Linda Lewis Griffith

Core beliefs can be changed

Core beliefs are those tightly held tenets that determine who we are and how we behave. For instance, a woman might feel that nobody likes her. A man might believe he needs to continually prove himself.

Core beliefs are so fundamental that we’re often unaware that they exist. They’re the emotional default mode that we never realized we set for ourselves.

In fact, we may not know what those deep-seated theorems are. Few of us would want to admit that we are miserly or bigoted. Yet our actions may convey those sentiments loud and clear.

Certain core beliefs promote well-being. If you believe hard work is important, you’re apt to be industrious.

But others create problems. If you feel you have to win at everything you do, you may be overly competitive or feel like a failure if you lose.

Core beliefs can even be associated with various mental illnesses. People who are anxious frequently tell themselves that the world is inherently dangerous, that everyone is laughing at them or that they are incompetent. Those with depression may feel life isn’t worth living or that they deserve to be punished. Patients with anti-social personality disorder believe that it’s OK to be deceitful or break the law.

Core beliefs evolve in a variety of ways: Parents provide our earliest lessons, social norms structure what we say and do, and genetics instill a predisposition toward certain behaviors.

They can also be appropriate responses to the events that happen as we grow up. Boys and girls raised by alcoholics tend to be distrusting. Kids subjected to ridicule believe they are stupid. Students teased by classmates think everybody is laughing at them.

Because core beliefs are so entrenched, they’re difficult to change. No matter how many people disagree with us or how much information is presented to the contrary, we fail to relax our psychic grips on these maxims. In fact, the older we get, the more tenaciously we adhere to them.

That doesn’t mean we can’t change how we think. But the process takes effort and commitment — and is apt to be slow.


Identify the belief you want to change. Sort through your belief system with a fine-toothed comb and decide which you’d like to delete. Some are perfectly fine. Others are causing too much angst.

Decide what will be different. Ask yourself, “How will my life change if I let go of this belief?” Will you be more assertive? Less depressed? Nicer to your spouse? You’ll be able to zero in on the areas that need the most work.

Separate truth from belief. Your beliefs aren’t written on stone tablets. They’re only one person’s view of the world. Understand them as your opinions. There are many ways to think.

Consider different options. How else might you view this issue? Listen to what others tell you. Read books and articles that espouse various viewpoints. The more you expose yourself to divergent thinking, the more likely you are to make a change.

Understand the history of your belief. You developed this core belief for a reason. It made good sense at one time. But now you may recognize that the rationale was faulty, or that you have new data or experiences to change your mind. Upgrade to a new operating system so your thoughts stay current.

Create an alternate thought. Perhaps you decide to accept gay marriage. You may realize you’re lovable in spite of what you were once told. Allow this new thought into your persona and redefine who you are.

Be patient. Don’t worry if you slip back into your old cognition. You had years in that previous mode. Be kind. Be understanding. You’re moving in the right direction.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit