Years ago I was having the roughest time I ever had in my life. I eventually got to the point of asking my primary care physician for a referral to a therapist. I had tried therapy in the past and didn’t find it to be successful.
But what I now know is it’s an intimate relationship and not a one size fits all kind of deal. If you want a resolution to your problems, you gotta get radical.
So I went to my therapist’s office consistently and after a year of doing the work, I was feeling better. Therapy isn’t usually the first option for people of color when they need help. Most treatment options are not culturally compliant, there’s health disparity, as well as limited options of clinicians of color.
At the end of one particular therapy session, I figured I would just go for it and said to my therapist, “I want to do what you do.”
Immediately, I regretted it. I thought I was broken; who was I to tell someone what to do? I thought he would think I was arrogant. I wanted to stick the words back into my mouth after I said it.
What makes me think I could do this? And admit it out loud?
But therapy helped me regain my life. I had pervasive depression. And as a Black woman, I didn’t feel as if I had permission to show my weakness.
Long story short, he proceeded to tell me how I could enter the field the quickest way possible.
After applying for NYU, a school I never thought I would be able to afford, I was accepted.
I achieved my master’s degree, in a year and a half, was licensed a month later, but the goal has always been private practice. To help people who look like me, and feel what I felt, feel better.
Let’s dive into the limiting beliefs that almost stopped me from pursuing my career, and how you can stop them from holding you back.
What are limiting beliefs?
Limiting beliefs are the negative narratives or stories we tell about ourselves, our skills and abilities. These beliefs often keep us from achieving the things we say we desire most life. Common limiting beliefs revolve around choice or autonomy/free will, love, money, and careers. They can paralyze us into having feelings of inaction. They can even influence us to low ball our personal value, forcing us to believe we deserve less than we do.
It can also influence us to engage in behavior that we know is not in alignment with both our moral structure and the vision we have for our life. Deep down inside we are struggling to love ourselves fully. This can affect getting equal pay, an inability to get our needs met in relationships and even hold us hostage to a belief system that doesn’t satisfy the greater good for who we want to become.
Limiting beliefs are deceptive because they usually live in the dark recesses of our mind, enforced by years of cultural, family and community influences. We hold them as truths about ourselves. We rarely vocally share them with the world but share them through our actions.
Where limiting beliefs originate
Limiting beliefs are deeply rooted in our identity. These are all based on social constructs and community-enforced social contracts. Without negotiation, we assigned roles and duties based upon those roles, and we are expected to believe we are supposed to uphold our end of the deal through execution of the duties of the roles. These roles are assigned to us by many things out of our control: birth order, sex, sexual identity, racial identity, culture, and country of origin. This all influences the external messages we receive about our perceived expected behaviors. The internal struggles come in when there is a conflict within. It’s where we battle for inclusion and closeness and autonomy at the same time.
For a lot of us, we struggle to find our place in the world. First in our families, then in peer groups, and within the larger society. These ever-evolving societal structures change all the time, and they change as we learn and grow. At the same time, we struggle to find our own individuality throughout this process. Discovering our likes and dislikes, wants and needs. We struggle with appropriate-ness. And if you throw the burning flame of romantic entanglement in the mix… you have a five-alarm fire.
How limiting-beliefs are created
Self-limiting beliefs don’t form overnight. Most of these beliefs are created in childhood and held in place by people who love us. Some of the limits that are placed on us were developed as an extension of our parents’ fears. This is why these thoughts are really hard to separate from our “positive” self-narratives. These ideas are meant to keep us safe from dangers, real and emotional. They are meant to shield us from disappointment. But as we do the calculations of how far we have to push outside of our comfort zone in an effort to achieve our dreams, we battle the conflicting belief systems and that often creates confusion. That emotional turmoil can further fill us with self-doubt and shame as we approach those limits. It is only when we defy the odds and achieve our dreams that we see those limits as a self-imposed prison.
How they affect our relationships
It is hard to avoid bringing self-limiting beliefs into our relationships. Because these ideals are rooted in our relationships, both in our communities and in our families. When you defy convention by pushing back on these beliefs, it can be very isolating. The first thing to do is to make peace with the fact that changing the narrative may require you to change your surroundings.
Can we change limiting beliefs?
You have to look at the internal stories or intrusive thoughts that plague you and ask yourself if this moves you into the directions of your dreams. Set goals for yourself as if money is no object. Look at it as if you have unlimited resources, support, and love. Imagine that when the time comes to execute, you can afford to put all the pieces in place.
Do a brain dump of all the goals you want to achieve, in love, money, and life in general. Once that is complete, work with someone to help you prioritize and partialize the necessary next steps. In my opinion, this should be a therapist or coach. They need to be an objective observer.
Many of us make the mistake of going to people who are already in our circle to hold us accountable. The struggle with that is they probably have the same limiting beliefs you do and instead of giving you objective support, they can project their fears onto you. As you start to achieve and acquire small wins, you will see that it required you to test the limits of those beliefs.
How to identify limiting beliefs
Another technique that will help you to examine them is to keep a journal of your negative self-talk and ask yourself, “Where have I heard this before?” We can identify them as our own negative inner dialogue but generally, we see a direct correlation between things we believe and what we have been told by our families. We have to come to an understanding that these beliefs were not intentionally placed to limit us, and hold no ill will against those who helped to shape them, as they were more than likely doing the best they could with the information they had at the time.
Why we should challenge them
Limiting beliefs are there to be challenged. It is your job to prove them wrong. No one who has ever stood out in society has subscribed to conformity. It is imperative that we go harder and push past our limits because that’s where we make (her)story. You have a right to test and create your own belief systems that encourage self-love, self-assurance, and self-reliance. If your current belief systems don’t promote those things, you have to get rid of them by any means necessary.
It takes courage. But it’s our duty as human beings to find our voice and our purpose. We need to shake off these limits in an effort to develop our gifts and offer them to the world.
What limiting beliefs are you holding onto that are keeping you from the love you say you want?