Limiting Beliefs

The three most common areas of limiting beliefs center around issues of hopelessness, helplessness and worthless-ness. These three areas of belief can exert a great deal of influence with respect to a person's mental and physical health.

1. Hopelessness: Belief that the desired goal is not achievable regardless of your capabilities.

2. Helplessness: Belief that the desired goal is possible but that you are not capable of achieving it.

3. Worthlessness: Belief that you do not deserve the desired goal because of something you are or have (not) done.

Hopelessness occurs when someone does not believe a particular desired goal is even possible. It is characterized by a sense that, "No matter what I do it won't make a difference. What I want is not possible to get. It's out of my control. I'm a victim."

Helplessness occurs when, even though he or she believes that the outcome exists and is possible to achieve, a person does not believe that he or she is capable of attaining it. It produces a sense that, "It's possible for others to achieve this goal but not for me. I'm not good enough or capable enough to accomplish it."

Worthlessness occurs when, even though a person may believe that the desired goal is possible and that he or she even has the capability to accomplish it, that individual believes that he or she doesn't deserve to get what he/she wants. It is often characterized by a sense that, '7 am a fake. I don't belong. I don't deserve to be happy or healthy. There is something basically and fundamentally wrong with me as a person and I deserve the pain and suffering that I am experiencing."

To be successful, people need to shift these types of limiting beliefs to beliefs involving hope for the future, a sense of capability and responsibility, and a sense of self-worth and belonging.

Obviously, the most pervasive beliefs are those regarding our identity. Some examples of limiting beliefs about identity are: 7 am helpless/worthless/a victim." "I don't deserve to succeed." "If I get what I want I will lose something." 7 don't have permission to succeed."

Limiting beliefs sometimes operate like a "thought virus" with a destructive capability similar to that of a computer virus or biological virus. A 'thought virus' is a limiting belief that can become a 'self-fulfilling prophesy' and interfere with one's efforts and ability to heal or improve. (The structure and influence of thought viruses are covered in more depth in Chapter 8.) Thought viruses contain unspoken assumptions and presuppositions which make them difficult to identify and challenge. Frequently, the most influential beliefs arc often out of our awareness.

Limiting beliefs and thought viruses often arise as seemingly insurmountable "impasses" to the process of change. At such an impasse, a person will feel, "I've tried everything to change this and nothing works." Dealing effectively with impasses involves finding the limiting belief that is at their core, and holding them in place.

Transforming Limiting Beliefs

Ultimately, we transform limiting beliefs and become 'immunized' to 'thought viruses' by expanding and enriching our models of the world, and becoming clearer about our identities and missions. Limiting beliefs, for instance, are often developed in order to fulfill a positive purpose, such as, protection, establishing boundaries, feeling a sense of per sonal power, etc. By acknowledging these deeper intentions and updating our mental maps to include other, more effective ways to fulfill those intentions, beliefs can often be changed with a minimum amount of effort and pain.

Many limiting beliefs arise as a result of unanswered 'how' questions. That is, if a person does not know how to change his or her behavior, it is easy for the person to build the belief, "That behavior can't be changed." If a person does not know how to accomplish a particular task, the person may develop the belief, "I am incapable of successfully completing that task." Thus, it is often also important to provide the answers for a number of "how to" questions in order to help a person transform limiting beliefs. For example, in order to address a belief such as, "It is dangerous to show my emotions," we must answer the question, "How do I show my emotions and still stay safe?"

Positive Intention

Limiting Belief

New Answers to 'How' Questions

Updated Belief

Presuppositions and Assumptions

Limiting Beliefs May be Transformed or Updated by Identifying the Positive Intentions and Presuppositions which Underlie the Belief and Providing Alternatives and New Answers to How' Questions.

Beliefs, both empowering and limiting, are often built in relation to feedback and reinforcement from significant others. Our sense of identity and mission, for instance, is usually defined in relation to significant others, or "mentors," who serve as reference points for the larger systems of which we perceive ourselves as members. Because identity and mission form the larger framework which surrounds our beliefs and values, establishing or shifting significant relationships can exert a strong influence on beliefs. Thus, clarifying or altering key relationships, and messages received in the context of those relationships, often spontaneously facilitates changes in beliefs. Establishing new relationships is often an important part of promoting lasting belief change, especially relationships which provide positive support at the level of identity. (This is one of the principles at the base of the NLP belief change technique of Reimprint-ing.)

In summary, limiting beliefs can be updated and transformed by:

• Identifying and acknowledging the underlying positive intention.

• Identifying any unspoken or unconscious presuppositions or assumptions at the base of the belief.

• • Widening the perception of the cause-effect chains or 'complex equivalences' related to the belief.

• Providing 'how to' information with respect to alternatives for fulfilling the positive intention or purpose of the limiting belief.

• Clarifying or updating key relationships which shape one's sense of mission and purpose, and receiving positive support at an identity level.

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