past successes, is negative. A more healthy belief would be something like: ‘I have failed at this task, but I have succeeded at other things in the past. I am only human!’

Our core beliefs influence the rules that we have for living. Together, our beliefs and rules form a mental map to life – they tell us how to get where we want to go, how to conduct ourselves, etc. But if our rules are based on dysfunctional or inaccurate beliefs, it stands to reason that our rules will also misguide us. Often, they cause us to make choices or take actions that in reality work against us.

Examples of Negative Core Beliefs

Recognising Your Core Beliefs

As is often the case with any problem, recognition is the first step towards solution. Simply recognising what your negative beliefs and rules are, and when they are operating, is often enough to help you feel better. Any time you experience extremes of emotion is good indication of when a core belief may be at work. Taking a look at your thoughts and running mental dialogue, you will notice certain key words or phrases that are generally typical of rules and beliefs. Statements that include words like ‘always’ or ‘never’ (absolute & extreme), or phrases that imply conditions like ‘if…then…’ and ‘in order to… I must…’ are good examples. Sometimes, though, our thoughts do not directly reflect our core beliefs in such obvious ways. A good way to uncover your belief, then, is to dig deeper and analyse the negative thought that you are having. For example, ask yourself the following questions:

If this negative thought were true, what’s would be so bad about that?

What would it mean about me/other people/the world/the future?

What’s the worst that could happen?

Felix Burton on Flickr
Felix Burton on Flickr

How to Change Negative Core Beliefs

Changing core beliefs, however, is a difficult and sometimes long process, but not impossible! Remember, these beliefs weren’t formed overnight – they took years of building, practicing and integrating them into your psyche. For many people, especially those who are suffering from depression or anxiety, it would only be advisable to work on changing a core belief under the guidance of an experienced therapist. The reasons for this are many. Changing core beliefs requires the use of psychological tools which both challenge the old, negative belief whilst at the same time helping the person to formulate a new, more helpful belief to replace it. This requires a robust set of ‘tools’ that will help the person to think about their situation from an entirely different perspective than they are used to. Many people cannot generate these ideas on their own and need the guidance of therapist to assist them. Furthermore, for some people, negative core beliefs (however hurtful they have been) have been necessary in order to help them survive their past and function on a day to day basis. Tearing away at these core beliefs without a confident plan of how to deal with the ‘fallout’ could do more harm than good.

Of course, the above scenario is extreme and rare. Many people are more than capable of dealing with their underlying beliefs and rules by working through them on their own. I do suggest, however, that if you want to be successful at doing this kind of self-help work, you will find it much easier and more beneficial if you put your thoughts down on paper rather than just thinking it out.

The ideas expressed in this hub are based on the theoretical underpinnings of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), a psychotherapy that has proven effectiveness in helping people overcome anxiety and depression, as well as a number of other mental health difficulties and non-clinical problems. More than a therapy, CBT is a problem-solving approach, or a way of thinking, that can be applied to almost any problem one could have. If you would like to know more about this therapy or would like to try some self-help work, I recommend the following reading list:

Burns, D.D. (1990). The Feeling Good Handbook. New York: Plume.

Butler, G. & Hope, T. (1995). Manage Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fennell, M. (1999). Overcoming Low Self-Esteem. London: Robinson.

Gilbert, P. (1997). Overcoming Depression. London: Robinson.

Kennerley, H. (1997). Overcoming Anxiety. London: Robinson.

Padesky, C., & Greenberger, D. (1995). Mind Over Mood. New York: Guilford Press.


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    • Nordy profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much Robert - I love your choice of language, it certainly does keep us captive, until we make the unknown known!

    • profile image

      Robert Veight 

      8 years ago

      Good stuff, Nordy - very insightful. I just signed up with Hubpages a couple days ago, and wrote a hub about how our non-conscious mind sometimes keeps us captive. However, I am no expert like you, and I appreciate your technical expertise on the matter of CBT.

    • Nordy profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for your comments ITS, seems like you know a lot about the subject, I look forward to checking out your website!

    • ItsThatSimple profile image


      8 years ago from Florida

      Though we may carry negative core beliefs with us for years or decades we can always change with knowledge of the power of positive thinking!

    • Nordy profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      Rainstreet - I can see the irony in what you are saying, but the fact is that in CBT, the idea is not to point out how a person is "wrong" in their beliefs, but to elucidate the contrary evidence which they may have overlooked, to in fact point out that the thought or belief may not be as 100 percent true as they once believed. And there is always an emphasis on investigating how the belief came about in the first place, which means that the thought or belief is always understandable in terms of what that person's experiences were at the time. Modifying an unhelpful belief that "I am always wrong" would not mean changing it to a belief that "I am always right", but rather to a belief "sometimes I am right and sometimes I am wrong, I am only human", or something along those lines. It is interesting however, as you point out, that in order to change this belief you would have to acknowledge its "partial correctness". Most important to consider, however, is how people often magnetise a few examples (such as this) and then apply them to themselves globally by using the word "always" or "never".

      Kevin - great advice you have given above, sounds like you know your stuff. Glad you have found CBT so useful in your own life. Interestingly in my own work with clients, I have found those suffering with Social Anxiety to make the most dramatic transformations using CBT.

    • profile image


      9 years ago


      Look for things you do right... simple things. You learned the English language, how to type, how to create a profile and enter a comment on this web site. You did not do those things "wrong", so you are not *always* wrong. 100% truth. You may be wrong sometimes, but all human beings make mistakes.

      CBT guides you through the process of learning how to analyze your own thoughts to pick out the distortions / irrationalities in beliefs like I just did for you here. Identifying the core belief is the hardest part (for me anyways). After that, the CBT toolkit is great for turning things around. Burns' "Ten Days to Self-Esteem" has worked wonders on my Social Anxiety.

    • rainstreet profile image


      9 years ago from North Texas

      if one of your core beliefs is that you are always wrong, then correcting this belief by denying it would in fact be affirming it.

    • Nordy profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      Thanks dragonbear, your comments have been much appreciated! Interestingly enough, I studied CBT when I was living in the UK. Certainly more accessible there than it is here in Canada, though in my opinion, still not accessible enough. I look forward to reading more of your hubs, seems that we have a few things in common!

    • dragonbear profile image


      9 years ago from Essex UK

      A great article on CBT - it's growing in importance here in the UK. You've got a great hub here Nordy, thanks.

    • profile image

      julie kingsberry 

      9 years ago

      i suffer from anxiety and want to stop suffering i would like to belive in my teenage daughter is staying with her dad i want her to come home back to me but are trying.i want her to respect me like she respects her dad and is daughter talks to me with no respect sometimes i blame myself.

    • Nordy profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      Hi Neqodin,

      Thanks for your useful comments, which I certainly did not interpret as lecturing but rather as your opinion. I am familiar with both NLP and TA as well as many of the other psychotherapeutic models, but like many other counsellors and therapists, I remain faithful to my chosen modality. I agree with the underlying theme of what you have said to me, but must counterargue that it seems as if you might have a view of CBT which is sadly often held by many people, especially professionals who operate from other ideologies. CBT is not merely a set of 'techniques and tricks' which elicit positive thought and behaviour change in the clients participating in treatment. Rather than navigating around problems, it navigates through them, and when done properly CBT is only applied after a comprehensive case forumulation which includes an investigation of a person's early experiences and resulting schemata, which in my opinion is very similar to the "Scripts' you talk about. Sadly, many therapists throw out a few tricks and call it CBT when in fact it is not. CBT is not about giving someone positive actions and inspiring positive thinking, it is about helping them to understand their problems in terms of the underlying mechanisms that started them and keep them going, and to choose alternative and useful ways of thinking and behaving in order to promote wellness. This usually is not and should not be done without a greater understanding of the origin of the problems, which incorporate not only the consideration of a person's perception, but also their belief systems, appraisals and interpretations, as well as future expectations.

      Despite my counterargument, I do thank you for interesting comments and am inspired to read some of your hubs now which I am sure will be thought-provoking!

    • Neqodin profile image


      9 years ago from

      CBT is one form of psychological counselling which is successful because it navigates around issues by actioning positive change. I think you would benefit from understanding the principles of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) which looks at SEE (Significant Emotional Events) and read up on Transactional Analysis (TA) because there is no better study of what it is to be human and you would understand Core (Script) behaviour better through the explanation of Ego states rather than id, ego, superego.

      In everybody there are mind filters and the way we filter the world is called our perception. Our perception is shaped by the early treatment and education that is imprinted in us and is also driven by our primative instincts, this is called our "Script" behaviour and it is where we retreat to when we are pressed. We can change our Script behaviour (with extreme difficulty) by changing our perceptions.

      The brain always processes positively and when our perceptions/filters get screwed up because our Script behaviour does not give us any coping mechanisms, we stop processing. We do not process negatively, we just stop processing which means that no new positives are being processed.

      Giving someone a new positive by actioning them which is what CBT does, inspires their brains to start positive processing again. It is the process of getting them to this first step that takes deep understanding and knowledge from the counsellor.

      I hope you don't feel I'm lecturing, I just felt from reading this article that you would appreciate further reading into these two subjects.

    • Nordy profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much Indian lady, I am glad that it helped you!

    • profile image

      Indian lady 

      9 years ago from India

      Excellent. Superb. Iy help me come out of some negative core belief.


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      giatay di mao!!!!!!!!!

    • Nordy profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Canada

      I'm glad you found it helpful and i hope that your path through healing towards self acceptance is paved with rewarding discoveries. All the best to you!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Excellent article. This helps me to see better the relationship between how I feel and behave and what I must really believe about myself. Obivious to me now is that I certainly did not believe in myself very well given I always felt like I had to explain and try to convince people that what I wanted to do or did was at good or at least well intended. I have a lot of work to do in the area of personal healing.



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