What are Limiting Beliefs, and How to Overcome Them

Published on
September 6, 2023

What are limiting beliefs?

Limiting beliefs are deeply ingrained thought patterns that constrain us and prevent us from reaching our full potential. They can stem from various sources, including childhood experiences, societal conditioning, and cultural influences. Limiting beliefs often operate at the unconscious or subconscious levels, shaping our perceptions, decisions, actions, and essentially creating our reality. When we hold positive and empowering beliefs within, we are open to new possibilities and opportunities which align with those beliefs. On the other hand, negative or limiting beliefs can act as barriers, restricting our potential and creating self-fulfilling prophecies (aka self-sabotage). By consciously examining and transforming limiting beliefs into supportive and empowering ones, we hold the power to create the life of our dreams. Cultivating belief in our abilities, worthiness, and the abundance of the universe allows us to tap into the creative forces within us. With clarity of intention, focused action, and unwavering belief in our capacity to manifest, we can consciously co-create the reality we desire and invite positive experiences and outcomes into our lives.

Limiting beliefs are (unconscious) stories and self-imposed barriers that keep us stuck in negative patterns, preventing us from reaching our goals. These beliefs often stem from past experiences, societal conditioning, and our own interpretation of events. Common examples of limiting beliefs include "I'm not smart enough", "I don't deserve success", or "I'm not lovable".

What are limiting beliefs--a look at childhood development

Renowned psychiatrist and researcher, Dr. Dan Siegel, has made significant contributions to our understanding of how limiting beliefs are developed during childhood. He emphasizes the importance of our earliest experiences and their impact on the formation of beliefs.

In addition to being a prominent psychiatrist and neuroscientist, Dr. Siegel is an author who is known for his work in the field of interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB). He has made significant contributions to our understanding of the brain, mind, and human relationships. His work focuses on the integration of different disciplines, such as neuroscience, psychology, and mindfulness, to provide a holistic understanding of the human experience and our well-being. He has developed the concept of the ‘mindful brain’ and introduced the idea of ‘mindsight’, which refers to the capacity to perceive and shape the flow of energy and information within our minds and brains.

Dr. Siegel is also known for his exploration of attachment theory, the development of the brain, and the impact early childhood experiences have on our mental health. He emphasizes the importance of healthy relationships and secure attachment in promoting emotional resilience and fostering optimal brain development.

With regard to the topic of limiting beliefs, Dr. Siegel proposes that childhood experiences, particularly in the context of relationships, play a crucial role in shaping our beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world. He suggests that the quality of these early experiences influences the development of our brain's neural connections and the formation of our beliefs, including the limiting ones, highlighting the significance of secure attachment in our early relationships. Secure attachment involves consistent emotional attunement, responsiveness, and sensitivity from our caregivers. When a caregiver provides a secure base for exploration and meets a child's emotional needs, it fosters the development of a secure internal working model. This internal model includes beliefs about oneself and others, forming the basis for later interactions and relationships with others. Let's take a look at how:

Mirror Neurons and Social Learning:

Mirror neurons play a crucial role in social learning and belief formation. Mirror neurons are specialized cells in our brains that fire both when we perform an action and when we observe someone else performing the same action. These neurons facilitate empathy, imitation, and learning through observation. During childhood, children observe and internalize the beliefs and behaviors of their caregivers and significant others in their lives, shaping their own beliefs about themselves and the world.

Implicit Memory and Emotional Experiences:

Dr. Siegel also emphasizes the influence of implicit memory on belief formation. Implicit memory refers to our unconscious memory system that stores emotional experiences and patterns without our conscious awareness. Traumatic or emotionally charged events during childhood can create implicit memories that shape our beliefs and responses to similar situations in the future. These implicit memories can reinforce limiting beliefs and trigger emotional reactions that perpetuate them.

Narrative Storytelling and Integration:

Dr. Siegel emphasizes the power of narrative storytelling in shaping our beliefs. He suggests that the stories we tell ourselves and others about our past experiences influence our beliefs and how we perceive ourselves. By integrating our life experiences into coherent narratives, we can gain a deeper understanding of the factors that have contributed to our beliefs, and potentially reframe or challenge them.

Neuroplasticity and Belief Transformation:

Dr. Siegel highlights the concept of neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain's ability to change and reorganize itself throughout life. He suggests that through intentional practices, such as mindfulness, breathwork, and therapy, we can rewire our neural pathways and transform limiting beliefs. By engaging in practices that promote self-awareness and reflection, we can become more conscious of our beliefs, identify their origins, and gradually replace them with more empowering and adaptive ones.

Reflective Parenting and Belief Transmission:

Dr. Siegel also emphasizes the importance of reflective parenting in mitigating the transmission of limiting beliefs to future generations. By cultivating self-awareness and reflecting on our own beliefs and experiences, parents can become more attuned to their children's emotional needs and provide a nurturing environment that supports the development of resilient and empowering beliefs.

In summary, according to Dr. Dan Siegel, the development of limiting beliefs during childhood is influenced by attachment relationships, social learning, implicit memory, narrative storytelling, and the brain's neuroplasticity. Understanding these processes can help us gain insight into the origins of our beliefs and empower us to challenge and transform them. By engaging in practices that promote self-reflection, emotional regulation, and connection, we can work towards overcoming limiting beliefs and fostering a more positive and adaptive mindset.

Rebirthing Breathwork and The Personal Law

Leonard Orr, the founder of Rebirthing Breathwork and a pioneer in the field of personal development, introduced the concept of ‘the personal law’ (also called ‘the personal lie’ by Sondra Ray), which is a limiting belief. According to Orr, we begin absorbing our parents' feelings and thoughts during conception, when we are in the womb, birth, childhood, or even from past lifetimes. This sets us up to create what is called our personal law–also called the personal lie–the biggest lie we tell ourselves. The personal lie is a negative core belief that we create about ourselves which becomes deeply ingrained and influences our perceptions, choices, and actions.

Why is this early critical period so important? The UK government published a report called, “The Best Start for Life: A Vision for the 1,001 Critical Days.” This report outlines how the foundation for an individual's cognitive, emotional and physical development form from conception to the age of two.

The term ‘critical period’ was coined by Development Biologists, and it occurs just after a human or animal is born. There is a critical period of time when the newly born organism recognizes their parent. The ‘critical period’ is limited and severely restricted to the animal's early life. During ‘critical periods’, the actual environment influences the development of the respective physiological control systems for their entire life period. This means the environment an animal or human is brought up in impacts how their genes are expressed, and consequently how their physiology develops.

Construction of the basic architecture of the brain begins before birth. After birth, more than a million new neural connections are formed every second in the first year of a baby's life. Sensory pathways for basic functions like vision and hearing develop first, followed by early language skills and higher cognitive functions. This is the peak period of brain development.

Why is this preverbal developmental period relevant? Because the personal law is a thought or feeling that a person takes on during this period that is so painful that they restrict their breathing in order not to feel it. In doing this, it has become part of their cellular memory. It is the main imprint from which we detrimentally perceive and interpret all that we see, including our outlook towards the world and life.

Let’s look at the example of a mother who gives birth and then has postnatal depression. This is not her fault, but it causes her to not be as receptive to bonding with her baby. Bonding is a critical developmental activity between the mother and baby. When you look at this from the baby’s perspective, the baby interprets this as  feeling abandoned. Even though the baby is in this preverbal stage, it still feels the abandonment and thus develops a personal law, “I am not wanted”, “I am rejected”, or “I am alone”.

A personal law, or lie, is a thought which controls our mind and life more than any other thought. It is the most negative or limiting thought, belief or feeling a person has about themselves. Some examples include;

“I am not worthy”, “I am separate”, “I am unlovable”, “I am evil” or “bad”, “I am not enough”, or “I do not matter”.

Our Personal Law dictates the way we create and interpret our reality and is the root of our self-sabotaging behaviors. The power of our personal law attracts us to undesirable circumstances repetitively. We can trace so much that is present in our life back to our personal law. Every difficult experience, every relationship is a reflection of the mental pattern going on inside of you. It is our most negative thought about ourselves that our ego created in order to protect ourselves. We forget who we really are and create a false identity around this negative thought.

The personal law is the one main thought that is ‘the’ major block to having a healthy, abundant and happy life. It is not the truth about yourself, although your ego may want you to believe this, and even tricks you into believing it’s true.

Overcoming Negative Beliefs:

Overcoming negative beliefs begins with self-awareness and a willingness to challenge and change our thought patterns. The first step is to identify and acknowledge the negative beliefs we hold about ourselves, others, and the world. We do this through self-reflection, journaling, or with the help of a therapist, coach, or breathwork practitioner. Once identified, it’s important to question these beliefs, getting curious about why we have them and if they're true. This is where Introspective Breathwork™ can play a powerful role. Introspective Breathwork™ allows us to access deep states of consciousness and release emotional blockages associated with negative beliefs. Through conscious and intentional breathing, we can create a space for healing and transformation, enabling us to let go of limiting beliefs and embrace more empowering ones. Also, at One Breath Institute we believe in the power of healing and transforming beliefs through conscious relationships and community. Our programs are designed to support this type of healing. To explore and transform your Personal Law specifically, seek out a breathwork practitioner who is trained at facilitating this process.

Alongside breathwork, practices like self-compassion, self-acceptance, self-care, mindfulness, and support from trusted professionals or healing communities can further enhance the process of challenging and overcoming negative beliefs. You may also be interested in trying the emotional regulation activities in this article.

This article was all about: What are Limiting Beliefs, and How to Overcome Them

by Lisa McNett, founder of One Breath Institute

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