Am I who I feel I am? A CBT perspective with self-help exercises

In CBT, we often discuss the concept of a core belief. A core belief is a belief we hold about ourselves that has most likely developed in our formative years due to our experiences with others and the world. It is normally our caregivers that have the most impact on the development of our core beliefs, for example critical parents can be involved in a ‘I’m a failure’ core belief. However, it is important to recognise the impact society, media, culture, friends and religion can have on what we belief about ourselves.

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Self-help exercises

Exercise one: Have a think about any core beliefs that you may have and where they might have developed from

When triggered core beliefs carry with them a whole host of emotions and physical sensations such as anxiety, depression, shame, guilt, worry, panic attacks, anger, sadness etc. These feelings and sensations can be experienced very powerfully and can really impact our lives and relationships. These feelings tend to give a lot of power to believability in our core beliefs and reinforce the idea that something is wrong or broken with us.

Exercise two: What are the triggers for your core beliefs and what emotional and physical responses do you get when experiencing them?

The big question here is that just because you feel a certain way does it mean it’s true? Generally speaking yes, if I notice a rumbling in my belly it means I’m hungry or if I have heavy eyelids and a lack of energy I am tired. However, these are feelings that are innate to us and help us get food or sleep but core beliefs aren’t something we are born with they were installed in us via messages from others at a time when we were unable to push them away, making them open to exploration if they are true or not and imagine how we would feel if they weren’t true?

I’m often taken back in my therapy work how different I experience people to their reported core beliefs, it is often the most compassionate and caring people who report core beliefs such as ‘I am selfish’ or people who feel ‘I am not good enough’ achieving the most incredible things.

It seems that we live our lives in the direct opposite way to how we feel about ourselves, maybe because we are so scared of these feelings being true but if someone acts in a compassionate and caring way it makes them this, it is our actions that define us not how we feel about ourselves.  

Exercise three: Do your actions contradict your core beliefs?

What would friends/family/colleagues say about you as an individual does it match your core beliefs or oppose them?

Thanks for reading my article, if you have any questions about how CBT can help with core beliefs you can ask a couple of CBT therapists via our webpage, we are happy to answer any questions.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Woking, Surrey, GU22
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Written by Andrew Morrison, BABCP, PG(dip) x2, PG cert, BA (hons)
Woking, Surrey, GU22

Andrew Morrison: CBT Therapist working privately and in the NHS with anxiety and depression difficulties.

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