Every one of us carries an image of ourselves. We think of ourselves as a certain kind of person: a kind person, an honest person, a person who’s “not interesting”, a person who takes care of others—beliefs about the essence of who we are. These beliefs about ourselves have an underlying structure and coherence; that is, they make sense based on our underlying core beliefs about who we are. The core belief is often something we are not even aware of thinking. It is often an unconscious belief that drives all the other thoughts and feelings we have about ourselves.
For example, if we feel we are fundamentally a selfish person because our mother always called our feelings and desires “selfish”, then we may view anything we want or anything we do to nurture ourselves as selfish. This undermines our attitudes and actions in a number of ways. For example, it may lead us to te always put other’s needs first. We fail to believe that our needs are valid because if we ever do take our needs and desires seriously, then we think we are selfish.
Another example is the core belief that we are unworthy. This belief can originate from being raised in a family where our emotional or physical needs were neglected or if we grew up with alcoholism in our family, or if we were ever sexually, physically or verbally abused. Abuse is usually not a one-time event. For most victims of abuse, it is an ongoing situation which can deeply shape our view of whether we are worthy, whether we matter, and whether we deserve respect from others.
People also have positive core beliefs about themselves and it is good to identify these as well. It is possible to change our negative core beliefs about ourselves, but it requires awareness and true emotional work. We usually need a guide to help us identify and overcome negative core beliefs because they are so ingrained and it is so hard to be objective about ourselves.
1) What are your positive and negative core beliefs about yourself?
2) Where do you think this core belief originated?
3) Even more important, what do you want to believe about yourself instead?
4) Have you been able to update your self-image in a healthy direction? If so, how?