Core Lies vs. Derivative Lies

July 21, 2005

To the Reader. Definition: Lie-based thinking is an assumption of fact, gathered by a person in childhood, which is still believed by the person when they reach adulthood. In this context, it is lie-based thinking for one of three reasons: 1. It is not a complete truth (eg. believing that because Mom got angry at you she will always be angry at you). 2. It is a leap of illogic (eg. believing that because an adult molested you, it means this wicked adult chose you because they knew you also were wicked). 3. It is based on lack of experience (eg. Being ridiculed at school for big ears and assuming this means that all kids everywhere hate you…experience will eventually teach you differently).

As our counseling staff wrestles with lie-based thinking on a regular basis, we often identify two manifestations of lies: Core lies and Derivative lies. I was asked by several clients (and regular readers of this blog) to give adequate definitions of both.

A core lie is the very essence of what messes up a child’s thinking. A derivative lie is what that lie becomes in an adult. The derivative is a morphed and personalized form of the core. One example should suffice to show the nature of both. Note: This is not an actual case history. In some senses this is a common composite of many people. If you see any similarity, it is truly coincidental. Better yet, if you see any similarity, contact one of our counselors.

Let’s say a young girl likes to read and spend time by herself. She likes to do this because it is part of her quiet nature. Her mother, an ex-college-athlete wants her to pursue a more active lifestyle and constantly prods her to go outside and play in the playground. She humors her mother and goes outside to play, but eventually just goes on the swing and swings for an hour thinking of stories she would like to write when she grows up. Her mother, looking out the window, sees the little girl just swinging all by herself and is worried. She is worried the girl will never learn to play with others and be on a team when she gets older. So she rushes down to the playground and scolds the little girl for playing by herself. “Do you want the other girls to think you’re unfriendly? Do you want them to hate you forever? That’s not the way to make friends.” So the little girl plays as best she can with the other girls and they all seem to enjoy one another. But that night, as she sits in bed and can’t sleep, a fear is beginning to creep over her. “Don’t the other girls like me? Maybe I won’t have any friends. Maybe I don’t have any friends. Why don’t I have any friends?” This is a core lie. It is one of the eight core lies that we all face (more about what those are in a few paragraphs). This core lie says “There is something wrong with me”. It is a shame lie.

How does that morph into an adult derivative lie? I am assuming that this little girl has chosen to hold onto this lie in the face of evidence to the contrary. Now she is a grown woman, married with three kids. She is a successful dental assistant and loves her husband and family very much. She gets involved in many clubs and organizations and seems to have an endless stream of activities around her. But at the same time, she is always tired. However, when she thinks about letting some of her responsibilities go, she finds this panic begin to form in her. So she never says no to anyone, and never drops a single group she has joined. Eventually she has a nervous breakdown and has to be hospitalized. The derivative lie says she cannot ever let anyone down.

How are the core lie and the derivative lie connected? I don’t really know. That is to say, I don’t know the mechanics exactly of how one became the other. But I can see the connection vaguely. The little girl who feared she would never have friends decided that the only way to ensure that she would have friends was to make herself invaluable to everyone. That way, some of them would count her as a friend. But when this became too much for her, everything gave way, and her house of cards (built upon a lie) came crashing down.

There are eight core lies. Each of them has thousands of possible derivatives in adulthood.

1. I will never be loved. (unlovable lie)
2. There is something wrong with me (shame lie)
3. I will never be clean or acceptable (tainted lie)
4. I am afraid and nothing can allay that fear (fear lie)
5. I don’t need anyone (independence lie)
6. Everyone will leave me or I will never fit in (abandonment lies)
7. I am powerless to change things (helpless lie)
8. There is no hope (hopeless lie)

It is rare that people think about these core lies in their adult years. That is not to say that these particular lies don’t go through the minds of people. But, it is more common for people to allow these lies to morph into more acceptable and sometimes more bizarre shapes in the adult years. Let’s take one of them and look at some variations.

“There is something wrong with me” is the second most common lie behind the Unlovable lie. It can show up any number of ways. “I am stupid”, “I will never get that promotion”, “I look fat”, “My boobs are too small”, “I need a toupee”, “My teams never win”…etc., etc. There can even be some really spiritual sounding versions: “I am content to do that menial job at the Church” (because I really couldn’t do anything important anyway), “This is just the way life goes, and I have to learn to accept it” (for me that is…everyone else sees answers to prayer).
I could go on and on, but you see the point.

Derivative lies cannot be “unthought”. You can’t outwit yourself. The derivative must be traced back to its core before the healing can begin.



  1. Thanks for posting this; I needed a refresher.

  2. There are times I think I have all of these core lies. But then there are times when I don’t have any of them. Can a core lie come and go?

  3. Samantha:
    There are moments when all of these lies insinuate themselves to our minds. But we see them for what they are: Lies. Lie-based thinking does not feel like a lie, or we would recognize it as such. It feels awfully true. For example: If I believe that every valuable person in my life will ultimately leave me…and it happens regularly, that doesn’t feel like a lie. In fact, my believing this will affect my actions so much that it will bring about an inordinate amount of abandonment.

    Lies come and go because the things that trigger them don’t happen all the time. But the lie is still there, laying dormant until a time comes when it is triggered again.

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