The mind is a powerful influence on how you interact with the world. That seems obvious, but many people don’t realize that what you think often influences what you get out of life, yourself, and relationships.
This isn’t some abstract metaphysical or spiritual statement. It’s not to suggest that if you just believe hard enough, you’ll get everything you want.
It touches on “core beliefs.” Those are beliefs we have about ourselves, other people, or the world.
Core beliefs can be bad or good, neither of which is optimal. The truth is that most things are in some shade of gray. Black-and-white beliefs make it harder to interpret the subtleties of life because we just assume that an experience falls into our belief. (e.g., That person wasn’t malicious; people deep down are good.)
A negative core belief is a harmful limiting belief that influences how you interact with the world. Negative core beliefs tend to be “I” related statements (e.g., I am worthless, the world is out to get me, no one will love me) about your intangible perceptions. Trauma, mental illness, or negative life experiences often influence these beliefs.
They limit you in life because you fall into base assumptions that may not accurately reflect reality. That is a problem because you wind up limiting your ability to have the kind of life you are capable of.
In this article, we’re going to look at twenty negative core beliefs. In each, we will examine examples of how these beliefs limit you and some steps you can take to overcome them.
1. I am worthless.
A person who tells themselves they are worthless is undermining their current and future ability to succeed. If you believe that you have no value, then you may convince yourself that other people are lying when they point out your value.
People who tell themselves they are worthless may hold back from meaningfully contributing in a way that only they can because they don’t believe they have anything to offer.
How to combat this: One way to improve on this negative core belief is to focus more on a positive affirmation when you realize you are telling yourself that you’re worthless. Instead, focus on times you brought value to a situation and a reminder that you don’t have to shine in every situation. Sometimes we just participate.
2. I deserve to be miserable.
Do you deserve to be miserable? Why do you think so? Because you did some things wrong in life? Because you made some bad decisions?
Or maybe it was because other people were unkind to you when they should not have been? Abusive parents and romantic partners can convince you that you deserve to be miserable as a means of control. The idea is to make you think that you deserve all the bad things you feel so that you won’t look elsewhere.
How to combat this: Focus on thoughts like no one deserves to be miserable. Life can be hard enough as it is. Sometimes it will be, and sometimes it won’t be, but that doesn’t mean you deserve to suffer all the time or tear yourself down. Remind yourself that you are a flawed human being having a flawed human existence. You deserve happiness just like anyone else.
3. I am inadequate.
Inadequacy is feeling or telling yourself that you cannot live up to the expectations of others.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be laden with other people’s expectations. But we don’t live in a perfect world. The necessities of life will often bring expectations that we need to meet to fulfill our responsibilities and obligations. For example, if you want to be in a relationship, you’ll need to hold up your end of the relationship. If you are working, you’ll need to meet your boss’s expectations.
How to combat this: Consider the situation you’re dealing with. The truth is that we are all inadequate at what we want to do sometimes. Perhaps you find yourself in a job that isn’t like you imagined, and now you’re struggling. Maybe you got into a relationship when you weren’t mentally or emotionally healthy enough to meaningfully contribute. These things aren’t absolute. They don’t mean you are inadequate in everything now or in the future. It may just be a temporary hiccup and a call to improve.
4. I am a failure.
Failure is a word that many have a bad relationship with. “I am a failure” is sending a few different messages to yourself. That message reinforces that you don’t deserve to succeed, that you’re doomed to not succeed, and that you’re incapable of succeeding. There’s nothing wrong with healthily examining your shortcomings. However, to say “I am a failure” is much different than “I have failed at this task.”
How to combat this: Many people need to readdress their relationship with failure. Failure can mean one of two things: either an absolute end or a chance to pivot to something different. There’s no reason you need to view failing as this terrible negative thing, an end of all things. Instead, it’s much healthier to look at failure as a call to pivot onto a different path. You tried, failed, and it didn’t work out, so try something else! Simple, no?
5. I am permanently damaged.
Life is hard. We are all met with situations that may leave lasting scars. No one can avoid it, and no one can escape it. And, of course, some are far more serious than others. It would be a lie to say you won’t carry some of this harm with you for the rest of your life. Blind optimists and liars often want to convince us otherwise by pushing the idea that we can wholly heal and return to who we were before the thing. Try telling that to disabled or chronically ill people.
How to combat this: Just because you have been harmed or damaged does not mean you have to fall into that defeating mindset that you can never be better, never be more, and never be greater. Indeed, you may never be able to return to being the person you were before you experienced the damage done to you. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a way to put your pieces together and grow in a more healthy direction. That will quite likely require professional help.
6. I cannot succeed.
A negative core belief often affects the decision-making process. A person who regularly tells themselves they cannot succeed will often self-sabotage to prove themselves correct.
Some examples might include; not submitting paperwork on time that you know will cause you to lose an opportunity, not trying as hard as you should even though you know you should, and not bothering to try at all because you’re not going to succeed anyway. Why bother trying? What’s the point if I cannot succeed?
How to combat this: These behaviors can best be identified by looking at past behaviors. Examine the reasons why you didn’t succeed at things you set out to do in the past. Were there genuine reasons for them not working out? Did you not do what you were supposed to do when you were supposed to do it? What was the reason you decided to not try? Identify these things, then consider them when you set your eyes on something new. Sometimes you have to force yourself to do the thing.
7. I am a bad person.
The belief that you are a bad person may come from previous abuse, making mistakes, or making some severely bad choices in life. The truth is that most people will make a bad choice from time to time and need to deal with the consequences of it.
Sometimes the consequence is the guilt we feel for doing something wrong. Other times it might have a much larger impact that ripples through our life. For example, if you had an affair while in a relationship, that’s a bad thing, and it’s likely to cause a rippling wave of devastation to whoever it touches.
How to combat this: There’s a really easy way to know whether or not you’re a bad person. Do you feel bad about how your actions harmed other people? You do? Congratulations! You’re not a bad person. Bad people don’t give a damn about how their actions hurt others. All they care about is how they benefit and advance their own goals at the expense of whoever else. Remind yourself of that when you are tearing yourself down.
8. I can’t trust other people.
People can be difficult. Sometimes they do shady, immoral, or unethical things. “People” is a vague generalization of humanity at large. Even though some people are like that, most are not. Most are just trying to find a way to navigate life and find happiness.
You are turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy by telling yourself that you can’t trust other people at all. You will be suspicious of trustworthy people, which prevents any possibility of forming meaningful connections with others.
How to combat this: Trust is not an all-or-nothing thing. Without a well-established relationship, you shouldn’t be throwing open the doors to the deepest, darkest parts of you. It’s too much to drop onto someone you barely know or just met. Instead, extend a little trust to see what other people do with it. You can only tell if a person is trustworthy by trusting them.
9. People want to take advantage of me.
Do some people want to take advantage of you? Yes. Do all people want to take advantage of you? No.
Again, we return to the idea of absolute, black-and-white thinking. Yes, some bad people want to take and take and take. But that isn’t most people. Most people are just trying to get through their daily life and create happiness for themselves. Generally speaking, people are more interested in helping themselves than in doing harm to others. Harm may be an incidental byproduct.
A good example is the shortages that often occur during times of natural disaster or global pandemic. Everyone and their grandmother goes out to stockpile toilet paper, creating shortages for others. Do those people go out thinking, “Screw everyone else! I’m going to buy 100 packages of toilet paper so they can suffer!” No. Of course, opportunists and scalpers try to make a quick buck, but most people are trying to take care of themselves and their families.
How to combat this: Consider the situation that you’re in. Did this person purposefully set out to harm you? If yes, that’s a person to be wary of. Did this person lie to you to influence you? If yes, this person is untrustworthy. Did this person pressure you into doing something you didn’t want to do? If yes, this person does not respect boundaries. Does this person contribute anything back to you? If yes, it may have been a miscommunication or an error. Communicate with the person to try to determine what went wrong.
10. People will hurt me.
Yep. They will. This is an unavoidable fact of life. Other people will hurt you from time to time. That’s just the way it is. People are messy, chaotic creatures that don’t always make good decisions. Sometimes those decisions will directly or indirectly hurt you.
And you might say, “Well, if I don’t involve myself with people at all, then I won’t ever be hurt.” Sort of. In truth, you’re trading the potential for pain from being hurt to loneliness. Even if you’re not lonely now, humans are social creatures, and that loneliness will likely sting sooner or later.
How to combat this: Yes, people will hurt you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be engaged with other people or life. Instead, you’ll want to focus on developing healthy boundaries and coping skills so that when that hurt comes, you can overcome it. Avoiding people to avoid being hurt may protect you, but it also deprives you of any good relationships you could possibly have. When you feel like everyone is out to get you and you view people with skepticism and suspicion, it’s hard to bond with them. They will assume you’re shady or up to something, which will cause them to distance themselves.
11. People will find out I’m a fake.
Impostor syndrome is such a common challenge for people. So many people feel fake, that they don’t belong where they are, deserve what they have, or that it will all come crashing down the moment someone sees that they aren’t what they appear to be. They believe they are a fraud, phony, a deceiver that somehow managed to get where they are because no one noticed that they are an impostor.
This kind of core negative belief undermines your own skill and ability. Furthermore, it tells other people how to view you when you may not be the fairest judge of yourself.
How to combat this: The root of impostor syndrome is often a lack of self-confidence. Sure, the other person might have interpreted you correctly. It’s also possible to find yourself in a great place in life because of luck. However, neither makes you an impostor. An impostor willfully lies and manipulates to get where they want to be. And often, they wouldn’t feel bad about it at all. Remind yourself that if you didn’t lie or cheat to get where you are, you’re not an impostor. You have a right to be where you are.
12. People can’t help me.
Sometimes it’s true, sometimes it’s not. The problem is that this absolute thinking prevents people from reaching out to the people who could help them. So why bother if people can’t help me? Well, maybe they can, maybe they can’t, but you’re not going to know unless you ask and try.
How to combat this: The important thing is to have reasonable expectations. Do you have problems with yourself that you want to fix? Other people can help you, but they can’t do the work for you. People like mental health professionals, mentors, and coaches are all tools that empower you to help yourself. They can help you if you are willing to do the work to be helped. However, they cannot fix you for you.
13. I am unwanted and unlovable.
The internal narrative of telling yourself that you are unwanted and unlovable will cause you to sabotage your relationships.
The issue is that you’re forcing your view of yourself onto other people. Other people don’t like being told how to think or what to believe. Furthermore, to communicate that to others is to tell them they are wrong for having the perceptions they do. But they aren’t you. Everyone in the world, including yourself, will see you differently.
How to combat this: The roots of feeling unwanted or unlovable are often buried deep within trauma. Abusive, neglectful parents or relationships can cause you to believe these things about yourself. After all, if someone like your mother or father doesn’t want you, then there must be something wrong with you. Right? No. No, it’s their shortcoming to not love, protect, and care for their child as a well-adjusted person would. Remind yourself that it’s not your fault that the adults in your life didn’t do what they were supposed to.
14. People don’t mean the nice things they say to me.
Many people have difficulty accepting compliments or nice things being said about them. They may feel it’s either untrue or that the person has ulterior motives to be buttering them up. And sometimes, that’s true, but not always. Sometimes a person just says a nice thing to you because they see something in you that’s nice or want to acknowledge a nice thing you did.
How to combat this: Allow people to have their own opinions. Allow people to express their own opinions. A compliment can sometimes feel awkward if you are unsure of yourself. It may be that you don’t know how to receive a compliment well. Well, let’s make it super easy. All you need to do is look at the person, smile, and say, “Thank you.” That’s it. That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to compliment them back. You don’t need to turn it into a whole thing of denying the compliment. Just smile, say thank you, and move on.
Now, you may think, “But it’s uncomfortable for other people to compliment me! I want them to stop!” You’re going to be uncomfortable either way. Either from the compliment being said or from you denying it and potentially starting an argument that may cause the person to not want to associate with you further.
15. The world is dangerous.
Is the world a dangerous place? Yeah, sometimes. It’s a much worse place if you spend your time watching the news constantly or doomscrolling on social media to reinforce all the negativity in your life.
It’s important to remember that social media and news organizations need engagement to fund what they do. More eyes on their content means more advertising dollars in their pockets. And with how cutthroat the media industry is, many are more than willing to lean hard into it. The other issue is that news organizations need to do that to compete with the instantaneous nature of the internet. The first to break the story is the one that gets the traffic.
How to combat this: Look, the world can be an unkind and brutal place at times. But that doesn’t mean it always is or is a majority of the time. In fact, we live in one of the most peaceful times in history. Try reducing your consumption of news and social media. Get out and about and do some more things. Talk to some more people. You’ll find that the world isn’t so terrible.
16. The world is unfair.
Like most negative core beliefs, this one is too black and white to accurately represent what goes on. Is the world unfair? Sort of. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. People stumble into things due to luck. And sometimes everything goes to hell because of a stroke of bad luck. That belief can be reinforced when you see bad people doing bad things and seemingly being rewarded for it.
How to combat this: Is the world unfair? Not really. It’s more that the world is uncaring. Chaos can strike like a bolt of lightning out of nowhere and completely change the trajectory of your life for better or worse. Fairness implies that there is some greater arbiter doling out rewards and punishments for good or bad behavior. Looking around at the world, that certainly doesn’t seem likely. But the unfair world shouldn’t stop you from pursuing what you want out of life. Rarely will good fortune just fall into your lap. Often you need to create good fortune for yourself.
17. The world is scary.
A negative core belief that the world is scary may stem from anxiety and the overwhelming nature of existence. How is everyone not at least intimidated by the vast scale and scope of existence? Even pausing to look at the night sky can make you feel so small and inconsequential. There are so many possibilities, unknowns, and potentials that it can feel impossible to make the right decisions. And then you sprinkle the difficult nature of human beings on top of it, adding another complication.
How to combat this: The world becomes far less scary when you get out and get involved. Once you get out and about it more, you’ll see that most of the world is pretty mundane for the most part. People are just going about their day, shopping for groceries or going to and from work. You may also try disrupting these thoughts with positive, uplifting stories. Collect some stories or snippets of the world being a good place and people being kind to each other to try to balance that negative perception.
18. The universe is punishing me.
Sometimes it seems like everything just goes wrong. It doesn’t matter what you seem to do; it just doesn’t work out. Maybe you get blindsided by illness, a relationship ends, or some other thing happens that you are unprepared for. It’s easy to take it personally and feel like the universe has singled you out and is punishing you specifically, whether real or imagined.
How to combat this: As before, the universe is largely uncaring. It can’t single you out because the universe is not an intelligent entity that picks and chooses who it will punish. We humans want a direct cause-and-effect relationship. We want to know that if we do good things, we’ll receive good things; if we do bad things, then bad things happen. So good is rewarded, and evil is punished. But it’s not. Sometimes terrible and great things happen for no other reason than a turn of luck. No rhyme, no reason.
19. The world owes me something.
This negative core belief is damaging because it is a limiter. A person who feels that the world owes them something is less likely to do the work to attain what they actually want. They assume that the world will deliver the goods straight to their doorstep. But that’s not how life works. You must plant your seeds before you can reap the benefits. People who feel they are owed may feel angry that their expectations are not met and lose friends because of the complaints.
How to combat this: Remind yourself that the world owes you nothing. Figure out some goals, work on them, and don’t let your mind dwell on what you don’t have. You may attain your goals, or you may not. You may even find new goals along the way that better fit you. Still, don’t sit around angry because you’re not getting what you thought you were entitled to.
20. I don’t deserve to be happy.
Most of us want to find happiness and peace of mind. But, unfortunately, many people out there feel they don’t deserve to be happy. The reason is often rooted in trauma or mental illness. A person who feels like they don’t deserve to be happy may self-sabotage good things that come their way, not take opportunities that may be good for them, or otherwise just avoid engaging with life. It may also be that they feel comfortable in the rut. If negativity is the life you know, stepping out of that rut can be scary because you may not know what to expect.
How to combat this: Everyone deserves to create peace and happiness for themselves. Nothing in your life that you did is so wrong that it should condemn you to misery. Remind yourself of that fact when the negative opinions push in.
The truth is that many of these negative core beliefs stem from unhealthy places and traumatic circumstances. Many can be traced back to abuse, neglect, or childhood trauma.
Therefore, there’s a good chance that the practices we offered in this article will only provide temporary benefits to manage that particular negative core belief. It would be a good idea to consult with a certified mental health professional to get to the root of these beliefs, so you can change them and live the kind of life you want.