How to Identify Your Limiting Self-Beliefs

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by Vlad Dolezal on August 27, 2010

When you put on sunglasses, or skiing goggles, at first the whole world looks darker and discoloured.

But after a minute or two, you get used to it, and completely forget the sunglasses are even there. And then, hours later, you take them off, and think “Wow, the whole world looks completely different than I thought!”

Limiting beliefs are like sunglasses. They change the way you perceive the world… but you’ve had them for so long, you have no idea they’re there. They’ve become completely transparent to you, even though other people might be able to see them.

And you can’t change your limiting beliefs when you don’t realize they’re even there!

So today, we’re going to tackle the problem of identifying your limiting beliefs. More specifically, your limiting self-beliefs, or self-image.

What exactly is a self-image?

Your self-image is how you perceive yourself. It’s not just an image – it’s a collection of visuals, sounds, feelings, and abstract concepts (like power and justice).

And while some parts of your self-image might be conscious (I’m perfectly aware that I think of myself as “tall” and “male”), most of them are deeply subconscious. Like tinted glasses, where after a while you have become completely unaware they’re there.

Today, we’ll focus on uncovering your self-image. And once you’re aware of what you believe about yourself, you might realize some of it is no longer useful, like wearing skiing goggles once you step indoors. You might have self-beliefs that have become deeply ingrained in the way you see yourself, even though they’re clearly detrimental and wrong. They might have been true back when you were a confused lonely teenager, but they are just holding you back now.

And remember, your beliefs are just beliefs! There is no absolute “truth”.

The three parts of your self-image

It’s popular to say that we’re all different and you can’t apply generalizations among groups of people. And people like hearing that, because we all like to feel unique and valued.

But the fact is, as humans we are very similar. Just try comparing yourself to an amoeba or a birch tree, then you’ll see some real difference.

And one of the things we have in common, is that deep inside, we are all happy, content, confident, positive people. But over the years, layers of negative beliefs get piled up on top of that, which we then try to cover up from the world by pretending to be opposite of those beliefs.

Or, to sum up, your self-image consists of your:

1. True self
Which is the deep, inside part of you that’s content, happy, and naturally confident.

2. Negative self
Which is the sum of all those negative beliefs you hold about yourself, like “people don’t like my singing”, “I am unattractive”, or even more profound ones like “I am a failure” and “I am not worthy”.

3. Pretend self
Which you further pile on top of your negative beliefs, to try to hide them from the world. Like the overly cocky guy in a pub who feels insecure on the inside and tries to cover it up. Like the workaholic who keeps chasing success and external validation, because he feels unworthy inside.

Now, some negative self-beliefs (whether justified or not), you won’t try to cover up. Maybe you think you’re a bad dancer and are quite happy to advertise that fact to other people. We won’t deal with those beliefs today.

Instead, we’ll deal with the beliefs you find so horrifying that you’ve been trying to cover them up from the world. And you’ve been covering them up for so long, you don’t even realize they’re really there… and that they’re just negative beliefs piled up on top of your true self.

You will feel strongly about this pretend self. You won’t want to let go. Just remember – the negative self underneath is just another fake layer, not your true self.

Or, as someone pointedly put it…

Your true self is like a diamond, which gets covered in a pile of horse shit. And then you spend energy and effort covering the horse shit in nail varnish to make it more presentable to the world, instead of digging away at the horse shit to uncover the real diamond underneath.

How to recognize your pretend self

The very nature of your pretend self makes it very hard to recognize, since you’re putting in a lot of energy to convince everyone (including yourself), that it’s the reality.

But there are a few tricks how you can dig underneath, and help yourself recognize which parts of your self-image are parts of your true self, and which are just parts of your pretend self.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself that will help you uncover your true self, and see what’s just part of your pretend self:

  • What is one thing that’s important that nobody finds out about you?
  • What is important that everybody should find out about you as soon as possible?
  • Who do you dislike the most?
  • Who are you when you are completely alone?
  • When do you feel completely comfortable and at ease?

Take a few moments to answer those questions.

About the third one – most perception is projection. We most strongly dislike the people we are secretly afraid we might be like.

When I first did the above exercise, years ago in high school, my most disliked person in the world was my physics teacher. And my first reaction was “Of course I’m not like him! That’s ridiculous!”. But over the coming weeks, the realization seeped in that, yes, I was secretly afraid I was very similar to him, and I hated him for that.

Once you identify parts of your pretend self (like the things where it’s really important that people know something about you), it’s easy to find the corresponding limiting belief. It’s the direct opposite of what you’re trying to cover it up with!

And now that you know how to identify your limiting self-beliefs, it’s time to start getting rid of them!

Take a piece of paper, and start writing down all your beliefs about yourself, in the form “I am…”. For example, my list would start:

  • I am a man.
  • I am tall.
  • I am creative.
  • I am a decent writer (blogger).

Just keep going until you run out of things you believe about yourself. Don’t worry about writing down the trivial ones – just keep writing and get in the flow. You will soon get to the deep, profound beliefs.

Once you have done that, look through your list of beliefs, and find which ones are no longer serving you. Maybe it’s time to change them?

And finally, once you know which negative beliefs you want to change… apply the ultimate guide to changing your limiting beliefs!

That’s all. Have a great day!

(image courtesy of joeshlabotnik)

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Aeracura July 25, 2013 at 18:31

I have been my “pretend” self for many years, and the truth is that it’s hard not to bring her out when I feel pressure, or perhaps for no real reason at all. She’s the one that deals with the world and all the pain. I am learning to be my true self, and not to listen to my negative self so much. Thank you for this 🙂


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