Five Steps to Recovery: #4 Creating New Core Beliefs

Unconscious core beliefs can stand between you and your goal to put an end to your food, body image. When first formed, usually when you were younger and during times of transition, trauma, or emotional upheaval, core beliefs are solutions to problems you couldn’t solve—perhaps because you didn’t have the resources at the time.

Here's an example from a patient:
David and his older brother often got into fights over David’s mother being more protective of David, her youngest child. He coped by finding comfort and solace in food. As a result he struggled with food and body image issues as a child. By the time he was a teenager, he was bigger than his brother, and unconsciously he felt safer and less vulnerable when he was bigger and heavier. When his brother tried to fight with him, David was no longer afraid. As an adult, he was able to identify a core belief from his past of "bigger is better," which explained his difficulty with food obsessions and body dissatisfaction.

What are Core Beliefs?
Core beliefs are beliefs that usually formed when you were younger and during times of trauma, transition, or emotional upheaval and later became unconscious. Core beliefs represent the way you see yourself, other people, the world, and your future. Core beliefs are usually related to primal needs, such as the need for safety, attention, recognition, love, and trust, and are activated in situations that you perceive as threatening to these primal needs.

Why is it important to understand core beliefs?

Research highlights the importance of addressing these negative core beliefs; when they are not addressed, you may find it more difficult to stop unhealthy behaviors.    Negative core beliefs play an important role in the development and maintenance of the symptoms of eating disorders.  

Where do core beliefs come from?

Core beliefs come out of adverse childhood experiences or insecure attachment styles.  Sometimes core beliefs can come from a perception you have about what someone else thinks about you or from a statement made by a family member or friend that, for whatever reason, stuck with you.  Core beliefs are related to trauma, abuse, or neglect, but they can also originate from other experiences you had in your family growing up.

Below are examples some of the typical family scenarios that lead to specific beliefs:

  1. Children from explosive, abusive, or unpredictable homes may believe that they can't count on other people or that if people got to know them, they wouldn't love them.  They often feel as if they haven't lived up to their potential in life (so why try?)
  2. Children with enmeshed (overly close) relationships with parents, where their judgment is undermined or who come from overprotective homes, may believe that they can't take care of themselves and may feel incompetent or unsafe in the world.  They often feel like a failure or feel inadequate.
  3. Children from permissive and overly indulgent homes don’t learn to respect others and have poor internal limits and boundaries.  They may get easily frustrated and have trouble with impulse control, they also feel entitled to do what they want when they want.

Almost always, it’s a core belief that is in the way of achieving what you desire.

Being under the influence of core beliefs is like living in a dream. When you’re asleep and you have a vivid dream, the dream seems completely real. In order to change a core belief, you have to change your perspective (wake up from the dream). For example, David’s belief that "bigger is better" affected his marriage and his work.   When he became aware of this core belief and its effect on his adult life, he could shift his perspective and see the belief from an adult viewpoint.

When you become aware of your core beliefs, you can decide to honor their place in your life and the earlier benefit you received.


  1. Can you identify a core belief from the 3 family scenarios listed above?
  2. If you can, ask yourself whether this core belief still fits for you or is simply a remnant from your past?
  3. If it no longer fits, what is a new core belief you can put in its place?

All the best,
Dr. C