How Do Core Beliefs Cause Mental Health Problem?

How Do Core Beliefs Cause Mental Health Problem?

by Dr Emma Gray - 19th January, 2015

Core Beliefs – The Reason for Mental Health Problems

What are Core Beliefs?
Core beliefs are the cause of the majority of mental health problems. A core belief is a well established belief that we hold about ourselves, other people or the world.

Core beliefs develop as a result of our early experiences in childhood and go on to influence the way that we make sense of the world and our day to day experiences. As such they are pivotal in determining how we feel and how we behave.

If our early experiences were good, our needs were met and we were treated with love, respect and made to feel valued and important our core beliefs will be positive, for example:

· I am a good and worthwhile person

· Others will value me and treat me well

· The world is generally a safe place

However, if our early experiences were difficult, we were maybe criticised, ignored, ridiculed or our parents were preoccupied with their own issues our core beliefs will be negative, for example:

· I am not good enough

· Other will mistreat me

· The world is a dangerous place

Core beliefs influence how we process and understand our experience, they highlight information and experiences that compliments the belief (e.g. I’m not good enough) and ignore or minimise information that contradicts it.

Psychologists call this process Cognitive Dissonance. If our core beliefs are positive this process results in an ever improving sense of self worth, positive emotions and choices and behaviours that lead to self improvement and satisfaction.

However, if our core beliefs are negative this filtering process leads to gradually diminishing self esteem and self confidence, depression, anxiety and a range of self defeating choices and behaviours that place us at risk of developing a serious mental health problem.

Do Your Core Beliefs Put You At Risk of a Mental Health Problem?
The two most common core beliefs that place people at risk of a mental health problem like Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Eating Disorders are Defectiveness and Abandonment.

Defective is the core belief that you are worthless or just not good enough, that you do not have the capacity to cope and/or are inferior to others. Abandonment is the core belief that you will be rejected by others and ultimately will end up alone. The questionnaire below will help you to work out if you have either of these core beliefs.

Score each statement using the following key:
1 = Completely untrue of me
2 = Mostly untrue of me
3 = Slightly more true than untrue of me
4 = Moderately true of me
5 = Mostly true of me
6 = Describes me perfectly

Section 1

1. I worry a lot that people I love will die or leave me.

2. I cling to people because I am afraid they will leave me.

3. I do not have a stable base of support.

4. I keep falling in love with people who cannot be there for me in a committed way.

5. People have always come and gone in my life.

6. I get desperate when someone I love pulls away.

7. I get so obsessed with the idea that my lovers will leave me that I drive them away.

8. The people closest to me are unpredictable. One minute they are there for me and the next minute they are gone.

9. I need other people too much.

10. In the end, I will be alone.

Section 2

1. No man or woman could love me if they really knew me.

2. I am inherently flawed and defective. I am unworthy of love.

3. I have secrets that I do not want to share, even with the people closest to me.

4. It was my fault that my parents could not love me.

5. I hide the real me. The real me is unacceptable. The self I show is a false self.

6. I am often drawn to people – parents, friends and lovers – who are critical and reject me.

7. I am often critical and rejecting myself, especially of people who seem to love me.

8. I devalue my positive qualities.

9. I live with a great deal of shame about myself.

10. One of my greatest fears is that my faults will be exposed.

If you scored any 5s or 6s in Section 1, it is likely that you have an Abandonment core belief. If you scored any 5s or 6s in Section 2, it is likely that you have a Defectiveness core belief. If you have one of these core beliefs it is very likely that you are already struggling with some kind of anxiety or depression. If you are not, you will do at some point in your life, so it is important to seek advice from a Clinical or Counselling Psychologist.


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleague once described me as natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


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