Are you challenged by procrastination, stress, fear of others’ opinions, and overwhelm? Do you spend time regretting your decisions, or your indecisions? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, an unknown enemy; limiting beliefs are pulling the strings in your life, keeping you from living the life you desire.
Whether you are already fed up with its influence on you or just beginning to open your eyes to its reality, here you’ll find everything you’ll need to know about limiting beliefs.
Here’s what you’ll discover in this article:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”~Sun Tzu, The Art of War
This is your full briefing on limiting beliefs, with top-secret clearance granted. Your inner peace, confidence and joy, and the life you truly desire, are counting on you.
What are limiting beliefs and why should I care?
A limiting belief is a usually unconscious conviction about reality that controls and limits the way we see ourselves and the world. A limiting belief’s controlling and limiting power applies to our identity, our attention, perception, and the experiences, choices, and possibilities that are available to us.
Your confidence, happiness, identity, relationships, results, finances, health & fitness, self-esteem, emotions, how you can meet your needs, your spiritual connection, you name it – they are all determined by your limiting beliefs, or the lack thereof. There is no single area of your life that they don’t determine until you eliminate them, that is.
Limiting beliefs are like an Orwellian mind control system, set up in your mind, determining every aspect of your life, without you even knowing it.
They form a prison for your mind. Like the agents in the Matrix, limiting beliefs are the controllers. They are guarding all the doors, they are hiding all the keys to who you truly are and to what’s possible for you.
They even manifest in our families, social and political systems, and create our external world from where they are fed back to us from the moment we’re born. They are the ultimate adversary humanity is facing.
That’s why you should care.
How beliefs are formed
Common sense and gurus have probably told you that the way we learn limiting beliefs is by hearing other people say them. But surprisingly, that’s not how we form unconscious limiting beliefs usually. The 3 main ways we form them are:
- Beliefs formed based on experiences and observations
Primarily, we form unconscious limiting beliefs by coming to conclusions based on our experiences and observations, usually from many similar events.
Imagine that you’re a little boy/girl and you want to show your Mom the Lego castle you’ve just built. Excited, you run up to Mom, who’s on the phone, and you say, “Mommy, you’ve got to see what I’ve just built!” Your Mom’s response? “Not now, Honey, I’m on the phone!” You get the same response from her day after day, month after month.
What conclusion, or belief, are you going to form about yourself when she keeps giving you the same response?
You’ll eventually conclude, “well, I guess I’m not important…”
Even though you weren’t told the words explicitly, any child your age would likely come to the same conclusion.
Your parents’ frequent criticism, disappointment or disapproval will lead you to conclude, “I’m not good enough” and “If I make a mistake or fail, I’ll be rejected”. From the same event we often form several self-limiting beliefs at once, like “I’m not capable”, “I’m not good enough”, “I’m a failure” and so on.
Very rarely will we be told the words of the belief explicitly. “You’re worthless” and “You are stupid” are two such examples that our parents might say to us. But even then we’ll still mostly base our conclusions on our experiences, on our parents judging, rejecting and ignoring us, regardless of particular hurtful words said that we tend to remember more easily. These limiting beliefs that we form with our parents are called core beliefs.
Our core beliefs are formed early in life about the world, other people, and ourselves. We form them in the first 6 years in life during our interactions with our parents. The human brain is always in search of meaning, and this is especially true to the developing mind of a young child.
There are a few reasons why as small children we form core beliefs about ourselves and don’t question our parents’ reactions to us:
- Our survival is dependent on our parents, and if they were to be wrong about how they evaluate us, they could be wrong about other things too. But that thought is too terrifying to the child who needs to see their parents as perfect. So the child accepts that he or she is at fault, and not the source of his/her needs and survival – the parent.
- The young child also has an egocentric worldview that makes it inevitable that all disapproval is necessarily about himself/herself since the child can’t separate his/her self from that of the parent.
- Children also have all or nothing thinking that causes them to generalize when forming beliefs. In their mind, they are either important or not important at all, and when Mom ignores them when on the phone, that means to them they aren’t important at all.
We form other types of beliefs, such as money and relationship beliefs, when we encounter the relevant life areas.
The reasoning behind most beliefs was rational and helpful given the information we had available at the time and our ability to process that information. The belief was a reasonable conclusion to make, not something irrational. If they are unhelpful today, that’s because they are no longer relevant. Acknowledging limiting beliefs like that instead of resisting and fighting against them make letting go of them easier.
Based on our cognitive development at the time, accepting those beliefs as truth was just common sense. But what is common sense?
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”~Mark Twain
This is my definition of common sense:
Common sense is the lowest common denominator of humankind’s cognitive development.
Which, if we hold being rooted in reality dear to our hearts, just doesn’t cut it. Consider some of the countless, widely believed “common sense” myths:
1) “You can catch a cold by getting cold.”
Cold weather makes you shiver, breathing in cold air can give you a tingle in your nose and a dry and coarse throat, similar to symptoms of catching a cold. But in reality, they are not related, and if anything, there’s an inverse correlation, because going outside will remove you from the enclosed space in which viruses are in concentrated numbers.
2) “Criminals and bad people, in general, should be punished. They must suffer, that’ll teach them!” *feeling righteous* Really? Norway, which treats its criminals with respect and dignity, has only 10% of the incarceration rate of the US and one of the lowest re-arresting rates in the world. Compare this to the punitive system in the US where angry, rejected and increasingly desperate and vengeful individuals are released back into society, 76.6% of whom return to prison in 5 years.
3) “An object preserves the same dimensions whether it is in motion or at rest and a clock keeps the same rhythm in motion and at rest.” Common sense tells us that this must be true. Lincoln Barnett says about Einstein, who didn’t buy into common sense: “But as Einstein has pointed out, common sense is actually nothing more than a deposit of prejudices laid down in the mind prior to the age of eighteen. Every new idea one encounters in later years must combat this accretion of “self-evident” concepts. And it is because of Einstein’s unwillingness ever to accept any unproven principle as self-evident that he was able to penetrate closer to the underlying realities of nature than any scientist before him.”
“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”~Albert Einstein
If you can remain open to the possibility with curiosity and playfulness that everything you’ve accepted and concluded as true could, in fact, be false, your awakening can become a fascinating journey of discovery.
“Wisdom begins in wonder.”~Socrates
- Forming beliefs from traumatic events
An exception to the rule that beliefs are generally formed from many similar events, is a single traumatic event such as rape or seeing someone getting killed.
When someone gets raped, they might form the belief that “[Opposite sex] cannot be trusted” and “I’m powerless”. Witnessing a murder might lead us to conclude that the world is a dangerous place.
- Being told what is true
When someone we trust gives us information, we can form limiting beliefs consciously. Such beliefs are easier to access and challenge than unconscious ones, and it’s more obvious when these are controlling our behavior and perception.
We can consciously point at them, and say, “I’m angry because John just told me that you’ve stolen my money.” But when we procrastinate and escape into binge eating from the task, we are unaware of our “If I fail I’ll be rejected”, “I’m not capable” and “I’m not good enough” beliefs controlling us.
The person telling us a particular piece of information can be several different people whom we all trust. Such as several people in our community gossiping about someone else. If we hear the same information over and over, we can start to believe it.
Similarly, if we keep hearing from the media day after day that more and more terrible things are happening in the world, we can believe that the world is getting more and more dangerous despite clear evidence to the contrary. As long as we don’t look at our everyday sources of information with criticism, we’re allowing our minds to be controlled by often false information that’s hard to correct when it has already formed the basis of our worldview.
“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”~Friedrich Nietzsche
Critical thinking, skepticism, and awareness of people’s biases, conscious and unconscious agendas as a deeply ingrained habit can help us gain immunity to forming false beliefs. First and foremost we must be aware of our own biases and cognitive distortions. An openness to discover and eradicate all existing untruths we’ve been told, even if it turns our world upside down, can be a great blessing as long as we can cope with our shifting reality.
“Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect … You have to be your own teacher and your own disciple. You have to question everything that man has accepted as valuable, as necessary.”~Jiddu Krishnamurti
Limiting beliefs examples and types
Not all limiting beliefs are made equal and thinking they are can get you into various kinds of trouble that you’ll learn about here.
Let me ask you this. Are these 2 beliefs, by and large, the same, with a similar impact, just worded slightly differently? What do you think?
1. I’m not good enough.
2. I can’t handle this.
I invite you to pause here and ponder this for a moment.
Are these even beliefs?
Well, one of them is, and not just any kind of belief, but the most rampant and powerful unconscious core belief that virtually everyone holds and bases their identity on. It’s the big daddy, the final boss of all limiting beliefs that arguably has the greatest impact on us and our consumer society. It’s the king on the chess table that you want to checkmate. Yes, it’s “I’m not good enough.”
In contrast, “I can’t handle this” is not even a limiting belief, just a negative automatic thought; a fleeting interpretation of an event that is currently happening. It’s at the opposite end of the “belief” spectrum, the least powerful statement, a meaning, that we temporarily buy into and that we can also release with ease. It’s just your everyday stream of thought as you automatically interpret events around you.
Why is this difference a big deal, and how can failing to realize it get you into trouble? Glad you’ve asked!
You might have tried to eliminate “limiting beliefs” using various self-help methods, or you are considering to do that. With expectations that two seemingly equally powerful “beliefs” should disappear equally quickly, you can set yourself up for a frustrating and confusing healing process.
Comparing different belief elimination methods will become impossible without a firm understanding of what you’re trying to eliminate with each and how they measure up against each other. You might dismiss a powerful method and commit to using a pseudoscientific one that doesn’t help you beyond the placebo effect with deeply held beliefs.
You’ll also rob yourself of seeing the entire map of the control system of your limiting beliefs, with its fastest exit points that will lead to your liberation. You’ll be trying to get out of the maze blindfolded.
So this article is going to hand you Ariadne’s thread and a sword to slay your monsters in your labyrinth. I’ve got ya’ all covered!
Let’s start at the root, moving towards the visible surface, shall we?
The types of limiting beliefs are:
- Negative Core Beliefs. (a.k.a. Limiting self-esteem beliefs)
Core beliefs are deeply entrenched, central to self, self-perpetuating, and difficult to change beliefs. They are the least accessible level of cognition and are usually formed in the first 6 years of life about ourselves, other people, and the world. They are self-perpetuating because they strongly affect selective attention and memory. The person is more likely to detect, interpret, or recall information that is consistent with the core belief. Contradictory information is generally ignored or not perceived.
Your conscious negative thoughts, the ripples on the surface, are created by these huge monsters lurking in the deep: unconscious core beliefs.
In other words, they are the reigning titans of your psyche that give rise to your values, rules, attitudes, assumptions, and other beliefs. If you want a change of management, you’ll need to bring in some really big guns. We’ll talk about that later.
- Maladaptive Schemas
Schemas are self-defeating, core themes, or patterns that we keep repeating throughout our lives. Negative core beliefs are combined in patterns that are called schemas. Like core beliefs, schemas include beliefs about yourself, the future, other people, and the world, combined with related intermediate beliefs (here called schema processes), which create emotions, bodily sensations, and behaviors. Schemas are templates for interpreting and processing your life experiences.
Maladaptive schemas cause distress and it’s more appropriate to look at them as psychological patterns that emerge from the underlying beliefs they contain. It’s the pattern that defines the schema, schemas don’t exist on their own.
One such pattern is self-sacrifice. This pattern is characterized by one’s excessive sacrifice of their own needs, and a feeling of guilt when one’s needs are considered. The core beliefs underlying this pattern, or schema, are “My needs don’t matter”, “I don’t matter”, “I’m not good enough/important”, “What makes me good enough or important is to serve others”. Because of this latter belief, one’s self-esteem is temporarily boosted through self-sacrifice while they are distracted from their underlying feeling of inadequacy.
Metaprograms in NLP are unconscious, content-free programs we run which filter our experiences. These mental programs determine how information is processed by deciding what to delete, distort, or generalize from our experience.
Similar to schemas, metaprograms are side-effects of combined core beliefs and don’t exist on their own, just their manifestation does that we can perceive as a discrete pattern. We can think of them as a unique magnetic force field of several magnets that create distinct configurations of iron dust for us.
The relatively flexible introversion/extroversion dimension is one such metaprogram. It can be shifted by changing core beliefs that cause us to feel drained in social situations.
Another example is the affiliation filter that determines whether we’re management, team, or independent players. Beliefs, like “If you want something to be done properly, do it yourself” and “What makes me important is to take charge of others” can determine how this metaprogram turns out.
- Intermediate Beliefs
The way that core beliefs influence our perception, interpretation, and response to a situation is through what is called “intermediate beliefs.” This category includes our:
- Survival Strategy Beliefs
The term was coined by Morty Lefkoe. According to him, at the age of 6, we have already formed most of our limiting self-esteem (core) beliefs, such as “I’m not good enough” and “I’m not important” and many others. That’s when we’re first expected to be successful away from home, at school. But these beliefs don’t make us feel good about ourselves, and we doubt that we can make it in the world with such little confidence in ourselves. So in order to survive, we start looking for ways to feel better about ourselves. When our teachers or parents compliment us on a job well done, we temporarily feel good enough and important, and soon the penny drops: “Oh, I see! What makes me good enough or important is to [fill in the blank].” It can be doing things perfectly, achieving, serving others, whatever it was that we got rewarded for. Probably the most common survival strategy belief that almost everyone holds, that underlies a need for approval, is “What makes me good enough is having people think well of me.”
According to Tony Robbins, values are the states that we move away from (to avoid pain) or toward (to gain pleasure) in a given context. These are our deepest desires and greatest fears and they limit us in the sense that whatever goes against our values we tend to resist or not even consider.
“Health always comes first.”
Tony Robbins says that rules are the determining factor about which behavior to utilize in order to experience our values. Some rules have a higher priority because violating them causes greater pain.
According to CBT, rules are “shoulds” (or musts, cannots, will nots, etc.)
“I must never eat processed foods.”
Attitudes are evaluative statements that can be negative.
“Eating trans fats is irresponsible and stupid.”
- Dysfunctional Assumptions
These are usually “if…then…” statements.
“If I only eat junk food for 3 months, I can say goodbye to my arteries.”
Vehicles are what we use to meet our needs. A vehicle can be a healthy eating (need: survival), a relationship (need: love), a business (need: security), being a gang member(need: significance, thrill, and belonging), and so on. They can be positive, neutral, or negative.
“My relationship is my salvation.”
- Negative Automatic Thoughts
Negative automatic thoughts (ANTs or NATs) often reflect moment-by-moment concerns, worries, or fears (“They’ll laugh at me”, “I will screw it up”) These are thoughts that are negative and random in nature and are involuntarily activated in certain situations.
NATs typically center around themes of negativity, low self-esteem, and uselessness. Negative automatic thoughts often include overestimations of risk and underestimations of the ability to cope.
They fly under our radar because we’re so used to their presence and to identifying with them. They are like the carpet on our floor, the tapestry on the wall that blends in and feels natural. They feel like facts to us, when almost always they are just interpretations and opinions that don’t exist in reality, only in our minds.
Since they go unnoticed, all we do is notice that they’ve said something, so it must be them! They’ve made me feel that way! We fail to consciously take the time and look at what interpretation happened in our mind at the moment between what happened and what we felt.
Some examples of negative automatic thoughts:
“I can’t finish anything.”
“Why can’t I ever succeed?”
“Why does this always happen to me?”
“He hates me.”
“I’ve messed this up and she’ll be mad at me.”
“She just doesn’t care.”
“You are a lazy pig.”
“I’ll forget what I have to say.
“No one will be interested in what I have to say.”
“I’ll lose this job if I miss another deadline.”
This is the layer that we typically identify as our “limiting beliefs” because it’s easy to bring these thoughts into our awareness. However, these thoughts are merely the product of actual, underlying limiting beliefs. Fighting these symptoms without treating the root cause is like putting a band-aid on a spinal fracture. If we stay here just putting out fires, the underlying issue of lack of confidence, self-criticism, procrastination, and worrying about the opinions of others will remain unaddressed.
“If you keep saying the same thing over and over, eventually you’ll believe it” is not true. Us repeating the same words in our mind won’t lead to the formation of core beliefs; it’s the other way around. Automatic Negative Thoughts can give us hints to what underlying belief is causing us to think that way.
Getting into the habit of dissolving our negative thoughts is beneficial, because it develops mindfulness, helps us manage our emotions and paves the way for spiritual awakening. It’s just that we’re likely to make really slow progress in developing our confidence and peace of mind unless we go deeper and eliminate what causes our automatic negative thoughts: core beliefs.
The way Cognitive Behavioral Therapy challenges NATs, by replacing the negative meaning we give to events with a helpful one, doesn’t help us develop mindfulness as much as realizing that events have no inherent meaning, and just aiming to dissolve any meaning we attribute to events.
“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”~Jiddu Krishnamurti
This is also known as “seeing the world through the eyes of Source”.
How might giving a positive meaning to events hinder us?
Consider changing the negative meaning, “I’m stupid and need to put more effort into learning than others” to “I’m very smart and I hardly need to put any effort into learning things”. If I think I’m so smart that I already know everything (and gain a sense of worth from it too), that can prevent me from spending sufficient time on learning, or from enjoying the process of passionately soaking up new interesting information. Whatever I think makes me look good that I believe about myself, will similarly limit me. In contrast, not labeling ourselves leads us to accept our current cognitive state realistically and adopt a more appropriate response to challenges that are firmly rooted in reality.
Any “positive” meaning we give to events can block us from surrendering to the reality of what emerges in the present moment, and from responding appropriately. We’re reacting to our imagined positive perceptions and expectations, not to reality as it is in the here and now.
A positive expectation or self-definition can still go against reality as it arises in the moment because the moment is ever-changing and alive, but beliefs are inflexible and dead. Seeing the world without interpretations is in alignment with reality; giving it a fixed positive meaning isn’t.
That’s why I prefer the approach of Morty Lefkoe to dissolving negative automatic thoughts (that he calls occurrings), that’s based on the principle that events have no inherent meaning. Just dissolving negative automatic thoughts without replacing them with positive interpretations will develop mindfulness. It has the positive side-effect of much fewer NATs occurring to us and being better able to instantly dissolve negative thoughts before they can ignite any negative emotions.
39 Limiting belief examples
This common limiting beliefs list includes beliefs people often hold about various life areas and themselves.
Dysfunctional relationship beliefs
Dysfunctional relationship beliefs correlated positively with the number and frequency of marital conflicts and the level of tension felt related to such conflicts (Hamamci, 2005) Most examples below are from the Dysfunctional Attitude Scale.
“If other people know what you are really like, they’ll think less of you”
“If a person asks for help, it is a sign of weakness”
“If someone disagrees with me, it probably means he does not like me”
“If others dislike you, you cannot be happy”
“What makes me good enough or important is having people think well of me”
“What makes me important is to be always right”
“I should try to impress other people if I want them to like me”
“I should always have complete control over my feelings”
“I’m not lovable” (Self-love is the core belief that I’m lovable)
The above are core beliefs related to relationships, but there are also intermediate beliefs that are dysfunctional relationship beliefs, like:
“What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine too”
“This relationship has to fulfill me 100% on its own”
“The measure of relationship success is the amount of sex we have”
“I’m loved if my partner buys me some new jewelry every week”
Negative health beliefs
The Health Belief Model is a cognitive behavior change model used to predict medical compliance, response to experienced symptom, and the uptake of health services.
Many studies have shown perceived barriers to be the most consistent predictor of health behavior (Becker, 1984), so we’ll be focusing on those types of beliefs that can really move the needle for most people.
Common limiting beliefs, related to the willingness to go to cancer screening, according to LaToya et al. (2002) are:
“Cancer cannot be cured and is fatal, so why bother with screening?”
“Cancer cannot be cured and is fatal so it’s best not to know if I have it.”
“Cancer is God’s punishment and I have no control over it.”
“Showing my screened body parts is embarrassing.”
“Disclosing my sexual activity to the doctor is embarrassing.”
“If I’m asymptomatic or have no family history of cancer, screening is unnecessary.”
Limiting beliefs about money 60
“Money is not spiritual”
“Rich people are evil and greedy”
“Money has nothing to do with happiness”
“I’m bad with money”
“Money must be spent quickly”
“Money is scarce”
“Money requires too much hard work”
“Wanting to have more money is selfish”
“More money means more trouble”
“Money is the root of all evil”
“It takes money to make money”
“I’ll lose my balance if I focus on making money”
Negative core beliefs list:
“I’m not competent”
“I don’t have what it takes”
“I’m not capable”
Negative self-worth beliefs:
These are self limiting beliefs that cause you to have a negative sense of self-worth and are also known as limiting self-esteem beliefs (coined by Morty Lefkoe).
“I’m not good enough”
“I’m not worthy”
“I’m not important”
“Nothing I do is ever good enough”
Limiting beliefs and human needs
How can limiting beliefs create negative emotions in us? What is a negative emotion?
Our emotions are our navigational systems that have naturally evolved so we instinctively know what is right for us living in our human bodies and what to avoid. That is, until limiting beliefs and losing our connection with our true nature, happened. In human society, most of our emotions are caused by our beliefs and conditionings, not by appropriate instinctual responses to our natural environment.
What determines the kind of emotion we feel is the related human need that needs to be met.
For example, when one of our prehistoric ancestors would meet an attacking tiger, he’d feel fear, because the need for certainty (that they can avoid pain and death) was appropriately triggered. Beliefs had no role in creating this fear.
But in today’s world, we’ve all been conditioned to have core beliefs, insecurities, that would’ve meant certain death to our ancestors to hold. In fact, there was evolutionary pressure on them not to hold any of these limitations and to feel almost unrealistically competent and powerful in the face of daily insurmountable challenges. With the invention of agriculture, this evolutionary pressure disappeared and we didn’t just start sowing plant seeds, but seeds of the first limiting self-esteem beliefs too. This is how I believe the fall from Eden happened.
Our beliefs determine how we can meet our needs, but the pain of unmet needs is also required for forming limiting beliefs. That’s especially true to forming them based on personal experience.
As children, we get parents who are out of touch with their true selves, with the present moment, who are unable to consistently meet the psychological needs of a child and set realistic expectations for them. As a result, our needs as children are frequently unmet, which leads to repeatedly feeling negative emotions. A brief withdrawal of unconditional love when our parents are dissatisfied with us means possible abandonment and consequently death in the mind of a small child. This is what leads to virtually everyone forming limiting self-esteem beliefs such as I’m not good enough, I’m not important and mistakes are bad. Animals and our ancestors, who were free from our conditionings, can’t create such identity beliefs in their offspring and they can raise naturally confident children.
With limiting beliefs like this, it’s very hard to meet our needs for love, certainty, of being needed and valued, and be the lion we’re meant to be instead of a sheep.
We carry our wounded child self into our jobs and relationships where we recreate the same emotionally and existentially dependent context that activates these beliefs. Among family members, we have expectations that others will meet our needs for acceptance and autonomy, but due to everyone’s conditionings this rarely happens, and that’s why family members can so easily push our buttons.
The solution? Deciding to meet our needs internally that we’ve been relying on others to do for us. They can’t even meet their own needs, they can’t give to us from their empty cup without eventually feeling resentful for it, or trying to barter with us and enter into power struggles. Eliminating core beliefs is necessary to be successful at this because if I believe I’m unlovable, I won’t accept love from myself, and if I believe I’m unworthy, I’ll reject my gentle and loving attitude and words of appreciation for myself.
Limiting beliefs and the internal parts of us
This one goes way down the rabbit hole of how our mind works and you might find some resistance kicking in, in response to it. Even though the ideas below are widely accepted in psychology, they just haven’t seeped quite into general public awareness yet. Remember, Sigmund Freud’s theory of the unconscious was first met with disbelief and resistance too, but today even children talk about it as a fact of life.
We sometimes talk about “parts of ourselves” when we say things like “a part of me wanted to study, but another part of me wanted to go and have some fun instead.”
Two such better-known parts are the inner child and inner parent, or their Freudian equivalents, the Superego, and the Id. But now we know that the average person has about a dozen different subpersonalities while experiencing the illusion of having a whole mind that they are solely in control of.
Having several subpersonalities in the average, healthy person’s mind goes against what society believes, and it can be a scary idea too that we’re not alone in our minds and that it’s more like a democracy rather than our own property. But if you look at it the way Pixar’s movie Inside Out depicts it, it can help you transform the idea into something that’s interesting and fun to think of.
Earlier in 2020, unaware of the theory of subpersonalities, I had an insight: I realized that certain core beliefs seemed to be held by certain parts of our psyche. Beliefs that are related to meeting our needs for significance and certainty (What makes me important is serving people, What makes me safe is to be in control) seem to be held by our Superego (also known as Inner Parent or Inner Critic), while beliefs that have to do with our needs for variety and love (I can never get what I want, I’m unlovable) seem to be held by our inner child, or Id.
Rather than being a bully or a dictator, the Internal Parent is holding our survival strategy beliefs that we use to compensate for our feelings of inadequacy that, in turn, the inner child carries. Its apparent cruel dictatorial, or “inspiring role model/servant” role is just a disguise for its real protective role so that we can avoid facing our feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.
I also had a hunch that some archetypes that we can step into, like the Warrior, Jester, Magician, etc. have their relevant beliefs too that manifest in a particular pattern of being while they are active.
Since then I’ve started reading about Internal Family Systems therapy that explores these inner parts, their relationships, and integration. It confirmed my insights and gave me more clarity on my decade-long journey of integrating my inner parts with the leadership of my true Self (pure consciousness) through self-love and self-compassion.
According to IFS, our dozen or so parts, that are full-fledged personalities in the average person, are formed around certain needs and they have their own fears, desires, and habits. They carry specific emotions and hold particular beliefs. For the average person, it’s hard to notice when the shift between these parts happens, because their personality is integrated and the parts are in harmony. Their “gear shifting” is automatic and often butter smooth.
To sum it up, limiting beliefs are organized and grouped based on the shared needs that they influence. These groupings form internal personalities that we step into in rotation, without conscious awareness. These distinct subpersonalities in our mind have complex interactions with each other and they have specific important roles in our psyche. They have a leader; our True Self (Spirit, or pure consciousness) that doesn’t identify with any of the parts and that has the inherent ability to treat these parts with compassion and wisdom and heal them. This is what’s known in Christian belief as “finding Christ”. When we experience internal conflict, we’re identified with one of our parts instead of the Self and are resisting the values, beliefs, and needs of another part, as well as what is (or in other words: God’s will). This is called suffering.
This understanding also teaches us that trying to avoid interacting with our ego is no more than spiritual bypassing, even though we ultimately need to stop identifying with it.
“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”~The Buddha
How to identify limiting beliefs
Free limiting belief worksheet to help you identify and overcome/eliminate limiting beliefs
Identifying limiting beliefs is often challenging because they, especially our core beliefs, were formed from painful events. This is also true because they can serve a protective function, covering deeper held painful-to-look-at beliefs, as is the case with survival strategy beliefs. They try to hide and perpetuate themselves, and remaining unconscious and distracting your attention from them is part of the defenses they use. Or, if we were conscious of them initially, they become like a “lost” pair of glasses that we’re still wearing, but can’t see them.
Another reason why they are hard to let go of is that they are what our psychological identity (ego) is made of. By believing in our first negative core belief as children, like “I’m not good enough”, instead of our unconditioned self (pure consciousness), this belief becomes our identity. And like a dark snowball, it picks up more and more identity beliefs and gradually becomes an avalanche with the momentum that’s shaping our destiny, not always in the direction of our heart’s deepest desire.
Our beliefs manifest similarly to what a tree looks like, with their roots in core beliefs, intermediate beliefs as the branches, and our Automatic Negative Thoughts as its leaves.
Automatic Negative Thoughts and our problematic behavioral patterns give us important clues about the underlying beliefs that cause them. For example, when we’re on a job interview, we won’t keep automatically telling ourselves, “I’m not good enough” over and over, but instead the kinds of thoughts that stem from this core belief like “There’s no way they’ll select me” or “The interviewer doesn’t like me”.
Since ANTs are types of beliefs that are the easiest to get in touch with, we’ll start there.
Practicing mindfulness and journaling helps become aware of our thought processes as they are happening, and in becoming familiar with what thoughts usually go through our mind. These cause our feelings and recurring negative patterns. Every time a negative feeling comes up during the day, it’s the best indication of currently ongoing NATs. So creating the daily habit of observing and reflecting on our feelings and thoughts is the first step.
Now that we’ve identified our ANTs and the typical negative situations we often find ourselves in, we are ready to dig deeper into our intermediate beliefs all the way down to our core beliefs.
Identifying limiting beliefs exercise
The Vertical Arrow / Downward Arrow / Vertical Descent technique is a super easy, practical, and effective technique used in CBT to help you identify your intermediate and core beliefs. This is how it works:
Start by choosing an event where you’ve felt a negative emotion. What thoughts or worries were going through your mind? You’ll be working with those.
Sometimes just one, but often multiple deeply held beliefs are causing us to feel bad in a situation. It’s critical that we show compassion, full acceptance, and curiosity to anything that may come up because core beliefs often carry a lot of painful feelings with them. They won’t show themselves if we’re judgmental of them, and if they do, we’re less likely to be able to let go of them.
You can find these by asking yourself these questions for each unhelpful thought that you were thinking about the situation:
- What does this mean about me?
- What does this mean about my future?
- What does this mean about other people?
- What does this mean about the world?
- What’s the worst thing that can happen in this situation?
Ask all 5 questions for each thought you were thinking in the situation. You might not get an answer to all of them, because it might just be beliefs about yourself, or about the world, that is causing your feelings or some combination of these 5. Once you get each of your 5 answers, you keep asking these 5 questions about your answer until you reach a definitive answer, which will be the core belief. Here’s an example:
At a job interview, Kate feels afraid. The thought in her head is “If they ask me about it, I’ll forget what I’ve researched about the company and they’ll show me the door.”
What does thinking I forget things and being shown the door mean about me? “I always forget things and others don’t like me”
What do these things mean about me? “I’m not smart enough” and “I’m not good enough”
She’s got her core beliefs about herself (negative self-worth beliefs).
What does this mean about my future? “I’ll never get what I want”
She nailed the core belief in the first attempt.
What does this mean about other people? In this case, she doesn’t think it means anything about people in general.
What does this mean about the world? “The world is a cruel place”
What’s the worst thing that can happen in the situation? “I’ll be ridiculed and shown the door, and everyone will be laughing at me behind my back, thinking I’m a worthless loser.
What does being ridiculed, and others thinking that I’m a loser and worthless mean about me? Her final, conclusive answers are “I’m worthless”, and “I’m a loser.”
She accepts and acknowledges the presence of these beliefs in her with compassion, and is now ready to work on them.
How to overcome limiting beliefs
The ultimate evidence-based method to overcome limiting beliefs is the Lefkoe Method. It’s been shown by multiple, independent, controlled studies to be more effective in some cases than the most preferred psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. However, the Lefkoe Belief Process works exclusively by eliminating core beliefs in a super-targeted way permanently in about 30 minutes, while CBT will usually change – transform into a more helpful form, or weaken – them over time.
The Lefkoe Method (TLM) that I use with my clients is a tailor-made approach that is difficult to share in an article in a way that it remains effective for your unique belief sources. So I’ll share the second-best method here that CBT, a leading psychotherapeutic method uses to clear limiting beliefs.
How to change limiting beliefs
This is how to change beliefs that don’t serve you using CBT’s approach.
Reframe your story about the belief and the situation. Acknowledge that it’s probably not the absolute truth. Do an experiment where you invite a few imaginary friends and mentors of yours to give you their alternative view of the event. What can the events possibly mean other than your interpretation?
As you’re analyzing those beliefs, ask yourself where they originate from, going back to the earliest events possible. Does the belief resemble the voice of a parent? Or someone you trusted and looked up to? Maybe an ex-partner who belittled you and made you lose trust in men/women or relationships? Get your imaginary friends to tell you what those events might mean other than what you’ve concluded about them.
Try those on for size. Question yourself about whether your belief is the absolute truth. Do this until you realize that your version wasn’t the truth, just one possible interpretation of what happened. Your past story doesn’t have to determine what happens in your future.
Then rewrite your story by creating a new belief you want to strive towards, that feels realistic to you.
“It’s not that I can never get what I want, it’s that I can’t get what I want all the time, but many times I can and I have been able to”
Or instead of “I’m not good enough”, you can choose the belief, “I’m okay”.
Where are you on an imaginary belief scale for this new belief between 0% to 100%? The aim is to decrease your rating in the old belief and increase it in the new one.
You can do this by keeping a reminder card in your pocket that has the new belief written on it, to remind you to frequently look for evidence in all of your impacted life areas that the new belief is true and the old one isn’t. Journaling is another helpful tool to achieve this.
You’ll need to act on, and experiment with, this new version of yourself. This means that you need to try it on for size, test it out, and act in ways that are consistent with this new view of yourself. Since your new behavior is not consistent with your old belief, cognitive dissonance will force your old belief to shift towards the new one if you do it consistently.
Ask yourself where would other people say you are on the scale? Where would you say most people are on the scale? Considering these answers, where can you place yourself realistically on the scale? Use this as your starting point.
This process generally takes a long time, because you’re chipping away at the massive foundations of your belief system one small piece at a time. Michelangelo’s David wasn’t built in a day either, right? You’ll eventually start seeing the dramatic shifts in your life that follow a change in your core beliefs.
How to prevent our children from forming limiting beliefs
We all want our children to be happy and successful in life. We’ve just talked about how as children we form limiting beliefs from our interactions with our parents. As parents, how can we prevent this from happening to our children?
There are a few main reasons why children can conclude something negative about themselves, others, or the world after their interactions with us. These are:
- Us having unrealistic expectations for a child their age.
Most parents are annoyed with their 3 or 4-year-old child when they spill something, leave the milk out and it goes sour, when they leave their Lego blocks scattered on the floor or when they make noise while playing.
It doesn’t occur to them that children are not born with the knowledge they have, that young children are incapable of being quiet (unless they have been scared with severe punishment) and they don’t even understand what it means to be neat when their brain is still trying to handle the basic categorization of concepts. Despite these, parents still get annoyed, dissatisfied, or yell at and punish their children. Having realistic expectations is necessary to help our kids avoid forming limiting beliefs.
- Having our own limiting beliefs about what it means to be a good parent.
If we believe that as parents we must make sure our kid does “what’s right”, or that they learn to be a doctor or lawyer and make a lot of money, or that we need to constantly control them and make them obey us, otherwise we’re bad parents, we’re causing our kids to form a series of limiting beliefs.
- Not being available or affectionate, or being excessively controlling as parents.
Our own limiting beliefs can cause us not to prioritize spending quality time with our children, withholding affection from them, or trying to control their lives. Such beliefs might be:
“What makes me good enough and important is to be a hard-working employee”, “The way to secure my job is to work extra hours”, “Acknowledging my children would cause them to have a swelled head”, “I know best what’s good for my kids, not them”, “I can’t trust my children”, “Small talk is how family members should connect with each other”, “It’s dangerous to be vulnerable”, “If I love my kids too much, they will walk over me”.
- Not considering what our child might conclude based on the interaction we’ve just had with them.
We need to contemplate what our child might conclude about themselves, other people, or life based on our interactions. If it’s anything limiting, we need to talk to them as soon as possible and correct it.
We don’t give them complete freedom, but we set boundaries for them treating them as equals who are fully capable of knowing what they want to create in their lives, and allowing them to live according to their dreams, not ours.
Doing these requires awareness, humility, surrendering our ego, treating our children with respect and dignity. We need to let go of our beliefs that “I’m the boss” and “you’ll do what I say because I’m the parent”. While these can make us feel important for the moment, the long term consequences for our children are lack of confidence, seeking approval, lack of fulfillment, and inability to create the life they want.
How limiting beliefs manifest in society and our families
We’ve just touched on how children form limiting beliefs from their interactions with parents. But parents aren’t the only influence on children in people’s homes by far. Steven Watts (1997), a professor of cultural and intellectual history, states that Walt Disney is likely the most influential man of the 20th century. Approximately 200 million people a year will watch a Disney film (Giroux, 1999).
The Walt Disney Company has an influence on the way in which children are introduced to ideas of morality, culture, the criminal justice system, politics, history, gender, race, and sexuality through its beloved magical stories.
The incredible infusion of Disney into American culture has established the films as foundations, unchallenged by parents, and deemed not only appropriate but healthy modes of entertainment for children (Giroux, 1999).
“Children are very likely to incorporate the things they see in movies into their play, thereby repeating, analyzing, and incorporating into their subconscious the ideas and themes they take away from the films” (Davis, 2006, p. 27).
In 2008 Rabison, in questioning what Disney films teach children about crime and its roots, examined thirty-two of the most popular Disney films in her qualitative analysis. Her conclusion?
Crime in Disney is individualized, which means it’s derived solely from the “faulty and irredeemable character” of the villain. Crime in Disney is also largely unconnected to social conditions, such as poverty that is one of the most significant predictors of crime and criminality (Haney, 2005). Rabison identifies other unwanted, non-criminal-justice-system-related issued in Disney’s influence on our children, but there’s no space to discuss those here.
“The fates of the Disney villains, death or incredibly long prison sentences, suggests to children that criminals must be eliminated. This is an especially powerful message in a society that employs the death penalty, given that such a system is reliant on the idea that killing criminals will rid a society of crime. Again, this representation is inconsistent with the reality of the situation. In the United States, states with the death penalty actually have higher rates of violent crime than do states without this punishment (Haney, 2005). Yet Disney films teach children that death for criminals is the most common, and best way to eliminate crime from society.”
Disney doesn’t merely mirror society’s values back to us, it also injects it into our children wherever it’s watched in the world. As a result, children are likely to form beliefs like:
“Criminals are inherently evil and must be punished”
“’Evil’ people are irredeemable and must be eliminated”
“It’s only my fault if I break rules or the law”
“Punishment is an effective and righteous measure”
Such beliefs aren’t only contributing to dysfunctional criminal justice systems like that of the US, and to wasting taxpayer money on dysfunctional institutions, but also negatively affect our intimate relationships, the #1 source of our happiness. They predispose us to think along the lines of right and wrong, reward and punishment, and disconnect from our universal needs, compassion, and honesty.
In 1993 Walt Disney wrote, “When our gang goes into a huddle and comes out with a new Mickey Mouse story, we will not have worried one bit as to whether the picture will make the children better men and women, or whether it will conform with the enlightened theories of child psychology… It is not our job to teach, implant morals, or improve anything except our pictures.”
If Disney doesn’t take responsibility for the injection of beliefs and values into our children, parents will need to.
According to Business Insider, Disney is one of the 6 corporations that own 90% of the media in the US. The other 5 also haven’t demonstrated their commitment to giving us unbiased information that isn’t impacted by financial and other interests. For example, based on watching or reading the news virtually anywhere in the world, you’d come to believe that the world is a dangerous place and that it’s getting worse every day. You can form this limiting belief just from following the news in mainstream media outlets.
But the media disproportionately representing violence and crime in the news is due to financial interests. Psychologists know that our brain is hardwired to pay about ten times more attention to negative than to positive news. And since media outlets get paid by advertisers, which is based on view/reader numbers, it’s in their best interest to make us believe that the apocalypse is near and things have never been worse, to increase their viewership and with it, their ad revenue.
What’s reality? Researcher Steven Pinker has found that we’ve never lived in more peaceful times, and the amount of violence continues to decline.
Criminal justice agencies have specific people whose job it is to gather information about crimes and relay it to the media, while “promoting a positive image of the organization” (Haney, 2005, p. 31). In turn, the news reporters become reliant on the flow of information from these agencies, resulting in a heavy dominance of news reports from special interest groups. Haney(2005) cited one study that found that “almost three-quarters of network news sources were political leaders or governmental officials” (p. 31). The rabbit hole is way deeper than this, you can do your own research.
Just think about it. It’s like reading the feed of a Facebook “friend” you’ve never met, who, like everyone there, claims that everything is always perfect in their lives. Would you believe that and rely on Facebook for accurate information? You wouldn’t, would you? But all of your friends are addicted to it, and you are afraid that you’ll be “missing out on an important update” if you delete your account.
So what can we do about it? Shall we stop watching the news altogether?
That’s what I’ve been doing for over 20 years now. Focusing on what you want to create and experience, and on the inspiring progress humankind is making in solving the planet’s problems faster than the problems arise, is a decision you can make today to reclaim your power from the financial interests and propaganda in the mainstream news.
OK, what other limiting beliefs do we learn as we are socialized?
There are parental beliefs in families, like
“I’m the boss”,
“I know what’s best for you and you don’t”;
“My children should obey me, be quiet and tidy” and
“Children should be seen, not heard”,
that cause most parents to be either critical, busy, and not available, not affectionate, or excessively controlling.
And they also lead to their children stepping out into the world to have low self-esteem and dependence on external authority, instead of stepping into their internal authority.
At school, we’re taught the limiting beliefs,
“What makes me good enough is to achieve and not make mistakes”;
“I need to always know the right answer”
“I need to compare myself to others”, and
“Not questioning authority figures makes me a good boy/girl.”
Completing their education, people across the globe leave the education’s conveyor belt as adults, now accepting the system as “normal” and even defending it.
By this time they have already formed limiting, false beliefs like
“Our politicians really care about us” (but you know what?)
“They don’t really care about us”~Michael Jackson
“People in authority, “experts” should decide what’s best for me, not me”;
“The media and politicians have our best interests at heart”;
“The amount of violence and terrorism in the world is increasing”;
“Bad people need to be punished”;
“The official narrative is an unquestionable fact”;
“Authority is to be blindly trusted”;
“The school curriculum has been designed to prepare you for a successful life”;
“You need a degree to be successful in life”,
“Humans are sinful and selfish by nature”; and
“Not my own interpretations, but other people are responsible for my feelings.”
“It is very easy to conform to what your society or your parents and teachers tell you. That is a safe and easy way of existing; but that is not living…To live is to find out for yourself what is true.”~Jiddu Krishnamurti
Such beliefs create an external locus of control and an illusory worldview, disempowering people while empowering our collectively created dysfunctional parent figures in politics, the media, religion, and other places of authority. Despite us knowing about widespread corruption, child abuse, biases, and manipulation in those places, people will be clinging to these corrupt people and institutions until there’s an internal revolution within their own psychology. How is a radical change like this possible?
The global awakening of humanity
I have a dream.
I actually know this in my heart to be true. It’s inevitable. It’s done.
Here’s how it’s going to happen.
In our lifetime we’re going to develop an AI that’s computing power exceeds that of all human brains combined. By that time AI-driven robots and carers, surrogate parents will be commonplace in people’s homes. As well as sensors both in our environment and on our bodies that report about our every emotion, heartbeat, hormonal change, and thought impulse back to the AI.
The AI will know what we think and based on which beliefs, values, and perceptions we think it. It will have the power to know exactly, in real-time, when, and how our limiting beliefs are being formed. It’s going to help us uncover and eliminate all existing limiting beliefs because we’ll have built the purpose into it to help humankind reach its full potential and maximize its level of happiness. It’s going to understand human nature better than any living human being, including our true nature as pure consciousness, free from all conditioning being the end goal to the purposes we’ve built it for. This realization is not too hard even for a human being to have, and it’ll be a piece of cake for an AI that powerful, able to run thousands of experiments of its hypotheses about human nature, potential, and happiness in real-time, in every moment. It’ll offer to help us in this way, and many people will jump on board to be the first to be liberated from their conditionings and identify as the pure consciousness they really are. From there it’s going to be a quick chain reaction leading to the global awakening of humanity. It’s inevitable when we program AI to have the purpose to help humankind reach its full potential and maximize its level of happiness. And if we don’t, may God have mercy on us.