beliefs are the foundation of our belief system, and our health and emotional wellbeing are affected when our core beliefs are conflicted. They are the enduring fundamental self-values and understandings formed by childhood experiences, innate disposition and cultural influences that establish our relationship with the world. These understandings are not correct or inaccurate; they are implicit fundamental beliefs about our self, which may or may not be factual. They are our interpretations and evaluations of our experiences and our learning, subject to influence. For example, we might have a rooted sense of unlovability or incompetence. A core belief rooted in defectiveness could be, I’m a failure, and everybody knows I’m a failure; abandonment, I’ll never find anyone; powerlessness, I’m weak; unlovability, I don’t matter (Ross, 2019).
Using abandonment as an example, the baby/toddler’s felt experience of being abandoned establishes the pattern. The event of abandonment could be perceptually insignificant: a parent interrupting quality time to answer the phone could trigger in the baby/child a core belief rooted in abandonment. Core beliefs influence the development of intermediate beliefs―attitudes, rules, and assumptions that affect one’s overall perspective, which in turn influences thought and behavior (Wong, Moulds, & Rapee, 2013).
Of the three early contributors to your belief system, innate disposition creates the most debate. The words combined imply that humans are born with certain inherent qualities of mind and character. Buddhism claims it’s the consequence of reincarnation, Augustine coined the term ‘original sin,’ and Plato credited the undying soul passing certain truths and qualities from one body to the next. This paper supports the rational explanation of many developmental psychologists: beliefs are learned, beginning with the experiences of the baby and the symbolic awareness of the toddler. It is emotional-based learning contributing to core beliefs that are difficult to influence or change, unlike cognizant beliefs which can be modified or supplanted by logic and reasoning (Piaget, 1971).
Cumulative evidence that a toxic childhood leads to emotional complications has been well-established, as has the recognition of childhood and adolescent exploitation is a primary causal factor in lifetime emotional instability. The onset of most mental illness generally happens to the abused adolescent. For example, of the ten personality disorders in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), early-onset is characteristic of each except for narcissistic personality disorder where adolescent infection is less common. Schizoid and schizotypal personality disorders onset during adolescence 69% of the time, and avoidant personality disorder onsets at any age (ADAA, 2019; Baron, Gruen, Asnis, & Kane, 1983; Bressert, 2019; DPD, 2007). Child/adolescent abuse through detachment, exploitation, and or abandonment can impel the subject to experience chronic depression, anxiety, and feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and unworthiness; repetitive patterns of shallow relationships; a general disregard or apathy for the feelings, rights, and welfare of others; an inability to trust; and enhanced aggressiveness (Steele, 1995). Add to these, feelings of insecurity, the loss of control over life, and a resistance to new experiences. Childhood abuse and neglect “increases the risk for developing depression” (Haddad & Haddad, 2015, p.2) and factors prominently in mental illness (Mullen, 2019)
Maslow’s five-stage model was expanded in in the 1960s and 1970s adding cognitive, aesthetic and transcendence stages. Each is beyond (and subject to, in theory) the need to satisfy esteem; they do not affect our model.
The future psychological complication infects the abused child/adolescent then lays dormant until its symptoms manifest in the adult. The abuse affects the physiological and safety needs, the sense of belonging, and the experience of loving and being loved. The symptoms of the illness and the developmental deficiencies form a symbiotic relationship within the process. Not only is the adolescent/child infected with a potential mental illness because of abuse, but satisfying the need for esteem is obstructed, providing limited access to his or her positive self-qualities. Recognizing the likelihood that symptoms of a future mental illness are gestating in the abused adolescent/child opens new avenues for early medical intervention.
The points we’re making here are that you are not responsible for events that happened in your childhood. You’re only held accountable if you don’t do anything about it now.
© 2018. Revised 3 November 2019
ADAA. (2019). Facts and Statistics. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics. Accessed 12 November 2019.
Baron, M., Gruen, R., Asnis, l., Kane, J. (1983). Age-of-onset in schizophrenia and schizotypal disorders.Clinical and genetic implications. Neuropsychobiology,10(4):199-204 (1983). doi:10.1159/000118011Bressert, S. (2019). Narcissistic Personality Disorder. PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/disorders/narcissistic-personality-disorder/. Accessed 3 November 2019.
DPD. (2007). Dependent personality disorder. Harvard Health Online.https://www.health.harvard.edu/ newsletter_article/ Dependent_personality_disorder. Accessed 7 November 2017.
Haddad, P., & Haddad, I. (2015). Mental Health Stigma. British Association for Psychopharmacology. https://www.bap.org.uk/articles/mental-health-stigma/. Accessed 16 November 2019.
Maslow, A. (1954). Motivations and Personality. New York City: Harper & Brothers; Early edition.
Mayoclinic. (2017). Personality Disorders. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/personality-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20354463. Accessed 25 July 2019.
NAMI. (2019a). Mental Health by the Numbers. National Alliance on Mental Health. https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers Accessed 7 November 2019.
Piaget, J. (1971). Psychology and Epistemology. (A. Rosin, Trans.). New York City: Grossman Publishers.
Ross, B. (2011). Cognitive Therapy 101: Core Beliefs. Ross Psychology. http://rosspsychology.com/blog/cognitive-therapy-101-core-beliefs Accessed 13 December 2019.
Steele, B. F. (1995). The Psychology of Child Abuse. Family Advocate, 17 (3), 29-23.
Vanderheiden, E., & Mayer, C.-H. (2017). An introduction to the value of shame―Exploring a health resource in cultural contexts. In E. Vanderheiden, C-H. Mayer (Eds.) The Value of Shame. Exploring a Health Resource in Cultural Contexts (pp, 1-42). New York City: Springer Publishing. doi:
Wong, Q.L.L., Moulds, M., Rapee, R.M. (2013). Validation of the Self-Beliefs Related to Social Anxiety Scale. Assessment 21(3): 300-311 (2018). doi:10.1177/1073191113485120.