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How to Unlearn Limiting Self-Beliefs

What are limiting self-beliefs, and how do we unlearn them?

We all have beliefs. They are our inner statements about ourselves and the world, learnt in childhood and carried with us into adulthood. These beliefs are assumed truths. Self-limiting beliefs are the ones that stop us from being our authentic selves as adults. They prevent us from achieving our true potential.

Limiting beliefs often begin forming in our formative years in response to emotionally painful experiences, such as experiencing shame at the hands of our primary caregivers or any adults that are a part of our lives in these formative years.

Let's break this down by providing you with a concrete example of how a belief can become a limiting self-belief:

A mother tells her young, crying son, "don't cry, big boys don't cry."

This may sound like a completely harmless statement by the primary caregiver to a crying child. However, the underlying message behind the statement becomes problematic over time as this message is repeated to the child. The child will eventually encode the message, which becomes a hard-wired belief.

Now, imagine that this child experiences an adverse event and does cry. What feelings may come up at that moment for this child? Most likely, feelings of shame. Thoughts such as, "I'm not supposed to be crying; big boys aren't supposed to cry." The child consequently learns to suppress any difficult emotions to protect himself from potentially crying and having to experience shame. This child eventually becomes an adult who continues to suppress any difficult emotions.

From these negative experiences, we create distorted perceptions about the world and the people around us. While many beliefs about ourselves are formed in childhood, we reinforce these old self-limiting beliefs or develop new ones as we experience different events throughout adolescence and adulthood. These perceptions of the world become deeply embedded in our subconscious and then manifest as limiting beliefs that influence our thoughts, feelings, and actions daily.

The good news is that we can let go of these old, limiting self-beliefs and rewire our thoughts to ones aligned with our true authentic self.

Below are the steps to identifying and letting go of the negative self-beliefs that we hold about ourselves and the world:

Step One: Identify any self-limiting beliefs

The process begins by becoming aware of our limiting self-beliefs. Without the awareness of our limiting self-beliefs, we continue to repeat the same patterns that hold us back from being our true selves.

Begin by asking yourself the right questions. Are there any beliefs you know that might be holding you back?

For example, "I’m not good enough." or "I’m too old or too young."

Choose one or two beliefs to focus on and try to reflect on the impact these beliefs may have had on your behaviour. Do you avoid doing certain things? Do they make you react strongly or act defensively?

Do they make you avoid doing certain things? Do they make you feel or act defensively?

Step 2: Where do these beliefs come from?

Reflect on where your beliefs come from. What underlying messages were you told as a child that may have led to your beliefs about yourself and others as an adult?

I often ask clients about their limiting self-beliefs, "who's voice is behind this particular limiting self-belief?" Behind our limiting self-beliefs, there is always a voice from our past telling us whatever thoughts we are experiencing in the present.

Sometimes, it can even be as simple as interactions you have had with another individual or an event that has helped to forge these beliefs.


By identifying the root causes of our beliefs and questioning them – we can begin to identify the links between events that took place in the past, informing our present-day decisions.


By recognizing how these beliefs manifest themselves in us, we build self-awareness that allows us to spot behaviours more quickly when they re-occur in our daily lives. When we spot and name these behaviours and beliefs, we take the first step to dismantling these limiting self-beliefs and aligning with our authentic self.

Step 3. Explore what beliefs align with your authentic self


To begin the process of rewiring our brains and letting go of the negative self-beliefs, we need to create a new foundation for new affirming beliefs and perceptions about ourselves and others.

This is where you begin the process of reconnecting with your authentic self. I use the term reconnecting with our authentic self because the truth is that we were born into the world as our true authentic self. We began to shift away from our authentic selves when we were exposed to emotionally painful events that led us to disconnect from our authentic selves.

Who would you be if you never were exposed to the emotionally painful childhood experiences that led you to develop your beliefs?

What impact do you want to have on this world?

What legacy do you want to leave behind?

Want do you want to achieve with your time on this planet?

Once you’ve answered these questions, start identifying the specific beliefs and values you need to achieve your goals.

Step 4: Challenge your thoughts, and develop new behaviours that serve your purpose


Once you have your list of new beliefs, it’s time to develop new behaviours that align with your new beliefs and shed the negative self-beliefs that no longer serve you.

As you work to develop new behaviours and integrate your new beliefs, you will notice that the old, negative self-beliefs will fight to make themselves heard. Awareness is the answer to this. You must constantly monitor your thoughts and behaviours and consciously respond to and modify these.

The best response is acknowledging the limiting self-beliefs when they show up verbally. You can say, “stop” out loud when you become aware of these self-limiting voices in your mind and find yourself beginning to repeat old behaviours.

Start replacing the old beliefs with new ones. When the old beliefs surface, be aware of them, stop them from going any further, and slowly replace the negative belief with a new, more positive one.

And then you must rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse some more.

Step 5: Develop new behaviours Through Goal-Setting

The final step is to undertake specific actions and goals that are aligned with the new authentic self you want to be.

For example, if your long-term goal is to become an entrepreneur, you need to create specific, measurable goals to make this happen. You must seek techniques and tools to help you achieve your goals and long-term vision. Some examples include getting a planner, an agenda, a journal to track your progress, or creating a vision board to keep yourself motivated.

To live your most authentic life, you must work on yourself consistently and repeatedly. This process requires time, patience, and self-compassion. Be kind to yourself as you work to undo years - even decades - of negative self-beliefs and patterns.

Unbecoming: A Workbook

To facilitate this entire process, I created a workbook to simplify the process of understanding yourself and gaining the clarity needed to start living your most authentic life.

The Unbecoming Workbook will guide you through exercises based on the five steps mentioned in this blog post.

The digital/printable Unbecoming workbook is available for purchase through my website.

You can also purchase a hardcover or paperback version of the workbook, which is sold through

Stephanie Underwood

Registered Social Worker

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