Updated: Jul 25
Our inner beliefs are shaped by our experiences, and these beliefs can be explored to better understand certain difficulties and repeating patterns we face in our lives. This article includes graphics and an interactive Core Belief Cycle Activity that can be used to track where our beliefs come from, and how they influence our thoughts, feelings, actions and experiences.
Understanding the Cycle
Experiences > Beliefs > Thoughts > Feelings > Actions > Experiences
The Beliefs that we hold unconsciously have a not-so-subtle way of influencing the way we move through our lives. These core beliefs make up the way that we perceive ourselves, others, and the world around us. Frequently, these beliefs form in our early life and may be messages that we hear growing up that we internalize as 'truths'.
Our beliefs create our thoughts. Our thoughts include our ideas and opinions about ourselves, others and the world. Our thoughts make up of our intentions and expectations. The inner chatter going on in our minds has a strong influence on the way we feel. Our feelings are powerful emotional messengers that communicate to us through complex body-based channels using neurotransmitters and hormones released by the brain and body. These emotional reactions can include feelings including fear, anger, sadness, joy, guilt, shame, love, disgust, surprise, and horror.
The way we manage our thoughts and feelings becomes our actions. Our behaviors, impulses and external reactions include the ways that we cope with difficult or disregulated emotions. The way we act creates our experiences. Our experiences are how we relate and respond to moments and events in our life. These experiences can either confirm or contradict our beliefs.
If you find yourself struggling with a belief system built on negativity and resulting from complex trauma, consider working with a therapist. Intentions Therapy offers client centered and trauma informed individual therapy.
Identify your Core Beliefs
Identifying our core beliefs starts by noticing themes and patterns in our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. You might notice patterns already in the ways that you relate to yourself and others.
Spend time reflecting on your inner wounds. The moments in your life that impacted the way you understood yourself in the world. Reflect on what went on your you during those deeply challenging experiences. You might notice your body carries a reaction, a stress response, when you hold these memories and wounds in your mind.
Write down a few key experiences that come to mind. Imagine how someone going through these things might feel.
Go through the list of core beliefs below and read each of the negative statements out loud. Move through the entire list paying attention to your body and your felt sense as you recite these statements.
You may notice one or two of these statements affect you differently or 'hit' on a deeper, emotional level. Write these core beliefs down. Narrow your list down to no more than 3 core beliefs by repeating the statements and remaining mindful of your body's experience, letting your body wisdom guide you to the most central of the wounds needing healing.
Full list of negative and positive beliefs and cognitions: List Here
Here are some negative core beliefs that may resonate with you:
I am not good enough
I do not deserve love
I am worthless / inadequate
I am different / don't belong
I did something wrong
I can not trust myself / my judgement
I am in danger
The world is an unsafe place
It is not okay to show my emotions
I can not stand up for myself
I am helpless / powerless
I have to be perfect / please everyone
I can't trust others / people are malicious
I am a failure
The world is unfair
Once you know which core belief may be operating subconsciously, use the chart below to identify the way it shapes your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and experiences.
Ask yourself - "How does holding this belief protect me?"
Track your Core Belief Cycle
Now that you have identified 1-3 core beliefs that are operating subconsciously, it is your job to focus on these unhealed wounds with attention and intention.
Core Beliefs operate subconsciously, and when they operate in the dark, we have no choice but to continue this negative cycle. Tracking our beliefs brings them from darkness to light and points us directly to the actions we can take to stand in alignment with ourself.
Use this Online Core Belief Activity to track your own negative cycle. Simply click the link and download the file to your computer to begin unpacking your cycle.
If you would like to print this worksheet and work offline, download the PDF below
Here are a few steps to guide your engagement with this activity:
Start by listing the core belief/s that you have identified in the "belief" section.
Ask yourself, "what happened in my life that led me to believing this?" Your core beliefs come from the way you relate to yourself, others, and the world, based on your experiences. List relevant events in "experiences" section.
Now, turn to the "Thought" section, and list ideas, worries, opinions, expectations, and any thoughts relevant to the core belief you are working on. Your beliefs are the operating system for your thoughts.
The inner chatter in your mind directly impacts the way you feel. List your emotional state and internal reactions to these thoughts in the "Feelings" section. Don't hold back. Reference this feelings wheel if needed.
How do you act when you feel this way? List your behaviors, impulses, and external reactions in the "Actions" section.
Check back in with your experience. Look at the actions you have identified on your cycle - how are these actions serving you? What experiences are they creating? Are they simply confirming your core belief and continuing the negative cycle?
Turn to the column on the left to unlock your negative cycle. The key to interrupting your core belief cycle is slowing down your external reactions and acting differently. List in the column on the left ways you can respond to the same thoughts and feelings with different, more aligned actions.
Challenge your Core Beliefs
How do I shift my core beliefs? The answer is react differently.
The way we can interrupt the core belief cycle is by slowing down our external reactions, and responding in ways that are aligned with yourself.
If we can notice our thoughts and feelings and consciously choose to act differently, our experiences will change.
Experiences that differ from our norm will challenge and contradict our negative beliefs. This will likely be uncomfortable because core beliefs are deep rooted. Healing in this way requires openness to change and doing things differently.
If you are seeking relief from the current state of your life, you will need to make changes that differ from the way you have been moving through your life thus far.
Change your actions and experiences, and your beliefs will transform.
Conscious Unlearning Takes Practice and Time.
Now that you have unpacked your beliefs and identified practices to respect and embrace yourself, take your time to really practice.
Here are a few tips:
Notice how you feel when you act in alignment with yourself, your experience may be expansive.
Challenge your negative inner dialogue by speaking to yourself with love and understanding. Offer acceptance and care to yourself verbally and internally.
Process your feelings! Take time to feel your emotions in your body, witness yourself in each moment and allow openness to express your experience.
Practice self-trust, radical acceptance, and tolerating the discomfort that arises in the unknown.
Notice small shifts and give yourself credit. This is not easy work. Your efforts to interrupt negative cycles and heal yourself are noble.
Consider working with a therapist or coach, and get support transforming your experiences and healing from trauma.
If you want support moving beyond this Core Belief Cycle Activity, check out my latest article, "Finding New Ways of Being - Beyond the Core Belief Cycle"... or use the button below.
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Intentions Therapy is a queer-affirming and client centered virtual private practice run by Dani Sullivan, LCSW. Specializing in serving LGBTQIA+ individuals and couples, neurodivergent individuals, folks healing from complex or developmental trauma, and anyone struggling to cultivate self-love. Learn more about our services.
If you are a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and seeking healing with an emotionally nurturing small group of peers, apply for our virtual Neuroqueer Group to explore your identity and heal in connection.