If you’ve spent much (or any) time in the manifestation/law-of-attraction world, you’ve likely heard of limiting beliefs. I’m not here today to discuss limiting beliefs in that context – though I find it fascinating and have been getting more and more into it lately. Instead I want to talk about what limiting beliefs are, and why I think understanding them and working to shift them is essential for moms, particularly those who struggle with anxiety and anger.

 

So what are limiting beliefs? They are beliefs we hold, that we may or may not be aware of, about ourselves, others, and the world around us. They are beliefs about what we cannot do. What we are or are not. What we must or must not do. How others will or will not treat us. These beliefs likely formed around a small kernel of truth, perhaps from one negative experience, but our minds really latched on and turned this isolated incident into “proof” of some much larger, deeper “truth.”

 

Suddenly the one time I misspoke during an important meeting becomes “I can’t handle high pressure situations,” regardless of the millions of other times things went flawlessly. And that afternoon when I couldn’t figure out what my newborn needed? Yeah that one morphed into “I can’t comfort my child.” Or what about that time I asked my mom to come over when I wasn’t feeling well and she wasn’t able to? Now it’s become “people won’t help me when I need them.” Each of these limiting beliefs started with a situation that could be interpreted to make them true. But those situations certainly didn’t warrant the massive thing that they turned into in the form of limiting beliefs.

 

How do limiting beliefs exert control over us on a day-to-day basis? They limit us! If I believe that others won’t help me when I need them, I don’t even bother reaching out for help. If I believe I can’t handle high pressure situations, I don’t stretch for that promotion. If I believe I can’t comfort my child, I withdraw from situations where my child needs comforting, defeated before I’ve even tried anything.

Limiting beliefs also push us to act in certain ways. If I believe I’m not capable of managing anxiety, as soon as anxiety comes in I crumble. If I believe I am an angry person, I will respond to situations with anger. If I believe I’m a bad mom, I will find fault in every parenting decision I make.

Even without us consciously aware of them, limiting beliefs are pushing us around all day, every day.

While I think it’s important for everyone to do the work of uncovering their limiting beliefs, I believe it’s particularly important for people who struggle with anxiety and anger. Why? Because oftentimes anxiety and anger sneakily shift from symptoms we experience to something we internalize as actually being us. It’s a symptom when I think I can’t handle a situation because it will make me anxious. But when that symptom morphs into a limiting belief (I can’t handle tough situations), it feels like it is me.

To untangle ourselves and figure out what’s a symptom and what’s me, I need to be aware of the thoughts I’ve internalized – the ones that are driving my beliefs about myself and the world around me. Once I have them out there, I can examine them, understand how they’ve been impacting my life, and begin to release the ones that are no longer serving me.

This sounds relatively straightforward, but as you’re probably guessing, it is deep work. Perhaps the most challenging part is simply the beginning. How do I figure out what these limiting beliefs are if many of them live outside of my awareness?

I start by sitting down with a blank sheet of paper, a pen, and a few minutes of silence. I give myself permission to write down anything that comes to mind, no matter how bizarre/untrue/trivial/extreme it may seem, when I hear the questions “what do I believe about myself? What am I capable of? What am I not capable of? What are the best and worst parts of me?” Let the answers out onto the paper. Don’t censor it. Don’t judge it as it comes. Follow it wherever it leads.

When that’s done, and you may need to take a break for the rest of the day before you feel ready to continue, you can move on to uncovering your beliefs about anxiety (what do I think of people who suffer from anxiety?) and the world and those around you. Same as the first time, don’t worry about whether or not you logically believe it to be “true,” don’t worry about your initial reaction to it, just get it out onto paper.

Why is it so important to get it onto paper? Because we can’t work with what we can’t see. As long as the thoughts are floating around in your head, outside of your awareness, you can’t evaluate them or work to shift them. Now that they’re on paper, we can take an honest look at them.

Once you have your beliefs on the paper, the next step is to read them out loud. Notice your reaction to them. What feelings or other thoughts come up? Does this feel like a belief that you’d like to hold onto, or one that is no longer serving you and you’d like to gently let go? For those that you’d like to release, try simply stating that the belief no longer serves you and you are ready to let it go. Notice the shift in energy. You may have to repeat this process several times, and that is totally fine. These beliefs didn’t get installed in a day; we can’t expect to change our patterns that quickly either.

The real power comes not in how quickly you can shift your limiting beliefs – the power comes from seeing that you have the power to do so at all. Change your mind, change your life.

 

Carolyn Wagner is a psychotherapist specializing in maternal mental health and the founder of The Calm Mama Method. She helps moms who struggle with anger find calm by learning to tune into the messages their anger is sending and transform it into healing. Carolyn is passionate about serving the world by supporting moms. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband, three young children, and Boogie, their beloved black lab who does her best to stay calm amidst the chaos.