self-limiting beliefs

A client shows up with a limiting belief: I can’t do anything right!

You ask: What makes you think you can’t?

Well, I’ve always been told I don’t have what it takes, I’ll never succeed in life and so on.

And you believe it?

I guess so.

What to do at this point? How do we move forward and help this person change a limiting belief?

There are so many ways to work with limiting thoughts and beliefs, and they all boil down to a couple of simple rules:

1. Do you want to change this limiting belief?

It might seem too obvious. Of course we want to change something that limits us! Not so fast. Our limitations can become psychological safety zones. Familiar limitations are comfortable. Expanding our sphere of influence, branching out and empowering ourselves can be downright terrifying under these circumstances.

So, it’s a valid question. Do you want to change this? What would happen if you did? If this limitation were to suddenly vanish, what would you have to get used to that is not familiar now?

I’d have to get used to being slim and in shape. I’ve always been way overweight. I know my obesity comes with consequences, but I’d really have to get used to a different kind of attention than I’ve always gotten.

I would need to learn to trust that my marriage can be happy. Now, whenever we’re in a happy space, I get scared that something is going to happen to ruin it – and then I end up picking a fight just to stay in control. 

When I do my best work, people are impressed and raise their expectations. I need to learn to just do my best and not feel the pressure.

Learning to tolerate success and happiness is an interesting way to put it, right? And it’s often a relevant issue.

Are you willing to reject the old belief or limitation?

Again, it might seem obvious, but it isn’t. Imagine being raised a certain way – raised to believe that psychotherapists and psychology types are all psycho-babbling idiots, for example. Ironically, you have a keen interest in what makes people tick. You want to study human relations, psychology, and mental health. It’s your thing!

Yet, you find yourself holding back, not applying yourself to your studies. When you think about becoming a counselor and actually helping people understand themselves and better their lives, you are filled with anxiety. In some strange way, you’re ashamed of yourself for being interested in what you love.

Your self-limiting beliefs, inherited from an anti-psychology environment, conflict with what you want to do with your life. Deep down, you want to do something that you’ve been trained to see as ridiculous. Unconsciously, you feel ridiculous about it. Limiting beliefs will need to change if you want to embrace your passion.

However, rejecting your limiting beliefs may feel like rejecting their source. Embracing what you love could mean rejecting your family – not fitting into the family culture. It could also mean receiving open criticism from family members. Not an easy thing.

Do you really want to reject your basic training for life and deal with the consequences?

I’m all for such rejections – rejecting the beliefs and attitudes, not the people involved. Still, it’s not always as simple as declaring: I disavow beliefs from my childhood!

There’s no magic trick. These are issues to be explored – questions to be lived – often with expert help, over time. And it’s important to explore all sides of the issue, positive and negative.

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