In a previous post we examined the concept of confirmation bias; the idea that we seek to reinforce our beliefs whenever they are challenged, rather than accepting a new point of view. Though similar in effect, limiting beliefs come from a different place and are reinforced by different thoughts and experiences.
It goes without saying that life teaches us many lessons, both good and bad. Equally important are the influences of others when we’re young, those we refer to as role models. While the positive lessons we learn from them may become the foundation of confirmation bias, the negative lessons tend toward becoming limiting beliefs.
The Difference Between Bias and Limiting Beliefs
If you’ve been told what an exceptional person you are all your life, and have some successes to reinforce that claim, the discovery that you may not be perfect could be jarring. When the star quarterback fails, he may blame his receiver for dropping the winning pass. When the best gymnast in high school loses at nationals, she may blame the judges for being “homers”. When these two people are told they’re still “the best” despite those experiences, they’re likely to accept such praise, confirming their bias and reinforcing their view of themselves, rather than being humbled by reality.
On the other hand, the woman who’s been told all her life that she is worthless by those who should know better will tend to believe that evaluation regardless of success. Just as the gymnast losing was the fault of someone else, so the success was an accident for this woman. This type of limiting belief is extremely destructive and can lead to a life of negative self-image, depression, and even self-destructive behaviors.
Changing Your Belief System
While it can be terrifying to realize that the beliefs upon which you’ve built your life are incorrect, that your concepts of love, friendship, commitment, and loyalty are simply wrong, the negative consequences of these limiting beliefs and behaviors must be overcome if you hope to find happiness. The thought of changing the very foundation upon which you live is understandably frightening; however, if the belief system you’ve used to construct your life is causing you harm, you must tear it down and rebuild it.
Here are two things to consider that may help:
- Bad role models are powerful – just as powerful as good role models. Destructive behavior is NOT “normal” behavior. If you grew up in a household where physical abuse was accepted, it may seem “normal” to you. It’s not! If abusive behavior and victimhood were the standard by which your parents lived, it’s perfectly understandable that you might build your life as an adult on the same model. Yet, while altering that perception can be frightening in the extreme, doing so is your only hope for happiness.
- Your sense of Self belongs to you – exclusively. Ingrained feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and shame, when implanted by others, are nothing but emotional blackmail, designed to force you to accept a relationship on the terms of another, without regard for your feelings, welfare or needs. These feelings have little or nothing to do with you and your behavior, but instead reflect a lack of self-esteem and self-worth in the person who is using them to blackmail you emotionally. You must discard them – now – and move on.
Of course, it seems rational to hold such beliefs about ourselves if our life experiences have reinforced them. Yet, they remain irrational beliefs, founded in the equally irrational judgements of the role models who’ve influenced your life. Such beliefs do nothing but create and encourage a vicious cycle of emotional destruction in you and, if you don’t make changes, in your children too.
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