Limiting Beliefs – How They Work And What To Do About Them
“There’s something wrong with me”
“I should never fail”
“I need to be perfect”
“People are evil”
“It’s all about money”
“You have to work hard to have money”
“Being rich is evil”
“All men are pigs”
“All women are bitches”
“Sex is sinful”
“You have to strike before they do”
You have certainly already heard about limiting beliefs, haven’t you? Everybody is talking about them – for a good reason. But what are they actually?
Well, the name says it just right: beliefs that limit us.
They are statements about life that we are emotionally invested in. They color our thoughts, feelings and choices. They skew our perceptions and influence our actions – so that the consequences we get reinforce them. Even if we intellectually understand that a belief is false, it still has emotional power over us.
If you have a limiting belief, your life experience will seem to be a living proof for its legitimacy. You will absolutely buy into it, and questioning it will seem ridiculous. You will probably get angry and offended by any suggestions to test its validity.
That’s only natural. We develop limiting beliefs as a response to frustrating events in an effort to protect ourselves from future pain. Thus any suggestion to question them seems to us like:
- a suggestion to leave our safety and get burned again;
- the person suggesting it has no understanding of what we’ve gone through.
The sad part is, that by sticking to our limiting beliefs, we give up on any hope to live our lives fully. We also push away the people who would like to show us something better.
There are at least two ways in which limiting beliefs perpetuate themselves and dictate our life experience: an internal and an external one. Internally, limiting beliefs skew our perceptions of the world and determine the meanings we give to events. Externally, they push us to interact with the world in certain ways – thus affecting the results we get.
1. The External Cycle: Painting Oneself Into A Corner
The external cycle is easier to grasp, so let’s start with it.
Usually, it all begins in our childhood, but doesn’t stop there. There are so many situations that we don’t know how to handle. Maybe the people we depend on – usually our parents – happen to be too stressed out and act rudely. Maybe they don’t have the time to give us the attention we need. Maybe they happen to believe in harsh disciplining methods and apply them on us “for our own good”. Or maybe we are really unlucky, and they happen to have too many issues of their own – and become abusive.
Whatever the cause, we feel frustrated and overwhelmed. We keep asking ourselves “why” – and conclude things that we end up believing for life.
We may conclude that we are powerless. We may conclude that what we have to say does’n t matter. We may conclude that we are not important, or that we need to be perfect all the time. We may conclude that we are responsible for other people’s feelings, or that we need to be pleasing everybody. We may conclude that there is something wrong with having our own desires and needs.
Limiting beliefs are our means to protect ourselves. We want to make sure that we’ll never have to go through this pain again. If we got snubbed for speaking up, we will have to face a surge of fear anytime we feel like speaking up as grown-ups, too. If we got ridiculed for making mistakes, we won’t take chances. Then we buy into our conclusions and mistakenly take them for facts.
Limiting beliefs are over-generalizations. This is a part of the way our minds learn – with the goal of protecting us. The evolution of our brains took place through a very long period of time. The kind of secure life we know today is very different from what our ancestors had to deal with. From the moment we came to this world, we had to learn fast – or die. It was crucial to recognize danger quickly and act instantly. From a survival point of view, false alarms seemed to be the lesser evil. Anything remotely resembling a tiger was to be considered an enemy.
It still is. To our minds, danger avoidance is still the highest priority. That’s why we tend to make general conclusions from single unlucky experiences. This guy was rude to me. People are jerks. I deserve no better.
Once we have formed a belief, it starts dictating our behavior. This includes the choices we make. We will avoid risks. We won’t take chances. We won’t speak up. We will expect others to judge or harm us, and will act rudely and defensively for no reason – turning people away and creating enemies. We will lose friends and loved ones, we will lose jobs. These unlucky events will seem to validate our beliefs. We will feel in the right to act the way we did and continue to do so. Maybe we will set out to punish those evil people who wronged us. We may even commit a crime.
Constantly fearing the opinions of others, we may struggle to keep a false front. We may be driven to look perfect in any situation. We may refuse to admit failure and blame everything and everybody else instead. We may turn into astute liars.
Limiting beliefs also affect everything we do in many subtle ways. Feeling fearful or angry at all inappropriate times, we may assume a tense or closed body language. We may twitch. We may stutter or talk in a meek voice – or maybe yell. Others will tend to respond to us unfavorably - prompting us to conclude that they are all mean, or that we don’t deserve any better. These depressing thoughts will worsen our body language even more.
2. The Internal Cycle: Skewed Perceptions and Interpretations
As described in…
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