Every single person possesses opinions about themselves. The more we engage with these opinions, the more they come to shape our identities.

So, what if our ideas about ourselves are not so kind?

Although negative opinions of ourselves, or “self limiting beliefs” arise through no fault of our own, they can leave us writhing in self doubt and self destruction. These beliefs can make us feel hopeless and ineffective, like it’s not even worth trying.

Reality check: it is worth trying. Sure, self limiting beliefs lock us in a cage. But we already have the key!

What are self limiting beliefs? What do they look like?

Imagine yourself in the following situations…

  • Sitting in a room full of accomplished people
  • Standing in your bathroom and catching your own gaze in the mirror
  • Examining a job posting, your eyes running over the seemingly endless list of qualifications…

What do these moments have in common? Each can reveal subconscious beliefs we hold about ourselves.

For the most part, the beliefs we hold about ourselves bolster us. They help us recognize and puruse our strengths, passions, goals, and desires. For instance, you firmly believe you work well with kids; that self belief may shape your career path.

Yet, these beliefs can equally wreak havoc on our confidence when they grow from negative sentiments.

  • “Everyone else is smarter than I am.”
  • “I’ve got a weird face and no one will ever find me attractive.”
  • “I can’t meet all the qualifications of any job.”

When we believe bad things about ourselves, even casually, we become discouraged. We detract from our own self-worth. And subconsciously, we may start to try less – turning our negative self beliefs into limiting, self-fulfilling prophecies.

Whether in regard to appearance, skills, opportunities, aspirations, social reputation, etc., negative self beliefs often come to limit us. They deteriorate our faith in ourselves, and keep us from even trying.  

What makes self-limiting beliefs especially dangerous is their internal nature. They truly can be out of sight, out of mind. We may become so conditioned to negative self-thoughts, that we integrate them unconsciously into our approach to daily tasks and challenges. 

Where do we get these unhelpful ideas about ourselves?

via CUNY Baruch College

Self-limiting beliefs can spawn at any stage of our life, from any catalyst. The root of each belief can vary.

It could be a criticism your mother constantly berated you with. Maybe a colleague’s snide comment still reverberates. It could be a specific aspect of yourself that you were bullied for. Or, you may have spontaneously generated this limiting belief, in response to bewildering experiences. 

If you grow up constantly hearing a certain comment or criticism from your mother, or harboring some specific idea about yourself in mind, and never see evidence against that sentiment, it makes sense, over time, to believe it’s true.

Comparison breeds self limiting belief

Self-limiting beliefs are all about evidence and confirmation bias. For example, many young girls and women believe themselves to be ugly in comparison to the Instagram models flooding their social media feeds. Even when aware of social media’s artificial nature, girls remain vulnerable to social media’s constant influx of stimulation. For anyone, it’s incredibly difficult to logically challenge automatic comparisons. And when you subconsciously compare yourself to hundreds of retouched posts per day, tens of candy-coated captions, that stimulation prevails over reason.

Incessant comparison quickly solidifies the beliefs that hold us back. 

How can I identify my self limiting beliefs?

You have to notice these beliefs in order to stop holding yourself back! Fortunately, there are a plethora of ways to identify your self limiting beliefs. You can pick the methods that speak to you most.

Keep an eye out for repetitive sentiments or phrases you tell yourself as you go about your day. When you pass by a mirror and almost subconsciously think to yourself, “I’m so ugly”, try and halt that thought in its tracks. Interrogate its background, its value, its truth; where did it come from? Why do you think so? Once these truths come into the spotlight, it becomes clear that your self limiting beliefs carry a lot less weight than you previously thought. Rather than as truthful pieces of information, you may come to see them as simply instinctive reactions to yourself, a certain scenario, etc. 

Undo self limiting beliefs: beliefs are thoughts repeated 

Once you question the worth and integrity of self limiting beliefs, you leave them vulnerable to challenge and complete shutdown. Some methods to do so are as follows: 

Take note of a specific sentiment you hold, such as “I’m not attractive enough” or “I’m not smart enough”, and attempt to trace it back to the earliest specific, or general, moment you recall experiencing it. This could be during free-time in your fourth grade classroom, or when you first joined a social media platform in college. Once you identify these moments, you can actively isolate them as self-limiting beliefs, rather than reflections of reality, and disempower them. 

“Beliefs are thoughts repeated.” As soon as you catch one of these thoughts in the act, actively separate it from any value or weight you gave it. Replace it with a self-appreciative sentiment instead. When you think, “I’m not smart enough,” follow that up by affirming to yourself, “I am smart enough to accomplish whatever I put my mind to.”

Then, think of an example when you did accomplish something in the past. Actively look for evidence – even if you need to create it through action – to support this new, positive claim. Do your best to overcome the fear triggered by your former self limiting belief and seek new opportunities that speak to you. If your self limiting belief centers around your intelligence, for example, perhaps pick up a video game that requires clever thinking and try your hand at it. Likewise, when you catch yourself doing something “smart”, really take a moment to pride yourself on that evidence. 

Ideally, these opportunities will enable you to truly contradict your self limiting beliefs.

Take back your power

Self limiting beliefs often carry the power to dictate our lives by restricting our confidence in what we can accomplish. If you struggle with self limiting beliefs, give these tips a try. Don’t feel discouraged if they don’t work the first, second, even third time you try them. Self limiting beliefs characteristically embed themselves deeply in our minds. Thus, it’s a difficult process to shake them. However, with these steps in mind, and your own inner power at hand, freedom from self limiting beliefs is within reach.

Quotes on self-limiting beliefs

“One of the hardest expressions of self-assertiveness is challenging your limiting beliefs.” – Nathaniel Branden

“Beliefs are thoughts repeated.” – Uknown

“I’m not interested in your limiting beliefs. I’m interested in what makes you limitless.” – Brendon Burchard

“Never let the limitations or insecurities of others limit what is possible for you.” – Hal Elrod

“Going through life with self-limiting beliefs is like keeping your foot on the brakes when you’re trying to accelerate.” – lotuspathway.com

“Chronic self-doubt is a symptom of the core belief, ‘I’m not good enough.’ We adopt these types of limiting beliefs in response to our family and childhood experiences, and they become rooted in the subconscious.” – Lauren Mackler

“Do just once what others say you can’t do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations again.” – James Cook

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think.” – Buddha

“When you mark where your self-doubt is, then you can begin to conquer it.” – Stephen Richards