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Understanding and Transforming Limiting Beliefs from Early Trauma

Published on October 2, 2023 | Written by Stephanie Underwood, RSW

Understanding Beliefs

Everything starts with a belief. Our thoughts stem from our beliefs about the world and about ourselves. A belief is a mental attitude or conviction that something is true, real, or exists. It's a cognitive acceptance or acceptance of something as true, even without concrete proof or evidence.

Our beliefs are first passed on to us by our parents. Children often develop beliefs about themselves based on their experiences and interpretations of events. Some of these beliefs can be inaccurate or negative due to misunderstandings, external influences, or limited understanding.

As children grow older, their beliefs can also be shaped by personal experiences, cultural influences, education, religion, and various other factors. These beliefs often influence a person's thoughts, behaviours, and decisions, playing a fundamental role in how we perceive and interact with the world around us. These beliefs, particularly those formed during our formative years, can become limiting self-beliefs that impact our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours well into adulthood. Your every day thoughts are run by these beliefs that you have about yourself and about others.

A belief triggers a thought, which leads to an emotion, and this emotion prompts a specific behaviour. For instance, the belief of being unworthy can lead to thoughts of self-doubt, resulting in emotions like sadness or anxiety, and ultimately manifesting as behaviours such as avoiding opportunities for growth.

Understanding the Formation of Limiting Beliefs

Childhood Impressions

Limiting beliefs often have their origins in our early experiences, primarily during childhood. The beliefs we form about ourselves, our capabilities, and our worth are significantly influenced by how we were treated, the feedback we received, and the environment we grew up in. These beliefs might be explicitly stated, implicitly implied, or inferred from interactions and events.

Example: The Perfectionism Trap

Consider a child who grew up in an environment where success was praised, but any sign of imperfection was met with criticism or disappointment. The child is scolded every time their grade is lower than an A. The child becomes afraid of telling the parent when they do not achieve an A or above. Over time, this child forms a belief that they must be perfect to be worthy of love and acceptance.

The Impacts of Limiting Beliefs in Adulthood

Limiting self-beliefs formed during childhood can manifest in various ways in our adult lives, profoundly impacting our daily experiences. For instance, if a child grew up believing they were unworthy of success due to early failures, as an adult, they might hesitate to pursue opportunities or self-sabotage to avoid potential failures. These beliefs can affect relationships too; someone who grew up feeling unloved might struggle to trust and fully engage in intimate relationships, fearing rejection. Moreover, limiting self-beliefs can shape our responses to challenges—believing we are incompetent might deter us from taking on new responsibilities or embracing growth opportunities. Over time, these entrenched beliefs can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, reinforcing the very limitations we once internalized, hindering our potential and overall well-being. Recognizing and challenging these beliefs is crucial to break free from their constraints and live a fulfilling, authentic life.

Why Identifying Limiting Beliefs is Crucial

By recognizing these limiting beliefs and understanding their origins, we gain the power to challenge and reframe them. Reframing involves consciously changing our thoughts and interpretations about ourselves and the world. As we alter our beliefs and thoughts, our emotions and behaviours adapt accordingly. This intentional transformation can lead us towards healthier and more positive life experiences. Below is a list of negative self-beliefs that are often at the root of our every day thoughts. Some individuals can have multiple negative self-beliefs while others may have less.

A List of Negative Self-Beliefs

I don't matter.

I am always second best.

I am invisible.

No one understands me.

I will always be abandoned.

I don't belong anywhere.

I am always rejected.

I will never be happy.

I am always to blame.

Others will always hurt me.

I am insignificant.

My needs are not important.

I am unworthy.

I am not good enough.

I am a burden to others.

I am a failure.

I am always in the way.

I am different.

I am powerless.

I am flawed.

I am unimportant.

I am undesirable.

I am not valuable.

I am weak.

I can't be trusted.

Others can't be trusted.

I am a disappointment.

How to Identify your Limiting Self-Beliefs

How do we identify and change these limiting self-beliefs, and how do we change them?

Steps to Identify Limiting Self-Beliefs:

  1. Self-Reflection and Awareness: Begin by reflecting on your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Pay attention to recurring negative thoughts or patterns that hinder your growth or happiness.

  2. Record Negative Thoughts: Keep a journal or make notes of negative thoughts as they arise. Document the situations triggering these thoughts and the emotions associated with them.

  3. Examine the Evidence: Challenge these negative thoughts by objectively examining the evidence supporting or contradicting them. Are they based on facts or assumptions?

  4. Identify Patterns: Look for recurring themes or patterns in your negative thoughts. Common patterns might revolve around worthiness, competency, likability, or deservingness.

  5. Explore Origins: Reflect on your childhood, past experiences, or significant life events that might have contributed to these beliefs. Understanding their origins can provide insights into why you hold them.

Steps to Change Limiting Self-Beliefs:

  1. Question and Challenge Beliefs: When you recognize a limiting belief, question its accuracy and challenge it. Ask yourself for evidence that supports a more positive and realistic belief.

  2. Reframe Negative Thoughts: Reframe negative thoughts into more positive, constructive, and accurate statements. For example, "I'm not good at this" can become "I'm still learning, and I can improve with practice."

  3. Practice Affirmations: Create positive affirmations that counter your limiting beliefs. Repeat these affirmations daily to reinforce the new, empowering beliefs.

  4. Visualize Success: Use visualization techniques to imagine yourself succeeding and overcoming challenges. This helps build a positive mindset and reinforces new, empowering beliefs.

  5. Surround Yourself with Supportive Individuals: Surround yourself with positive, supportive people, books, and resources that reinforce empowering beliefs and encourage personal growth.

  6. Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself during this process. Understand that changing beliefs takes time and effort. Celebrate progress, no matter how small.

Remember that changing limiting self-beliefs is an ongoing process that requires patience, persistence, and a willingness to challenge and reshape your thoughts. Embrace the journey of personal growth and empowerment.

Authenticity and Limiting Self-Beliefs

In our journey toward authenticity, the hurdles often lie within our own minds—limiting self-beliefs that act as invisible chains, constraining our true selves. These beliefs dictate how we perceive ourselves and what we believe we can achieve. To reconnect with our authentic selves, we must first unearth these beliefs, like unearthing stones from a path, making way for a smoother and more genuine existence. It's about recognizing that we are not defined by these beliefs; they are mere interpretations of our past, not prophesies of our future. By identifying them and challenging their validity, we begin the profound work of transformation. Embracing our authentic selves becomes a journey of shedding old skin, letting go of limiting beliefs, and allowing the brilliance of our true nature to shine through.


Our beliefs are the cornerstones of our reality. When these beliefs are limiting, they can hinder our growth, happiness, and fulfillment. It's essential to excavate these beliefs, trace their roots, and comprehend their influence on our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. By doing so, we can consciously shape our beliefs, free ourselves from the constraints of limiting self-beliefs, and embark on a journey of self-discovery and transformation. Remember, the power to redefine our reality lies within us, waiting to be unleashed through understanding and intentional change.

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