002: Core Limiting Beliefs

There is a hierarchy in our negative thoughts: Automatic Thoughts, Conditional Assumptions (or Rules), and Core Beliefs (or Core Limiting Beliefs). Those form the foundation of our identity. They are the central beliefs that we maintain about ourselves, others and the world. We have mentioned this hierarchy in the previous episode.

In this episode, we explore more closely how to uncover the Core Beliefs, especially Core Limiting Beliefs about ourselves. These belong in two domains: competency and desirability.

Examples of Core Beliefs that reflect incompetency are:

  • I am incompetent
  • I am a failure
  • I am weak
  • I am not good enough
  • I am inferior
  • I am dumb

Examples of Core Beliefs that reflect undesirability are:

  • I am undesirable
  • I am unattractive
  • I am unlovable
  • I am unlikable
  • I am bad
  • I am worthless

You can think of Core Beliefs as a pair of sunglasses. We may forget that we’re wearing them on our nose, but they still color the way we see the world:


In the handout, you’ll find a sample list of common Core Beliefs—see if some of them apply to you. You’ll also learn how to uncover some of your Core Beliefs, especially when they are hard to find. It uses a technique called the Downward Arrow.

Questions used in the Downward Arrow:

“What does that mean? Why is that upsetting to you?”
“What does that mean about you (or others, or the world)?”
“If that’s true, what’s so bad about it?”
“What’s the worst part about this?”
“So what if this is true? What are you afraid would happen?”
“How is that a problem for you?”

Find the Core Belief(s) underlying your Automatic Thoughts, and challenge it (them) by finding contradicting evidence.

5 thoughts on “002: Core Limiting Beliefs

  1. Hi, Dr. Nye. I’m a long-time follower of Dr. David Burns. It’s good to hear your voice again. I receive David’s podcasts automatically in my inbox. I’m no computer wiz-kid. Please tell me exactly how to subscribe to your podcasts. Thank you. Dominic A. Rolla …….rollad@sbcglobal.net Now that I’ve filled in the details below, I got my answers. 🙂 By the way, the sound quality for your podcasts is exceptional. THANK YOU ! It’s wonderful to hear all of the initial basics again like a kind of refresher course. It should help to make me continue to be…………………FEELING GOOD . 🙂 ……………………………Dominic


    1. Hi Dominic,
      Thank you so much for your comment. Surprisingly, perhaps, the podcast is recorded using the built-in microphone in my brand new MacBook Pro. I tried a few different microphones, but found that the computer itself was a better recording device! You’ll notice that these “basics” go a little beyond the TEAM model (or Feeling Great therapy, as they want to call it now). Keep feeling good!!! ~Fabrice


  2. Hi, Dr. Fabrice. One question I have about the uncovering core beliefs tool “The downward arrow”, is related to how you and Dr. Burns explained it on one podcast from the “feeling good podcast” (episode 39, link: https://feelinggood.com/2017/05/29/039-uncovering-techniques/).
    On that podcast you worked with a patient’s DML and used “the Downward arrow” to uncover beliefs using the list of 23 Common Self-Defeating Beliefs (https://feelinggood.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/d3194-common-self-defeating-beliefs-version-3.pdf) to do that.
    My question is how do you find out the core beliefs with the list of common self-defeating beliefs when do one find two of them on one of your answers to the questions of the technique? what I mean is how can you find the core beliefs(“I have nothing to offer” from your list) when you find 2 or more common self-beliefs?
    For example on that podcast, you and Dr Burns find that on some of the answers to the technique find multiple common beliefs; one was “I’d be worthless and all alone” and you find that “approval addiction”, “love addiction” and ” Worthlessness” are the self-defeating beliefs, so how can I transform them to one on your list (3 in this case)?

    Maybe I’m getting ahead of what you have planned, but it would really great if you talk about this on future podcast. Thank you.


    1. Hi Frances, thank you so much for your question. This would be a great one for a future episode on uncovering techniques, especially the Downward Arrow. I will make sure when I address it to bring up David Burns’s list of 23 Common Self-Defeating Beliefs. The keyword, here, is “common.” There can be infinite variations on the basic decisions people have made about life.


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