Core beliefs are the ideas that we hold about ourselves. Some core beliefs that we have are positive such as “I am smart” or “I am talented”. Other core beliefs are negative and these are the ones that are at the root of anxiety and depression. Core beliefs are not easy to recognize as they often influence your thoughts and actions without your awareness. With anxiety, worry is very common. Everyone worries from time to time, but with anxiety, worry occurs on a regular basis. Worries are really just negative predictions that we are trying to figure out how to prevent or how to respond if they occur. These worries come from our negative core beliefs. Paying attention to worries can give you clues to your negative core beliefs. We can learn to control worry which is important, but in order to really work on resolving anxiety issues, understanding and reworking our core beliefs is a necessity. The technique of Worry Time will help you to begin to identify your negative core beliefs.
One technique for managing worry is to designate a specific worry time each day. How this technique manages worry is by containing it rather than worrying all throughout the day. It shows you that you can gain control of your thought process in terms of making an active decision about what thoughts you will give attention. Here’s how it works.
- Designate one time per day that is about 10 - 15 minutes.
- Write down all of your worries. Attend to those worries for the entire time. You do need to spend any time trying to solve the worries or make them go away.
- Try to put your worries into broader categories. Ask yourself what makes you think the negative event could occur? What are the consequences for you if the negative event would happen? What would it say about you? These categories are the clues to your core beliefs. Here are some examples of possible categories:
Worrying about a party you are hosting - I can’t measure up/I am not capable
Worrying about your son’s behavior at school - I am a bad parent/I don’t have what it takes
Worrying you will mess up at work - I am incompetent/I am stupid
Worrying that you will upset someone - I need to please others/I am only worthwhile if I make others happy/I am a bad person.
4. After 15 minutes put your list away. Whenever you think about these worries at any other time during the day, shift your attention away from the thought and distract yourself with something else such as other thoughts, listening to music, or attending to a task that you are working on. You can also ground yourself in some way in the present moment by listing things that you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Redirecting yourself and distracting yourself is challenging and you will likely have to do that several times. Remind yourself that you will have time to worry at your worry time. As you continue to practice worry time, your worries may change but you will likely find that they fit into only a few categories. You may feel like you have hundreds of different worries but you do not have hundreds of negative core beliefs.
After you have tracked your worries for a few weeks and have identified some core beliefs, you can begin to really ask yourself these questions:
- What events in your past contributed to this belief about yourself?
- What is your evidence for these core beliefs?
- What is your evidence against them?
- How are your core beliefs similar?
- How are they different?
Actions Reinforce Your Core Beliefs
Since we believe our core beliefs so strongly, we behave in ways that continue to reinforce them. For example, if someone believes they are not smart enough, they may not apply for a promotion, or try to a new skill that they always wanted to learn. If someone believes that they are unlovable, they may avoid relationships or push people away who care about them. After you identify your core beliefs, developing awareness of the specific actions that reinforce them is the first step in changing them. If you need more help identifying your negative core beliefs, please call 215-922-5683 to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists.