Core beliefs about relationships play an important role in the development and maintenance of psychological and behavioral health issues. This impact is partly because of the central importance that social connection has for the general well-being of humans; when our relationships are dysfunctional or nonexistent, we tend to suffer in all areas of our lives.
Dysfunctional core beliefs about relationships often show up as unresolved wounds from our early development that trigger overwhelming emotional responses into adulthood. It is why we often lash out, withdraw, refuse to take accountability or simply avoid relationships altogether. For those with dysfunctional core beliefs that have not been resolved or revised to reflect healthier views, relationships can be a minefield of pain, intensity and even re-traumatization.
For patients with interpersonal problems, identifying the core belief that is being triggered and helping patients to develop new ways of responding to the often intense emotional reactions that occur when triggered, can yield significant improvements. By learning to respond differently, patients may even be able to revise their dysfunctional core beliefs to reflect healthier relationship dynamics.
The following are some of the common core beliefs that show up in relationships.This list makes a useful guide for therapists interested in assessing clients’ core beliefs and understanding interpersonal problems in a new way.
Common Core Beliefs
1.People always abandon me.
When clients have had repeated experiences of real of perceived abandonment in early developmental years, they can become easily triggered in adulthood through relationships with unpredictable, unreliable, unstable or unavailable people.
For the person with a fear of abandonment of unreliability, a partner or friend who is unstable, unreliable or unpredictable will often trigger feelings of anger or rage, fear and overwhelming grief. Such experiences can be not only triggering but even re-traumatizing for those with unresolved relational trauma rooted in abandonment from early years.
Needless to say, it’s important for patients with core beliefs about abandonment to understand where their beliefs come from, how true they are in general, and how to work with the associated feelings when they arise.
2. People cannot be trusted.
It’s common to hear patients say that they have “trust issues,” but it’s up to you to determine the depth and extent to which their ability or inability to trust gets in the way of healthy relationships.
Adults who did not have caregivers that they could trust as children—whether to protect them, provide for them, tell them the truth or otherwise—often find themselves in similar relationships as adults. The core belief that people cannot be trusted shows up as a chronic belief that others, no matter how well-meaning, are bound to hurt or betray them.
Paradoxically, people with this core belief may find themselves repeatedly attracted to those who confirm their beliefs that others cannot be trusted. Alternatively, they may sabotage relationships with those who are, in fact, worthy of their trust.
3. Others aren’t able to meet my emotional needs.
Adults who did not have their emotional needs met as children because of their caregivers’ emotional unavailability or intimacy challenges, often carry the core belief that it is simply not possible for others to meet their emotional needs.
As a result, such adults may be attracted to relationships in which this belief is confirmed and reinforced, for example through emotional unavailability, physical absence or impossible circumstances that make intimacy impossible. Adults with the belief that others are unable to meet their emotional needs may find themselves habitually choosing relationships with those who have attachment styles or levels of physical availability that are incompatible with their own deep craving for closeness.
Though these kinds of relationships will be extremely triggering and painful for the person with this core belief, they will often be returned to again and again until the root cause of this belief is addressed.
4. There’s something wrong with me.
Adults with the core belief that they are somehow broken or unredeemable are often terrified of intimacy and closeness and unable to forge lasting, healthy relationships. As an adult with this core belief begins to get closer to another person, he or she may feel inundated with shame, fear and even anger at the thought of being exposed as defective and broken.
Though at their core these adults believe there is something wrong with them, they will be triggered at the slightest hint of criticism or rejection by others. Because they often have a difficult time accepting blame for wrongdoing or being held accountable for their mistakes, they will often pull away from the other person in such a way that stifles intimacy and inhibits any potential for healthy conflict or break and repair.
5. My needs are more important than others’ needs.
People who learned at a young age that their needs were more important than anyone else’s tend to struggle in adult relationships. A core belief of entitlement and superiority can make it almost impossible to maintain a relationship that is based on mutual respect, accountability and consideration for the needs of others as well as one’s own.
Adults who carry a core belief that their needs are more important than others’ needs often attract partners who struggle with other core beliefs that lead to unhealthy relationship behavior such as the belief that there is something wrong with them or that it is virtually impossible for others to meet their needs. Such lopsided relationships are bound to breed resentment, dissatisfaction and dysfunction.