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Core Beliefs: The Hammer We Hold in Our Hand

How can you change your core beliefs when they limit you?

 Andy Gries/Pixabay
For he who holds a hammer, the whole world is a nail.
Source: Andy Gries/Pixabay

“For he who holds a hammer, the whole world is a nail.” –Abraham Maslow

Do you believe deep down you are damaged goods? That you are not worthy of love? That if you fall, no one will catch you? That wanting something is dangerous? That anger is bad?

These beliefs are called core beliefs and they shape your reality. Core beliefs are essentially the glasses you wear which give meaning to what your senses experience in the world. Core beliefs are in fact meta-beliefs; they cannot be disproved because they are all-encompassing. When you experience something that does not align with your core belief, your mind will immediately find a way to either disqualify it or interpret it as further validation to your core belief. If you have a core belief that “people only care about themselves” and you encounter a true act of loving-kindness, then you will either doubt the authenticity of the act, or you will judge that act as self-serving in some way. You will turn that experience into another “nail” that fits your core belief “hammer.”

How are core beliefs formed?

There are no bad or good core beliefs. Core beliefs are usually inherited or inferred from your family of origin implicitly and unconsciously. All core beliefs were adopted because they once protected or served you. They all have a positive intention.

How do core beliefs shape your relationships?

You attract people with similar or complementary core beliefs. Core beliefs often form the way you present yourself, that is, your “relational business card.” Your relational business card can attract people with matching or complementary relational business cards.

So in every relationship, partners implicitly and unconsciously share their core beliefs and check the compatibility with their partner’s core beliefs. The challenge comes when one partner wants to change or expand their limiting belief. When you chose your partner, you shared your core beliefs. When you try changing them, you will effectively force them to re-examine their core beliefs, which people rarely want.

When is it time to change core beliefs?

Over time, some core beliefs can turn into limiting beliefs that don’t serve you anymore. Their positive intention still exists yet the way to fulfill that positive intention might not be appropriate for your current reality. You will find yourself recreating problematic dynamics, which prevent you from achieving new individual or relational goals. If indeed it is your core beliefs that are limiting you, then it might be time to re-examine and change them.

For example, I once worked with a medical student who had a core belief that she was “damaged goods.” This core belief encouraged her to study harder to be the best student in her class. Additionally, it pushed away the distraction of romantic involvement because she believed no one would want her. Yet as she was reaching her 30s, this core belief began limiting her relational and intimate abilities. She couldn’t allow herself to feel loved by anyone because of what became her limiting core belief. Once we uncovered this core belief, she could start re-examining it and subsequently stated softening the core belief.

Source: skeeze/Pixabay

How do you change or expand core beliefs?

Changing core beliefs is hard and might take months before you see changes in your behavior. Your brain, mind, and body need time to re-wire and internalize “new” glasses. Yet with some hard work, it is possible to change these core beliefs and the benefits are well worth the effort.

  1. Choose an intimate relationship and focus on the areas where you have frequent ruptures, or where you negatively mind-read your partner. Underneath these experiences lie core beliefs.
  2. Write down all the core beliefs that arise in you. Here, you can find a long list of prompts that can help you recognize and make explicit your core beliefs.
  3. Next to every core belief, write:
    1. Where did you learn this? Is there someone in your family who had a similar (or the opposite) core belief?
    2. The positive intention of that belief. Do you still need that positive intention today? If so, can you find a more adaptive way to achieve that positive intention?
    3. Circle the core beliefs that actually limit you in your life or relationships.
    4. Try adding a question mark to those core beliefs, instead of a period or exclamation mark.
  4. Share this post with your partner. This way, you can have a shared language.
  5. Verbalize some of your core beliefs with your partner that limit you.
  6. Invite your partner to not react, encourage, or criticize you. Invite them to "let it land."
  7. Try to help each other expand core beliefs by sharing your subjective intentions to what was just interpreted by the old core belief.
  8. Expect ruptures, pushback, and regression. Change takes time, especially because your partner has matching or complementary core beliefs.

It will take hundreds of little ruptures in your core belief that will slowly help rewire your brain to realize that “no, intimacy is not dangerous” or that “I am smart.” Your brain will slowly start rewiring itself and reinterpret certain experiences. Over time, you will be able to lower the hammer, stop seeing nails, and experience a whole new world.


Dilts, R., Hallbom, T., & Smith, S. (2012). Beliefs: Pathways to health and well-being. Crown House Publishing.

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