So, what is a limiting belief and what's it got to do with getting sober?
A limiting belief is a belief that constrains us in some way. It’s a belief that is unhelpful to us because it stops us from doing things or saying things or trying things and it make us avoid certain situations or leads us into situations that are unhealthy for us. Limiting beliefs prevent us from living our best life and reaching our full potential.
They are usually buried deep somewhere in the unconscious part of our minds, have usually been formed at a young age and we are usually unaware of how much these beliefs drive our decisions, actions, thoughts and feelings.
They can be challenging to identify because we’ve accepted them as true for so long… we might see them as true rather than as beliefs that we can choose to dismiss or replace.
Here’s a gentle little example:
When I was about seven years old, an art teacher at school held up a painting I’d done, displayed it to the class and announced to everyone how rubbish it was and how I’d never make a great artist. From that day forth, I have carried a belief that I am rubbish at art, painting, drawing, etc. Now, this isn’t a major problem for me… it’s not the end of the world for me to not pursue a hobby or career in art. There are plenty of other things where I feel confident in my skills and this hasn’t impacted my life in any major way.
But it’s a useful illustration (sorry! 😊) Whenever I have been faced with a task or option around drawing or art, I have actively avoided it. I haven’t been consciously thinking about any limiting beliefs I have, I’ve simply acted on impulse and as if that belief is true. Like I say, this doesn’t have devastating consequences for me, so I’m happy to leave it be for now.
Here’s the thing though… some of what we might call “identity beliefs” (beliefs we hold about ourselves) can be very damaging. Things like:
• I’m worthless • I’m not good enough • I’m spineless • I’m disgusting • I’ll never amount to anything • I’m an idiot
Or even, and bear with me on this one, it’s a belief rather than a fact: I’m an alcoholic (more of that in an upcoming blog).
These can be really troublesome because if they represent your identity, it's harder to change them because they are you.
If I were to believe that I am worthless, how might that limit my choices, my decisions, my actions – even my thoughts and feelings? How might such a belief lead to an unhealthy relationship with alcohol?
Moving from a gentle little example to something bigger and heavier…
One of my old, limiting beliefs was that I was unlovable. So, because I carried this belief with me (unconsciously – not thinking about it at all), I would do things to make myself feel loved. I would choose unhealthy relationships because my health and safety was less important than my need to feel loved. I would have risky sex because, at least in the moment, that made me feel desirable and loved. I would get pissed, because drinking and feeling drunk was respite and allowed me to shove that belief to one side. It also gave me the courage to do the risky sex. It allowed me to play a part that I thought was more desirable, more lovable and more attractive.
Now, I have transplanted a lot of these old, limiting beliefs and have chosen more helpful and positive beliefs in their place. Life is so much more rewarding. I am so much more content. I have more potential and am more likely to succeed and reach my goals (and be happier and healthier). And, importantly, no longer need to drink to escape or avoid any of them.
But, you can see how an unhelpful belief like that can limit you and have an impact on the choices you make.
What beliefs about yourself that you have held to be true can you already identify that might have contributed to an unhealthy relationship with alcohol?