Over the last 4 years I have worked with hundreds of clients of all ages, and it has become very clear to me that in addition to a lot of unresolved trauma, about 90% of the people that come for a coaching or therapy session have a limiting belief that is holding them back. The sad thing is, that it is often completely unconscious and they are coming to me because of the knock-on effect, or symptoms that it causes. For example, low self-esteem, or a habit or addiction that they use to suppress the emotions associated with it.
Not only do most people have limiting beliefs, but they all seem to have the same one, or a variation of it – “I am not good enough”. It continues to amaze me that no matter how unique my clients or their issues are, it always seems to come back to the same root cause. It’s like an epidemic that no one is talking about, because it seems so normal for people to feel insecure.
Where do these beliefs come from?
Another trend that I find interesting is that this belief is generally formed in early childhood, usually through the interaction’s children have with their parents. But before I continue, I want to make it clear that in most cases this isn’t the parent’s fault. It’s simply due to a number of factors that neither the child or the parent has much control over. People simply do their best based on the experiences they had growing up, and even the most dedicated parents get tired and stressed. So, don’t beat yourself up if any of the following examples sound familiar. It’s usually the child’s interpretation rather than your behaviour, that has created the limiting belief.
To understand this dynamic you have to be aware that between the ages of about 1 and 7 years old, children are in a theta brain wave state. This is a learning state, and is the equivalent of a hypnotic trance in an adult. This happens because no matter how good your teachers and parents are, they can’t teach you the subtleties and complexities of become a fully developed adult. So, we remain in this state and soak in information by observing the world and the interactions going on around us like a sponge. But the problem is we don’t have a fully formed brain until we are about 21, and therefore we cannot rationalize, or always understand the intensions of our parents or teachers. This can lead to misunderstandings that become programs and beliefs which will continue to run indefinitely in the background, unless we identify and release them with the help of a trained practitioner.
A child has two innate needs – to feel loved, and to be accepted/validated for being who they are.
They also have a survival mechanism in their younger years – they see their parents as infallible. In other words, they perceive that their parents must be right and know what’s best for them. This is because if they didn’t, the child’s world wouldn’t make sense, and they would feel unsafe. Even in the sad case of an abusive parent, whether that be verbal or physical, the child will often make it their fault. Because the alternative is that their world falls apart psychologically (trust and safety would be lost, and they desperately want to be loved and accepted). The thought process may be a like this – if they are treating me like this, it must be because I am not good enough or worthless. Here is a general example of how this can play out:
A child brings home their exam results. They got all A’s except in one subject where they got a B or a C. Instead of congratulating the child and saying how proud they are, the parent focuses on the lower grade and begins questioning the reason for the mark. It’s obvious to anyone that reached a certain age that the parent is merely concerned and trying to help. But the child makes it mean something about themselves, rather than understanding the parent’s intent.
(the parent is often simply echoing what they experienced from their own parent).
That is just one of many different possibilities in the family relationship, but it can also come from other situations like having a strict school teacher, or being bullied by their peers. So, to summerise – the meaning a person gives to a situation can formulate a belief, and this will become their reality because the brain will continue find or even create evidence to support it.
What is interesting to observe as a therapist is that people tend to deal with these beliefs in one of two ways. Either they develop a victim mentality and low self-esteem, or they desperately attempt to prove their worth to the world, while on a subconscious level they can’t shake the feeling of being an imposter.
10 signs that a limiting belief is holding you back
So how do you know if you are one of these people? Well here are 10 characteristics or traits that I have observed through my work. If you think this might be you it’s ok, most people have some unhelpful programs running under the surface. The good news is you can get this sorted out in just a few sessions with the right practitioner.
- Constantly Apologising: As an NLP practitioner and hypnotherapist I am trained to observe people’s language patterns. I won’t go into the detail of that here, but what I will say is that people with a limiting belief about themselves will say sorry a lot, and often for no reason. It’s like a default program that runs on a loop. Even if you point this out and say there is nothing to be sorry about, the next word out of their mouth will be sorry for saying sorry.
- Low self-esteem: When a person has low self-esteem or a lack of confidence you can bet that there is probably a limiting belief behind it. It doesn’t matter how much they use positive affirmations or other confidence techniques, until they deal with the belief it will continue to impact them on a subconscious or emotional level. This is because they simply don’t believe the positive words that they are saying, because their feelings are not congruent (don’t match).
- People pleasing: This is a common coping strategy for people who believe they are not good enough or worthless. They desperately want to be liked or accepted, so they go out of their way to please people. Even if the person doesn’t respect them, or deserve it. The sad thing is this behaviour tends to have the opposite effect, especially if you are dating someone. It comes across as desperate and can put people off.
- Being Selfless: This is slightly different to people pleasing, and I am not saying that there is anything wrong with putting others before yourself. However, there is a difference between that and not looking after yourself because you don’t feel like you deserve to be happy. I have had clients who will neglect themselves to a very unhealthy level. This isn’t due to a lack of motivation, because they will do those same things for their friends and loved ones, but avoid or deny themselves. E.g. cook a healthy meal, or get something as basic as a haircut. But they will take their kids to the hairdressers regularly, and cook lovely meals for them. But then just have some crisps or chocolate for themselves.
- Worrying about what others think: People with limiting beliefs constantly feel like they are going to be found out. They might lay awake all night worrying about an interaction they have had, or how a presentation will come across the next day. You can clearly tell the difference once you have overcome a limiting belief. When you love and respect yourself, you don’t care what others think of you, in fact you no longer waste your time worrying about it. Think about it like this, not everyone is going to like you and that’s ok. You probably don’t like everyone, but you aren’t thinking hateful thoughts about them (hopefully 😉). When you are comfortable in your own skin, the right people will gravitate towards you and you can easily ignore the rest. But this logic can’t usually be accepted until you finally collapse the limiting belief.
- Resisting a compliment: I always ask my clients how they feel when they are given a compliment. If they say they feel uncomfortable or awkward it’s a red flag. This is because it doesn’t fit with their limiting belief, and therefore it’s like hitting a nerve. They will often resist or even completely disregard the comment. In some cases, they will actively defend their belief of being ugly or worthless, which is very sad to see.
- Attracting unhealthy relationships: Everyone has heard someone say, “Why do I always attract negative people?” or “Why can’t I just find someone who is nice?” Well again it’s usually because on some level they don’t feel like they deserve it. People can also develop an unhealthy pattern around what love is. If they have been abused or had an unhealthy relationship with a parent, they can unconsciously gravitate to a similar partner because it’s familiar, and what they are used to. They know consciously that it’s not going to make them feel good, but again until the belief has been released, they keep going back for more. It isn’t uncommon for a person to break up, or get divorced once they have finished working with a therapist. This is because they suddenly realise what they have been doing, and finally believe that they deserve better.
- Assuming the worst: This is something else I have observed. People with limiting beliefs will get anxious when things are starting to go well, because they believe that something bad is bound to happen sooner or later. They expect the worst and therefore they usually find it, or sabotage themselves by pushing healthy people or situations away. What they don’t realise is that they have set their filters to actively seek out the negative, and filter out the positives based on what they believe. This is a very destructive pattern, but it can be overcome quite easily when you understand how your reticular activating system works. I recorded a YouTube video explaining this in more detail – https://youtu.be/-5hPQGSDtHo
- Unable to express yourself: This can come in many forms and is most prevalent in a group situation. The person may not contribute much or if they are asked for their opinion, they will often sit on the fence in fear of offending someone by favouring one side of the argument. Yes they could just be an introvert, but introverts will often have strong views about things even if they are not very vocal in a large group, so there is a subtle difference. People with limiting beliefs will display this trait even when they are in a small group that they do feel reasonably comfortable in.
- It’s never enough: As stated at the beginning of this blog, people with limiting beliefs can actually be high achievers. They can also come across as a confident extrovert. But on an unconscious level no matter how high they climb up the corporate ladder or how many awards they win, it’s still not good enough. This is because they have a program running in the background that they aren’t enough and need to do more. They often don’t even know why they feel like this, and it can lead to burn out or depression. This because they put a lot of pressure on themselves and yet no matter how well they do, they still feel unfulfilled. It often leads back to a strict or pressured environment as a child. They still play their parents scolding words in their inner monologue, but now it sounds like their own voice. I had a client that had been bullied as a child in school. One way that people try to retake control is to by starting to abuse themselves. This could be verbally, or even physically in extreme situations. In this case the bullies had left years ago, but she was still playing the same cruel taunts in her head many years later. Thankfully she has let all of that go now, but it was completely ingrained when I first met her.
What should you do if you have a limiting belief?
If you have been reading this blog and you can relate or identify with some of these traits, it’s ok. As I have said throughout this article, most people have some kind of belief or program running that isn’t serving them. But it doesn’t have to be like this for the rest of your life. I have helped people of all ages to collapse and overcome these patterns. It’s never too late to let go of the past, and step into a more positive future. But before you can do that, you have to be honest with yourself and admit that you need some support. It usually takes just a few sessions, and it is literally life changing. I would say that it is the highlight of my job when I see the shift in someone, when they realise that it was all just a misunderstanding that can be traced back to a single moment in their childhood. It’s often a very emotional and powerful experience when they finally see who they really are, and their life will never be the same again. So don’t suffer in silence, if you need help go and see a professional!
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