Unhelpful Core Beliefs as a Result of Childhood Trauma

This post touches child sexual abuse

and contains images that may be

distressing to those with eating disorders.






I could write you a thousand word (or more!) essay on core beliefs, and although that would be interesting, it would be every so slightly dry and a tad boring. This blog is my story. I try to educate and inform as I write, but each post is filled with my own thoughts, feelings and experiences.

I have to start with a definition of core beliefs. What are they? I think the term can seem a bit obscure and hard to understand. The way I think of core beliefs – they’re those beliefs about yourself that underly how you think, feel, and behave. Even that seems a bit confusing!

In 2005 my psychologist at the time handed me a wad of papers stapled together entitled ‘Core Beliefs’. I didn’t do a huge amount of work on it back then, but it did provide me with some useful information. This ‘wad of paper’ was produced by the Centre for Clinical Interventions and provides workbooks on a range of different topics for anyone to download, print, and use. In the Panic Stations workbook (designed for people struggling with panic attacks) Module 8 is entitled Core Beliefs.

CCI describe core beliefs as ‘…the very essence of how we see ourselves.‘ So when you take away all the surface stuff, peel back the layers, you’re left with core beliefs. To expand on this – I tend to come across as a fairly confident, patient, kind, caring person. That also fits with what friends and family think of me. When I have a think about who I am, positive character traits, and what makes me me, I begin to struggle. I don’t believe all of the positive stuff. I tend to go along with it and do my best to ignore how truly terrible I feel about myself.

This is something I’m currently struggling with. I think the true struggle is the conflict between my core beliefs and what everyone else sees. Mostly this is something I ignore. I push away all of my negative beliefs, push away all the niceness that others seem to throw at me. Ignoring it never works very well.

The conflict between my core beliefs and the positivity that others see has been coming out in journaling and drawing. Excuse the shadows on the pages – my journal got wet so the pages are dry but wrinkled.These pictures show some of what I think about myself. They’re all related to the eating disorder thoughts and behaviours I’m currently struggling with, but also perfectly illustrate my core beliefs.

Not Enough_ Core Beliefs_Self-esteem_1




Not Enough_ Core Beliefs_Self-esteem


Not Enough_ Core Beliefs_Self-esteem_3


I think that most people who know me would be a little shocked about just how much I detest myself. If a friend were to show me something similar I’d only want to love and care about them even more. It would make me so sad to think that a friend was unable to see what a beautiful, amazing, loving, kind, caring person they were.

In the Panic Stations workbook CCI offer an explanation for the development of core beliefs –

Core beliefs…develop over time, usually from childhood and through the experience of significant life events or particular life circumstances. Core beliefs are strongly-held, rigid, and inflexible beliefs that are maintained by the tendency to focus on information that supports the belief and ignoring evidence that contradicts it.

I grew up in an unsafe environment. I wasn’t honoured, respected, loved, and cherished as a child should be. I was eighteen years old before I was out of that environment. I returned briefly, but left for good soon after my nineteenth birthday. Contemplating the circumstances that I grew up in is overwhelmingly sad, and not something I’ll delve into here. It’s enough to say that, given those circumstances, it’s no wonder I feel so terrible about myself.

Where to from here? What do you do about unhelpful core beliefs?

I don’t have an answer. I’m wading my way through a mess of conflicting thoughts, and painful emotions. For me, I think the next part of my journey is about acceptance. Accepting that I was sexually abused as a child. Taking steps towards accepting my past will allow me to understand how my core beliefs developed. Those beliefs are understandable, and make perfect sense given my past, but that doesn’t mean they’re true.

8 thoughts on “Unhelpful Core Beliefs as a Result of Childhood Trauma

  1. I love this. It helps to realize that there is a cause to my negativity and not something I was just born with. That it can be overcome. May I ask, do all of your alter parts have an eating disorder? I hope that things are in a good place for you with your ED, I know first hand the hell that it is x

    • I honestly don’t think people are born with such intense negativity and self hatred, but an unsafe and abusive childhood can certainly cause it.

      There are only a few parts with an ED, and it’s not something we struggle with 24/7. It flares up in relation to stress and other triggers.

  2. Core-beliefs are something we grow up with….It is how significant others (parents) viewed us as infants and children–It can be just being looked at with distaste , with impatience ,with anger etc.As children we internalize our world and often learn to identify with the abuser .When they look at you with displeasure you will learn to see yourself with displeasure .
    It is hard to overcome your inner parents ..

  3. It helps to know others struggle with core beliefs too! I have been working on identifying and changing my core beliefs for….about 10 years! Has anyone had success in changing core beliefs? I have come to rely on the observations of people I trust, like a mirror, so I don’t get mired in the negativity. But those observations are much different from what I believe about myself.

  4. My core beliefs have been almost totally different from what actually happened in my childhood, teenage and even later years. I had a story, and a firm belief, my life had been ordinary and the trauma of constant severe emotional and physical abuse and neglect, and some, then repeated, sexual abuse did not matter. I had no adult to trust and provide comfort, explanation or support. When I became an adult I could not understand why I felt so ghastly when there was no reason for this. After all nothing of any great consequence happened. It has been difficult to reconcile knowing many, many awful things happened with trying to make my life ‘ordinary’. I thought being anorexic would help as I was smaller and, to me, not so noticeable. Then eventually I developed bulimia where every time I threw up I felt like I was getting rid of the awfulness of the men who intruded into me by raping me. However, it did not make anything better. And at the same time I had to hold on to my core belief there was nothing the matter. At worst I thought I was overreacting. I even did not realise I had bulimia despite throwing up at least several times every day. I firmly held on to my core belief of all being OK despite my eating disorder, my having what I saw as some ‘problems’ with time (i.e. completely loosing track of the consistency of time, and sometimes, even loosing track of where I was). I often, and still do, feel so terrible I cannot move, or even think, properly. To keep my core belief I decided I just was not trying hard enough! This is still difficult for me, but at least I now have some insight and sometimes I have even felt somewhat settled and hopeful for the future. This has happened because I have a very knowledgeable, helpful and resilient psychiatrist, a wonderful psychologist and lots of my own persistence.

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