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Limiting Beliefs – How They Work And What To Do About Them

by howtolivehappily on January 31st, 2011

“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.

Limiting Beliefs - A Vicious Cycle

Limiting Beliefs - A Vicious Cycle

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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From → Concepts

27 Comments
  1. Juridikum permalink

    eh jo. bin der aus der bib. dein blog ist gut! ich leses regelmäßig. weiter so!

  2. Dave permalink

    Very interesting !
    mind = blown

  3. Tony permalink

    What we experience in our day-to-day lives is just an internal representation of reality. We all maintain mental maps of the world that we use to navigate through life. These maps can never be complete and exact.

    This was stated about 2500 years ago as “The Myth of the Cave.” Yes, I will admit that my internal representation of reality is flawed. But how can you say that your internal representation of reality is any better than mine?

    • Hey Tony, thank you for your comment.

      Now that you mention it, I have to agree: the myth of the cave says something very similar – and I didn’t make the connection myself.

      How do I know that my representation is better? I don’t. How did I make the impression that I mean this?

      I believe that there are many possible representations, and as long as we become aware of this, we become able to choose one that makes us happier.

      The possibility of many representations also allows diversity, which is something great in my opinion.

      While this video was created with a religious context in mind, I believe that the idea of diversity can be taken out of the religious context.

      Thank you for speaking your thoughts and tell me if you have any questions or other ideas.

  4. I never thought Leftkoe’s techniques worked, but now I feel like giving it another take. I have a list of articles I come back to as mental fuel, and this will be one of them. Mental cleaning is necessary from time to time, especially under challenging times.

    • Thank you for commenting.

      I don’t believe that there will ever be a method that works for absolutely everybody.

      If you want to have success with anything, you’d probably have to test many methods. Sticking with just the only one method that worked for you is not best, either, IMO. Flexibility is good.

      I personally did get a lot of value from the Lefkoe Method, and everybody has the possibility to test it for themselves. If it happens to not work for you, well, your search will have to go on. No big deal.

      It is also possible, that while it didn’t work for you the first time, it would do, if you gave it a second try. If you feel like trying it again, be sure to do so.

      I also invite you to share your experiences here.

  5. Thanks for the video, very inspiring. I tried EFT in the past, it helped me with addiction to gaming.

  6. What a wonderful and comprehensive article. I love the charts. I have been practicing affirmations on a daily basis for over a year now. I find your suggestion for dealing with negative self-talk very helpful: “A way to deal with your objections is to write them down, and then read them with a squeaky and whiny voice. Make them sound as ridiculous as you can. Tape yourself. Then listen and have a laugh.” Something I else I do is to physically hang my affirmations in my bathroom and study so that I am constantly “seeing” them even if I am not saying them, so they can subconsciously enter my mind as well. Do you think this is a good technique? Also, have you read the book “Beyond the Myth” (http://www.beyondthemythbook.com/) – I have found it useful for the step-by-step directions on how to remove limiting beliefs and for the great affirmations. I am looking for similar books like that to read, I am going to try some of the ones you reference above. Thanks.

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