I’ve been writing about the power of our beliefs these last several weeks. I want to go deeper this week. I’ve worked with lots of people, in both seminars and coaching, who have confronted limiting beliefs very much at the core of their identities. A common belief of masses of people is “I’m not enough,” or “if people really knew me they wouldn’t like me.” Such beliefs are usually formed pretty early in life, at a time when they were vulnerable and lacked the support or internal awareness and resources to make a better decision. Making such a decision can happen as the result of criticism, through comparisons to others, through neglect or abuse. The commonality is that the situation-specific conclusion (often repeated a number of times) sticks and becomes a core belief.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve gently but firmly confronted someone about such a belief. If in a seminar, it is often the two of us standing in the middle of the room. I ask them about how they learned that they aren’t good enough. The stories vary a lot and yet are quite touching, often heart-wrenching. I’ve learned that people need to tell the story, in a safe environment, before they’re able to let go of the underlying negative belief. In fact, better that they tell the story than live the story, which they’ve been doing for so many years. So I have them talk about what happened (whether a single incident or, much more likely, a recurring series of incidents) in which they came to this conclusion.
I listen. Then I ask them to tell me about the decisions they made when such and such happened. What did they decide about life? Relationships? How to get along, survive? Most importantly, what did they decide about themselves?
I’ll pick a decision and ask them to look deep into their hearts. “Is it true, this decision you made so long ago?” I’ll ask them to put their hand over their heart, close their eyes. I want them to take a moment before they respond. Virtually always they answer that it is not true.
Much of the time, not always, I’ll ask them to tell me who taught them this belief? They’ll identify someone or a collection of people. I’ll ask them what they need to say to this person/people. Emotion flows–hurt, sadness, resentment, anger. They need to feel and express it. After all, it’s been there all along, affecting so much of their behavior, influencing so many of their present-day relationships. So I have them talk to the person(s), say what they need to say. It’s okay to be angry, even blame. It’s good to externalize all those grungy emotions. I’ll ask, “And what else do you need to say?”… “And what else”?… “And what else?”… till there’s no more there.
Then I ask, “Who made the decision?” They pause and think. “I did.” I remind them that it was the best possible decision they could have made at the time. No guilt or self-blame. But I want them to take ownership. “And who has held onto that decision, perhaps unawares, these many years?” They reply, “Me.”
“And what has it cost you? What have been all the consequences of holding onto the belief that …?” They enumerate. “And what else?”… “And is there more?”… Their words are sober and honest, without blame or self-recrimination, a simple acknowledgement of the truth.
“Today, do you still need to hold onto this belief?” Invariably, the answer is “No.”
“And so what is true? If you let go of the belief that …, what new decision (and by the way it is a decision) do you want to put in its place?” They share a new belief/decision. I then tell them to put their hand on their heart. “Let that new decision settle in.” I pause to let them reflect. “And how does that feel?” … “And how would you act?” … “And how would your life and relationships be different?” … “Are you willing to come from that place, this new decision?”
Finally, I ask them to imagine the person from whom they learned the original, negative belief standing in front of them. “What do you want to say?” It is usually a teary moment. Sometimes sobs erupt from deep within as they speak to this person(s). I’ll ask, “Can you now forgive them? Let them off the hook?” … “What is bigger than the hurt and resentment?” … “Now let them know what will be different, for you, in the future.”
Invariably, if a person has been open and teachable rather than self-protective as he/she has gone through this process, something has shifted inside. They have new awareness and clarity, a willingness to take personal responsibility (rather than blame), a sense of relief, even joy, and a resolve to think and act differently in the future.
Of course, in a group, the final step is to help the individual reconnect with the other participants. So many of our beliefs are learned in our relationships with significant others. So much of our healing takes place in relationships, as well.
Do you have a limiting belief about your worth? Find someone safe, a family member or friend. Go through the process described above with this person. They don’t need to do much. Simply be there. Maybe ask you the questions or just listen as you ask and answer them yourself. Most importantly, commit to a new decision. Let yourself feel the love you deserve in your life.
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