Cbt automatic thoughts core beliefs

In this blog, we will learn about the difference between automatic thoughts and core beliefs and also explore how these concepts that are found in people affect their behavior.

Are the core beliefs different than automatic thoughts?

Yes and no. While in essence, both are different concepts but since they are so closely interconnected they are often misconstrued as being interchangeable.

Core beliefs are opinions or ideas and concepts made by people about themselves and their surroundings throughout a period, after careful observations and ruminations. Whereas automatic thoughts are thoughts that randomly and involuntarily pop into people’s minds following a triggering event or situation. But it is important to note that these automatic thoughts are developed or manifested based on the core beliefs possessed by the people. 

Core Beliefs

Core beliefs are deeply embedded opinions, and assumptions we possess about ourselves, our surrounding environment and, others. These firmly established opinions drastically and shape our thoughts, perceptions and, our behaviors. It could be said that nothing is more poignant than our core beliefs because they are the root causes of many of our problems, including our automatic negative thoughts.

Core beliefs are just what the name suggests; beliefs. These core beliefs are based on our childhood assessments are most often inaccurate. Unfortunately, they are also self-fulfilling. That is they only focus on thoughts and facts that support them and reject any idea that goes against those beliefs.  Despite all these difficulties it is still possible to overcome their negative impact and change them.


The core beliefs are activated when the person is experiencing a stimulating situation. If the situation they are experiencing is negative and threatening in nature their core belief of “I am weak or useless” might get activated. On the other hand, if they are in a less dangerous or threatening situation then their core belief “I am strong or capable” is more likely to be activated. When these core beliefs surface in the person’s mind once they get activated they become absolute truths for the person experiencing them. 

Core beliefs become harmful when they are not counterbalanced by their alternate versions. As people going through depression strongly experience negative core beliefs and these beliefs are not balanced by their alternative positive counterparts. Thus, these create a harmful environment for the person’s mental state. 

Automatic Thoughts

Automatic thoughts have their roots and foundations in the beliefs that people possess about themselves and the world.  But while core beliefs are embedded deep within us automatic thoughts are surface-level.  These are the thoughts that people normally have throughout the day while they live their lives and try to deal with the various life events. In order to,  identify the automatic thoughts following questions could be asked by the therapist to help the client recall their automatic thoughts. 

  • What was going through your mind then?
  • What does this mean for you?
  • What do other people say about this?

A person experienced plenty of automatic thoughts throughout their time but not all thoughts are as important as others. Some important thoughts help us understand the client’s thinking process better than the rest of the thoughts. To help access these thoughts the therapist can encourage the client to record their thinking process to obtain a better understanding of the situation. Just as the name suggests these thoughts pop into our minds directly out of our volition and therefore cannot be controlled by people. A person cannot prevent or eliminate these thoughts as they are reflexive reactions and an outcome of the strongly established core beliefs within us. Fortunately, these thoughts can be challenged and replaced with other thoughts with the help of various techniques such as cognitive restructuring.

Research began taking interest in the concept of automatic thinking since Aaron Beck’s research into how negative automatic thoughts affect the development of depression. Not long after that researchers decided that they needed to study the positive automatic thoughts also more importantly the relationship between positive and negative automatic thoughts.

Throughout various research studies, it was found that there are a plethora of consequences caused due to negative automatic thoughts as opposed to positive automatic thoughts. 

To help understand it better let us take an example. People suffering from depression and HIV/AIDS at the same time will have negative automatic thoughts associated with depressive symptoms and vice versa. In socially anxious people negative thoughts could deteriorate their anxiety. Also through some research studies, it was found that negative automatic thoughts lead to increased mental health symptoms and reduced levels of self-esteem.  

The development of negative beliefs and thoughts

As stated earlier beliefs are deeply rooted thoughts, opinions, and observations we believe in firmly due to the countless reaffirmations carried out by us throughout our lives. 

A belief could be a very simple thought such as “Everything is hard”, or it can be a complicated web of complex thoughts and statements which culminates in the formation of a belief system. We end up affirming the beliefs without consciously being aware of them.

 If you listen to yourself you are continually making a case for the ‘rightness” of your beliefs even when those beliefs are detrimental to your happiness and well-being! Your “inner lawyer” is continually justifying and being “right” while making other beliefs “wrong”. The way to keep a belief system going is to continually affirm it and justify it and never question it.

Our self-concept also plays a major role in the development of negative beliefs and thoughts. Self-concept is the way we perceive ourselves, our experiences, abilities as well as future aspects. It consists of everything that can be used to define us. 

Someone who has a negative self-concept is prone to being sensitive about everything and might get affected easily.  They could have irrational and negative thoughts such as, “ Everybody hates me because I am not likable. 

Most importantly, a negative self-concept can lead to an unending cycle of negative thoughts.

Steps to overcome negative beliefs

Increasing Awareness of Cognitive Distortions 

By increasing our awareness about our cognitive distortions we can identify patterns in our thoughts that lead to biases. 

Identifying False Beliefs About Emotions 

By identifying false beliefs and emotions we can lessen their impact on our automatic thoughts and we can also test our emotional reaction whilst expressing certain emotions.

Identifying Limiting Beliefs about Strengths

This helps us in reexamining how we think about our strengths. Though initially, this approach might seem counterintuitive that is not the case.  This exercise helps us discover our strengths, and how we deal with them.

 One of the best techniques to eliminate negative thoughts and beliefs is cognitive restructuring. Cognitive restructuring helps in the following ways.

Cognitive restructuring

  • Identifying Distorted Thinking

The first and the most essential step in the process of cognitive restructuring is identifying negative thought processes. The root of all our dysfunctional behaviors and actions is our negative thought process that is developed due to our distorted beliefs. By getting to the root of the problem we can eliminate it. So it is necessary to identify the thoughts that are counterproductive and lead to negative consequences.

To identify negative thoughts we can rely on the ABC model of CBT.

The ABC model of CBT stands for:

A: Antecedent/Activating  Event

B: Beliefs

C: Consequences or Behavior.

According to this model, our actions and behaviors are interdependent upon our thought processes. Moreover, to, our thought process can get influenced due to the environmental factor or events surrounding us. Thus, to bring change in our behavior, it is important to understand the effects of the events, automatic negative thoughts, and emotions on our behavior. To do this we can employ some methods and techniques such as thought monitoring and recording, observation, and careful analysis.

  • Disputing Negative thoughts

By negating the harmful thought processes we can eliminate and thus prevent them from causing further harm. 

To dispute the negative thoughts the person needs to ask the following questions to oneself:

  • Are my thoughts regarding the event reasonable and valid?
  • Is there any evidence or facts that support my view?
  • What alternative reasons or perspectives could be for this particular event or situation?
  • Am I overanalyzing the situation and drawing unreasonable conclusions?
  • What will be the worst-case scenario if my reasoning and thoughts about this event are correct?
  • What steps can I take to change the event?
  • Is this the worst thing that has ever happened to me, if not, then how does this compare to that?

When the person asks these questions to themselves they can achieve clarity about the event and can attend to the matter rationally. 

  • Replacing with Positive Thoughts

The next step is the most crucial. In this step, we replace the negative thoughts that were negated or disputed with positive and enriching thoughts. These thoughts help bring about a positive change in the person and is beneficial for obtaining adaptive behaviors. 

The following are some of the examples of positive thought processes:

I am worthy

I am capable and important

Some things are not within my control and that is fine.

I am allowed to make mistakes

I am lovable

These thoughts boost an individual’s confidence and help them improve their self-image and self-esteem which is extremely necessary for a healthy mental state and life.


In this article, we learned about the difference between core beliefs and automatic thoughts and explored these concepts deeply to assess how they affect people’s lives. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can CBT change core beliefs?

Yes, the goal of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is to bring change in human behavior by altering and replacing negative thought processes and beliefs with positive and positive thought processes and beliefs. It contains several techniques and methods to achieve this goal. Therefore we can easily identify, negate and challenge our distortive thinking with the help of CBT 

Why is the concept of automatic thoughts so important in CBT?

In most instances, automatic thoughts play the largest role in determining or influencing our feelings instead of the situation itself. So the automatic thoughts that pop into our minds due to an event in a certain way maneuver our behavior based on those dealings. Hence CBT emphasizes identifying, analyzing and, evaluating these thoughts before they can negatively influence our behavior. 

Can you change your belief system?

Yes, we can definitely change our belief system. But the process is a little harder for changing beliefs systems as compared to challenging our negative automatic thoughts. The reason behind this is that the beliefs system is built over a period of time through observations and influences of our surroundings. Therefore it is very firmly ingrained in our psyche. To attempt to dislodge such a firmly established system requires efforts, patience, and the will to change. 

Where do negative core beliefs come from?

The core beliefs are a result of our past experiences, observations, and opinions of our surroundings. If our experiences have been negative or traumatic then of course the core beliefs that are born out of them will tend to be negative. These negative core beliefs can be responsible for the development of various mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorder, substance abuse, phobias, etc. 

Are automatic thoughts cognitive distortions?

Through recent research, it has been found that cognitive distortions are indeed a form of automatic thoughts that are negative and maladaptive in nature.  


5 worksheets for challenging Negative Automatic Thoughts (+PDF). PositivePsychology.com. (2021, December 6). Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://positivepsychology.com/challenging-automatic-thoughts-positive-thoughts-worksheets/

Core Beliefs, automatic thoughts and conceptualisation in CBT. Counselling Directory. (n.d.). Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/memberarticles/core-beliefs-automatic-thoughts-and-conceptualization-in-cbt

Identifying and challenging Core Beliefs: 12 helpful worksheets. PositivePsychology.com. (2021, December 6). Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://positivepsychology.com/core-beliefs-worksheets/

Uncover your core beliefs so you can change them. Eddins Counseling Group – Houston & Sugar Land, TX. (2020, August 21). Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://eddinscounseling.com/uncover-core-beliefs-can-change/ 

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