Updated: Jul 11, 2022
When you think badly of yourself all the time, it can be very difficult to heal from your trauma.
Limiting beliefs are all these bad thoughts that you have about yourself, which to me were like voices of the past speaking to me. They were all the bad things people had said to me over the years, playing in my mind on repeat.
At times when I was feeling triggered and struggling the most, these negative thoughts and limiting beliefs would run like a litany through my mind. Lying down and crying hopelessly, I would wonder why I was such a bad person, and why I always failed so badly.
Understanding limiting beliefs.
What are limiting beliefs? I learned this term in a mindset coaching program that I took last year.
To some extent, everyone has limiting beliefs. However, as someone with PTSD, I think I probably had more of them. This may be true for you as well.
According to Tony Robbins, "Limiting beliefs are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are that hold us back from becoming who we are meant to be. These beliefs limit us from reaching our full potential. They are often subconscious – we don’t even know that we have them until someone points them out to us."
In my personal experience, limiting beliefs become obvious when something happens that triggers a panic attack. I start to cry, and I get into this whole spiral of terrible thoughts about myself. It seems impossible to turn off.
For example, I sometimes have trouble getting my toddler to brush her teeth before bed, she starts to cry, I try to console her and get her to brush them. She won't. It turns into an argument. Finally, I start to cry too.
At that point, my thoughts have started to spiral out of control. I think that because my child isn't listening to me:
I have failed my child.
I did something wrong.
I must be a bad mother.
I am a bad person.
I fail at everything.
I should just give up.
Why do I bother doing anything?
Being a mother is so much at the core of my identity that when my ability to parent is called into question, I inevitably spiral out of control and start thinking horrible thoughts about myself. I work really hard to provide a good life for my kids, and I feel like if my kids aren't happy, then I have in some way failed as a mother. Not a really good place to be.
My coach told me that when you encounter a limiting belief, you ask yourself "why?" Keep asking why until you get to the root cause of the current limiting belief. A lot of times it will be "I am unlovable" or "I am a failure." Or something along those lines.
According to Tony Robbins there are four types of limiting beliefs:
I don't have time.
I don't have what it takes.
I'm not strong enough.
I don't deserve love.
In the scenario above I arrived at limiting beliefs that went along with 2, 3 and 4. All because I couldn't get my child to brush her teeth. Limiting beliefs are so interwoven into the matrix of our psyche that they are there in the back of our minds all the time. The smallest things can trigger them sometimes, and cause us to spiral out of control.
Learning to heal.
The first step to healing your limiting beliefs is to become aware of them. In some ways, you can uncover your limiting beliefs through difficult situations. In my situation, typically I will find my limiting beliefs when something happens that pushes me out of control.
Afterward, when I have sufficiently calmed down (for me, usually a day or two later) I will take some time to journal and reflect on why a situation was so upsetting. This is when I will ask myself why it bothered me so much. I would keep asking "why" until I got to a reason that felt like a root cause.
Typically, the root cause of a limiting belief can be caused by a trauma, or by something bad that someone said to us when we were younger.
As I was going through my healing journey, I was lucky to be able to have a coach and a therapist to support me. When I uncovered a limiting belief and accompanying trauma from earlier in my life that had caused the limiting belief, I would bring that situation to my therapist.
In therapy, I would first tell my therapist what was bothering me. Then, we would work through the traumatic situation using EMDR. (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) According to the EMDR Institute, "After successful treatment with EMDR therapy, affective distress is relieved, negative beliefs are reformulated, and physiological arousal is reduced."
In other words, when you go to EMDR therapy, it helps you to release your limiting beliefs.
This happens when you address the original cause of your limiting belief. Once you can go back to the original situation and realize that the trauma was not your fault, it helps to reduce anxiety and trauma reactions about that situation.
From that point forward, it is easier to understand that the limiting beliefs aren't true when they come up. Limiting beliefs do still come up, but you can tell yourself that they aren't true, and tell yourself positive messages that counteract the limiting beliefs.
One of the things that my therapist asks me when I do EMDR is, "What would you like to believe about yourself instead?" For example, since one of my limiting beliefs is that I am a bad person. So, I would tell myself, "I am a good person." The good messages that I would like to have for myself instead, I use as daily affirmations.
It takes time for new positive beliefs to overcome our previous limiting beliefs, especially if we have had the limiting beliefs for a long time. However, now when I get into a downward spiral, I can tell myself that the bad thoughts I am having are not true. I do deep breathing, repeat my affirmations, and eventually can come back to a calmer space. Each time, it happens more quickly.
The first step to overcoming limiting beliefs is to understand and uncover them. Often these beliefs are buried deeply in the back of our minds, so we don't always know right away what they are. We can identify our limiting beliefs in situations where we feel triggered. Then, when we have calmed down, we can journal about them, ask why, and figure out the underlying limiting belief.
After we uncover our limiting beliefs, we can work on healing them by using therapy and EMDR. Having support through this process can be very helpful in getting well.
In therapy, we can finally come up with new positive beliefs to counteract the limiting beliefs. The good things that we would like to believe about ourselves instead can be further reinforced by using these positive statements as daily affirmations.
Let me know if you have worked with limiting beliefs in your healing journey, and if there are additional topics that you would like me to cover in the future.
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