- Core beliefs are formed in childhood before age 7.
- Limiting beliefs will continue to create bigger and bigger problems until you address them.
- Limiting and core beliefs will alter your perspective and your behavior in order to maintain their truth.
- Evidence is required to replace a limiting belief with an empowering one because it must be believable to you.
In my last article, I wrote about how to control negative self-talk. I noted, “Most likely, you did not create the core beliefs that cause your self-talk. Those beliefs were developed in your early youth.” I also noted how traumatic events can create limiting beliefs at any time in life. In this article, I’m going to explore core beliefs and limiting beliefs and how we can change them.
I know a woman who was sexually assaulted when she was 11 years old by her mother’s boyfriend. He had groomed her for weeks with gentle touches, small gifts, and frequent one-on-one conversations that showed interest in her school work and hobbies. Then one night, after her mother was asleep, he snuck into her bedroom and slipped into her bed.
She told her mother, who replied, “Don’t worry, sweetie, I’ll tell him not to do that again.” That didn’t soothe her fear, so she told her father, who reported the incident to the police. The man was arrested, but his only punishment was to restrict him from being at her mother’s house when she was present. It was profoundly disturbing to her that no one, neither her parents nor the police, could or would protect her from being assaulted by men. She asked to enroll in a self-defense course, but both of her parents, who were pacifists, objected and denied her request.
It was left up to her to do what she could on her own. Over the years, as she grew into adulthood, she progressively made herself as physically unattractive to heterosexual males as she possibly could. The last time I saw her, I mistook her for a man.
Perhaps her subconscious mind responded to her limiting belief that men are dangerous by thinking, “If I look like a man, then men will leave me alone.” Ultimately we all want to be loved, desired, and valued, and I suspect that her limiting belief keeps her from having the loving relationship we all crave.
Core beliefs originate in childhood.
Limiting and core beliefs are assumptions that are held deep in our subconscious about ourselves, the world, and other people that automatically affect our behavior in positive or negative ways. In this article, I’m going to focus on negative core beliefs that may be keeping us from advancing in our careers, developing long-term loving relationships, and enjoying a fulfilling life.
Our core beliefs, and all of us have them, mostly originate in childhood. According to physician and childhood education innovator Marie Montessori, during the first six years of life, children have what she calls the absorbent mind, which is a sponge-like ability to absorb vast amounts of information. That information is soaked up from the child’s environment and is used to create an individual identity within his or her specific culture. Children do this instinctively, nonstop, and without discernment. After age 6, there is a transition to the reasoning mind of adults.
Mental health coach Douglas Bloch observes that “the information that is presented to us as children comes in directly, we have no filter, it’s like a sponge, we absorb it without questioning or criticism. So if a parent is acting abusively or negatively towards us, we don’t say, ‘Hey, what’s their problem?’ We think it’s our problem.”
Because of this power our parents have in creating the situations that lead to the formation of our core beliefs, they can be passed down and will be repeated generation after generation. We can also acquire these beliefs from our extended families, such as grandparents, aunts, and uncles, or from our friends, teachers, and religious institutions.
Core beliefs are the roots—limiting beliefs are the branches
I had the opportunity to interview Robyn Ladinsky, MSW, of The Tenacious Parent, a mindset and parenting coach who works with people who want to overcome their limiting and core beliefs. I asked her to share her thoughts on these beliefs, and this is what she told me:
“We create limiting beliefs all the time, but core beliefs are formed before the age of 7. Core beliefs are the root of the tree, and limiting beliefs are like the branches of the tree. You create this belief that’s not serving you, and you see everything through that lens. So any time something happens, you make it mean something that’s consistent with that belief. It takes a lot of detective work to discover a deeper limiting belief. It’s like peeling away the layers of an onion.
“When you don’t heal those limiting beliefs, especially at the subconscious level, you will continue to focus on them, and more evidence of those beliefs will show up. The new evidence will often tend to feel bigger and bigger and bigger because the universe is trying to help you recognize those beliefs that you need to pay attention to.
“To change the negative patterns in your life, you must first identify and release the limiting beliefs and then replace them with new, empowering beliefs. Just saying affirmations doesn't work because the limiting belief is still running in your conscious or subconscious mind.”
I then asked her, “You mentioned the universe. Is this like a Law of Attraction thing?”
She replied, “What got missed in the movie The Secret is that most of the limiting beliefs that are in the way, that keep things we want from showing up, is because they are at the subconscious level. Let’s say you want a brand-new red sports car, and you focus on that, you have a picture of it, and so forth, but you don’t end up with one. There’s probably a limiting belief that you’re not aware of, such as, ‘I don’t really deserve that,’ or ‘I’ll never have the money to buy that.’”
Core beliefs alter your perspective.
As I have mentioned in this column before, our brains are hard-wired to remember things that scare us so that we can avoid them in the future. This means that a belief formed in childhood that may have served you then doesn’t necessarily serve you now. Once you have a core belief, it will cause you to only be able to see things from one perspective—one that agrees with or perpetuates the belief (see my article: "Cognitive Bias Is the Loose Screw in Critical Thinking").
Examples of negative core beliefs include: I’m not good enough; I’m not lovable; I’m worthless; I’m not confident; the world is dangerous; people are untrustworthy. (Positive core beliefs would be the opposite of these.)
These deep-rooted beliefs can cause all sorts of problems in life. Do you procrastinate on doing things that would help promote your career? Do you have trouble making friends or have problems with maintaining a relationship? Do you find yourself thinking about the same thing obsessively? Does everything have to be perfect before you can relax or move forward? Do you have compulsive behavior, such as excessive handwashing?
Other problems that might emerge from core beliefs include low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, difficulty handling stress, inappropriate jealousy, unwarranted confrontational or hostile behavior, bullying, substance abuse, and overeating.
If you are noticing some of these problems in your life, the first step is to become aware of your negative core or limiting beliefs. You can do this by noticing when you’re feeling anxious or depressed. Then try to recognize what stimulated the feeling. Start looking for habits or patterns in your behavior and what triggers them.
Replacement beliefs must be believable.
Once you’ve identified beliefs that are not serving you, you’ll want to replace them. In order to change your limiting and core beliefs, you must start with new ones that are believable to you and build toward bigger and better ones. This usually requires evidence that the new belief you want is true and makes the old one false.
Start with a level of belief that you can accept. For example, you can’t just jump from “I’m not confident” to “I’m very confident.” It must be gradual. Begin with “I’m becoming more confident every day.” Then start recording accomplishments in your journal. Then when the limiting belief arises, you can point out to yourself that it is no longer true, that the new belief is what is actually true.