Core Beliefs and Cognitive Templates

A template is a pattern or gauge used in constructing or measuring something. A cognitive template or core belief is like a code we mentally design to make our environment comprehensible. These fundamental concepts reside beneath conscious awareness, but they help shape a person’s perception of reality and determine his life choices, influencing and reinforcing the interpretation of experience. The power of cognitive templates is evidenced by the fact that rather than changing them to more accurately reflect the way things now are, most people tend to continue misperceiving present events so they will fit with past core beliefs.

Negative templates develop when we are young. A child innately seeks to understand the world around him, but when he is exposed to confusing or traumatic experiences and given either no explanation or inaccurate information, he formulates his own faulty worldview based on distortions and untruths (1 Corinthians 13: 11 BIBLE). For example, in the case of their parents’ divorce children always blame themselves.

By approaching life according to these defective patterns the youth has the impression he understands clearly, when in reality he is ignoring or misinterpreting events in the here and now. In depth counseling we help the recipient strip away unhealthy destructive or defensive templates to see truth more accurately and more completely.

Lies also can form core beliefs when others repetitively mislead us, whether deliberately or through ignorance. Abusers often intentionally deceive their victims to protect themselves from being exposed. They say, for instance, “If you try to tell your mother, she will never believe you”. In addition, untruths can shape life themes through demonic influence. Satan is the “father of lies” (John 8: 44 BIBLE).

Core beliefs or cognitive templates tend to fall into certain clusters, which can be loosely categorized for purpose of identification. Each collection is strongly influenced both by inborn temperament traits and early experience. Specific defensive behaviors are typical of each cluster.

In the first group of false core beliefs are convictions held by persons who believe they are no good alone, that life is not worth living unless someone loves me. Persistently feeling inadequate and guilty, those who are dominated by this set of templates blame themselves unnecessarily for situations beyond their control. As a result, such individuals become people pleasers, conforming to others’ wishes and avoiding assertive action in order to keep from rejection. They find themselves caught in the dependency/co-dependency cycle, to the detriment of their true identities. God tends to be seen as distant, inaccessible, and disapproving.

Second in classification are core beliefs that one is accepted only on the basis of performance; this results in compulsivity. These individuals govern their behavior according to what they believe they should do in order to be loved. They may say to themselves, “Perfection is the only acceptable standard for me”, or “I should be able to satisfy all my own needs”, or “I should be competent at all times.”

Such people can give to others, but have a hard time receiving because they feel they don’t“deserve” love. This makes it hard to accept God’s love as well, and often they feel isolated and alone. Compulsivity templates produce anxiety reactions, eating disorders, and other addictions. Being driven by a performance-oriented way of thinking prevents intimacy with a gracious God, who is seen as perpetually disappointed, always expecting more.

Confronting compulsivity core beliefs and their attendant lies may be particularly difficult in our society, where self-esteem based on earned approval is highly valued. In Matthew 20: 1-16 BIBLE, Jesus tells a parable emphasizing the inadequacy of this type of mindset. In the story, a landowner sends workers to his vineyard at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., and 5 p.m. At the end of the day all the workers are called in and paid the same, whether they worked one hour or twelve. When those who worked twelve hours grumble, the owner responds, “I have the right to do what I want with my money. I can be generous with whomever I desire.” Jesus’ point is clear: Our earning mentality does not help us understand a gracious God.

The third cluster of core beliefs relates to control of self or others. Individuals governing their lives by these lies are disciplined and hard working, yet constantly fearful of losing their grip. When the control cork pops off, they become unpredictable and impulsive.Whether intent on keeping their own feelings down or holding others in line, people driven by control needs can be difficult to work or live with. They may seek counseling for employment problems. Their spouses may want marriage intervention or demand they go through anger management. These people tend to see God as angry and judgmental.

Cognitive templates are influenced by a person’s inborn temperament tendencies in yet another way. The demonic often seems to hone in on innate imperfections by using difficult events in childhood, then taking a trait and distorting it into a defensive posture. For example, an individual with intrinsic high needs in the control area may be subject to violent authoritarian abuse from a father who never reinforces his developing competence. As a result, the young person’s natural tendencies to want control are perverted and turned inward. He may believe, “I am worthless unless I can control everything and everyone around me”.

Healing Faulty Core Beliefs

Faulty core beliefs are usually addressed after the content of root memories has been processed. Untruths are exposed at this time by questioning, “What are the lies you believed?” To precisely pin down foundational untruths, we often formulate an identity statement based on what has been revealed, offering it to the individual for him to rate on a scale of one to ten.

As a result of what the person has already said, we suggest a possible cognitive template. For instance, we might offer something like this: “On a scale of one to ten, one being totally false, and ten being totally true, how would you rate this statement: I am bad because I am stupid and incompetent, and because of that, nothing I ever do will make me good enough for people to love me”?

By this time the counselee is already acquainted with his hidden emotions and has at least begun to release them. Therefore, when a possible identity statement is presented, the person almost always unambiguously answers with a specific number.If the sentence rates less than a ten, we keep “tweaking” it with the individual until it feels very accurate to him.

Intellectually oriented people may need some time to consider the full impact of the core belief they have confessed. Sometimes we write verbatim the statement rated ten by the affected person, then give it to him so he can deliberately consider how it may be false. Next time we meet, before beginning the session I may invite the injured individual to share insights he has gained after having reflected on the accuracy and truth of his cognitive template.

Now we can explore in particular the reasons a core belief is counterfeit. When the individual is ready to remove the untruth from her heart, we ask that she close her eyes and allow a moment to feel the full effect of its impact on her life. Then we request her to stop and look within her being for a truth to replace the previously identified “10” statement.

If the sufferer is able to report a new idea that she just “heard” or perceived, and which her heart accepts as authentic, we  encourage her to reject and renounce the old lie verbally, then confess the new positive cognitive template for her life.

Sometimes people resist the truth, clinging hard to false identities upheld by well-formed hidden cognitive templates. If that is so, we challenge the validity of core beliefs by utilizing certain methods.

One technique is to talk them through a self-judging statement and rate it on a continuum. For example, if a perfectionist states he is worthless because of being unable to fix his car or maintain a spotless house, we ask him to rate his behavior on a scale from one to ten, in comparison with other possible violations such as child molestation or ax murdering. This helps him confront the truth that though he is not perfect, nor even as good as he would like, he is still not “worthless” as his belief insists.

Another tool for evaluating a core lie is to use logical analysis in breaking a person out of circular thinking. An illustration of such self-defeating false reasoning is the statement “I’m only loved when I have sex with men, so I always have to seek sex with men to prove I am lovable.”

Still another procedure is to reverse the negative cognitive template. If a person says, “I am worthless unless I can please everyone”, we may ask, “What if you have worth and you can’t please everyone? How will your life be different if your worth does not come from pleasing everyone, and what would be the basis for your worth then?”

When negative cognitive templates are exposed, demons that can be compared to rats nesting on garbage may be activated. Often unclean spirits leave spontaneously because their environment, figuratively located in dark wounded areas of the heart, has been brought into the light and cleansed by truth.

Deep healing comes to the wounded individual when the lie previously held in darkness is exposed and is changed to a life-affirming truth, in historical context. After negative cognitive templates are revealed and transformed, individuals have reported peace and control in areas of previous obsession and torment.