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What are Core Beliefs?

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

What are Core Beliefs? Aaron Beck (1979) outlined three levels of cognition:

• Core beliefs

• Dysfunctional assumptions

• Negative automatic thoughts

Core beliefs are formed early in life and shaped by our upbringing and experiences. Because they are so deep seated and embedded, they are very difficult to change. Their original function is to help us make sense of our formative experiences, but they can become unproductive or even harmful later in life (Osmo et al., 2018).

Judith Beck (2005, 2011) proposes three main categories of negative core beliefs about the self:

Helplessness—personal incompetence, being vulnerable, feeling inferior

Unlovability—belief we are unlikeable, not worthy of intimacy/love

Worthlessness—belief we are insignificant, a burden

Harmful common core beliefs usually come in the form of absolutist “I am …,” “People are …,” and “The world is …” statements.


Helplessness in self: “I am stupid.”

Unlovability in people: “People are uncaring and manipulative.”

Worthlessness in the world: “The world is pointless. There is no purpose.”

So How Do I Identify a Core Belief?

Automatic negative thoughts are products of our core beliefs, allow them to guide to your underlying core beliefs and use these automatic thoughts to detect patterns and themes. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself and what you tell yourself about people and the world around you.

So How Do I Change a Negative Core Belief?

1. Become aware of your negative thoughts

2. Understand where the thought comes from. When was the first time this thought came up for you? What experience shaped this thought? Who is your family has a similar thought/belief as you?

3. Now, challenge the belief. Pay attention to when you have the belief and purposefully gather evidence that that belief is not true, or at least, can be different.

Common Core Beliefs

• I’m not good enough

• I can’t get anything right

• I’m stupid

• I’m inferior

• I’m nothing

• I’m worthless

• I’m insignificant

• I’m a bad person

• I’m unattractive

• I’m a failure

• I don’t deserve good things

• There’s something wrong with me

• I do not measure up to others

• I’m always wrong

• I’m abnormal/unusual/weird

• I’m not lovable

• I’m unacceptable

• I don’t matter

• I’m alone, always will be

• I’m unwelcome

• I don’t fit in anywhere

• I’m uninteresting/boring

• People I love will leave me

• I will be abandoned if I love or care for something/someone

• If I assert myself, people will leave me

• I can’t be happy if I’m on my own

• I’m not as good as other people

• I must have control to be okay

• I’m trapped

• I’m unsuccessful

• I can’t change

• I can’t handle anything

• There’s no way out

• If I experience emotions, I will lose control

• I’m always number two

• I’m a loser

• If people don’t respect me, I can’t stand it

• I deserve a lot of attention and praise

• I’m superior (and am entitled to special treatment and privileges)

• If I don’t excel, then I’m inferior and worthless

• If I don’t excel, I’ll just end up ordinary

• If others don’t respect me, they should be punished

• Other people should satisfy my needs

• People have no right to criticize me

• Other people don’t deserve the good things that they get

• People should go out of their way for me

• I have to do everything perfectly

• If I make a mistake, it means I’m careless/a failure/etc.

• I’ve done something wrong

• It’s not okay to ask for help

• I have to do everything myself

• If I don’t do it, no one will

• I can’t trust or rely on another person

• People are untrustworthy

• My needs are not important

• I shouldn’t spend time taking care of myself

• When I see that others need help, I have to help them

• I’m not a worthwhile person


  • Beck, A. T. (1979). Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. Meridian.

  • Beck, J. S. (2005). Cognitive therapy for challenging problems: What to do when the basics don’t work. Guilford Press.

  • Beck, J. S. (2011). Cognitive behavior therapy: Basics and beyond (2nd ed.). Guilford Press.

  • Osmo, F., Duran, V., Wenzel, A., de Oliveira, I. R., Nepomuceno, S., Madeira, M., & Menezes, I. (2018). The negative core beliefs inventory: Development and psychometric properties. 1), 67–84.


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