A core belief is a general truth you believe about yourself, others, or the world. It’s the lens through which you see and interpret your experiences. Have you ever been in the same situation with a family member or friend, but had different interpretations and experiences of what transpired or what the event meant? That’s because the lenses, the core beliefs ,through which you view the world, are unique to you and your experiences.
Core beliefs can develop when we have repeated, similar experiences, or when we have single, impactful experiences that shape our views of ourselves or others. They can be positive, negative, or neutral attributions. Typically, the negative core beliefs we hold are the ones that perpetuate our pain and suffering.
Now that we have a general understanding of a core belief, let’s dive into why this topic is pertinent for people of South Asian identities. I’m going to focus here on two core beliefs that I have observed in my interactions with many South Asian folks. Please note that there are many more core beliefs that exist (visit this link for a more comprehensive list).
Two Common Core Beliefs in People of South Asian Descent
In many South Asian cultures, it’s often accepted that people have the right to tell you what you should and shouldn’t be. We often hear comments from both strangers and loved ones about how we should be lighter-skinned, prettier, skinnier, smarter, or less outspoken. The list goes on. We may internalize these beliefs such that if we are constantly being told to be more or less of something, we may feel like we are not enough just as we are. This can elicit the negative core belief: “I am not enough.”
This idea may be further perpetuated for those of us who live in Western societies. For example, we may hear comments about how we don’t speak our ethnic language well enough, and at the same time told that we don’t speak English well enough. Or, we may find ourselves in situations where we don’t fit in. Have you ever eaten with a group of Western folks and been the only one using your hands, rather than a fork and knife, to eat your food? Meanwhile, have you been reprimanded for using a fork and knife while at home, being told that “that’s not how we do things?” Experiences like this may make us feel like we are neither South Asian enough nor Western enough. We may question whether and where we really belong. These experiences can also feed into negative core beliefs such as “I am not enough” and “I don’t belong.”
When we feel as though we are not enough or do not belong, we may make efforts to change ourselves so that we become enough or so that we will belong. For example, we may use Fair and Lovely products or avoid going into the sun so we can have a lighter complexion and be more attractive to others. We may diet and exercise with the aim of developing the type of body that is viewed as good enough to attract a future spouse and their families. We may study subjects that bring financial wealth but bring us no internal happiness to appear smart and wealthy enough for others’ acknowledgement and love. We may shy away from embracing our ethnic culture, like eating with our hands, to belong with our Caucasian friends. We may hide parts of our lives, such as dating, from our families to fit into our ethnic culture and not bring shame to our families- so that we may be enough for our families and belong to them.
The truth is, these efforts, as well intentioned as they are, will never make us feel like we are enough or like we belong. The core beliefs that we are not enough or do not belong (amongst the other core beliefs that we hold) are so internalized, that it is the lens through which we will continue to see our experiences. To feel like we are enough, to feel like we belong, we must do the difficult work of challenging our core beliefs and internalizing healthier, alternative ones, like “I am enough” and “I belong.”
How do you challenge your core beliefs?
It takes a lot of practice to understand what your core beliefs are and how they show up in your day to day life. To really start exploring this, it’s best to work with a therapist who can help you use therapeutic tools, such as a Downward Arrow, to identify and work through your experiences and how they have impacted the core beliefs you hold. Once you are able to identify your negative core beliefs, you can work on challenging them.