And how to counteract them
When I was married to my ex-husband, I had an ongoing list of things I didn’t like about our relationship: He wasn’t affectionate. He rarely complimented me. He often turned down my sexual advances. He often resorted to name-calling when we fought. He didn’t support my interests.
At certain points in our relationship, he was so mean-spirited, spiteful, and critical that I didn’t even feel like he liked me, let alone loved me.
I could put the blame all on him for that relationship, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. I was the one who stayed. That’s like continuing to go to the same restaurant every week even though 8 times out of 10, you get food poisoning.
The reason why I stayed for nearly ten years in that relationship is simple: I didn’t believe I deserved any better.
I did finally leave, but the same beliefs nearly sabotaged my relationship with my now husband.
If I hadn’t gotten my limiting beliefs under control, I wouldn’t be in the relationship I’m in today. I would have missed out on something amazing.
Limiting beliefs are negative thought patterns that begin to become your reality. I’ve heard many over the years from clients:
I’ll never be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t cheat on me.
My parents got divorced, so I will too.
I have nothing to offer.
Relationships are too painful. Why even bother?
S/he’s too amazing/good-looking/well-off/educated, etc. and would never want me because ______. (the out-of-my-league quandary).
If you believe you’ll never be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t cheat on you, then you’ll continually pick cheaters. If you believe you’ll get divorced, you will. If you believe you have nothing to offer or relationships are too hard, future partners will agree with you and you’ll stay single.
1. Limiting beliefs arise out of your fears.
You might have heard an acronym for FEAR is “False Evidence Appearing Real.” In the case of these limiting beliefs about your relationships, you’re taking things entirely unrelated to you or your present (your partners’ decisions to cheat, your parents’ divorce, previous failed relationships) as “false evidence” of a reality (that your relationships won’t work out).
2. Limiting beliefs often also arise out of your past.
Your mother cheated on your father, just like your partners always cheat on you. Your parents got divorced, so you will too. You stay with people who are abusive just like your first partner was.
I had a pretty terrible childhood with a physically and emotionally abusive mother. It’s not surprising that I then dated men who were abusive too. I was raised with that. It was familiar. It felt like it was the “best” of what I could get out of a relationship.
3. Limiting beliefs keep you in a cycle of fear.
You fear your current or future relationships failing. You tell yourself they’re actually doomed to fail, and then you inevitably facilitate situations where they are bound to fail.
You get caught in a loop of self-fulfilling prophecies.
When people are fearful, they do one of three things: fight, flee, or freeze.
Limiting beliefs make you freeze. You don’t honor your partner’s requests for their needs to be met. You ignore red flags. You don’t sign up for a dating site or take a chance and ask someone out.
4. Our brains are wired for negative thinking.
Let’s say you teach a class and get student feedback at the end of the semester.
Four students write comments like,
“I loved this class so much!”
“The teacher really helped me understand and learn.”
“The teacher made me really love showing up to class everyday.”
“I wish I could take this class again because I found it so helpful and inspiring.”
One student, though, writes a comment like, “I didn’t learn anything, and the teacher was boring.”
Which one will you be more likely to remember? The four nice comments or the one awful one?
I bet that, despite the fact that only 20% of your comments were negative, you’ll feel like it was 100%.
Our brains are wired for negative thinking. “The evolutionary perspective suggests that this tendency to dwell on the negative more than the positive is simply one way the brain tries to keep us safe.” We’re still animals, and even though we’re not out hunting for our food, we still may focus on the negative because we don’t want it repeated.
Since our brains are already negative ninnies, limiting beliefs just reinforce that bias.
How to counteract limiting beliefs
Too often we have limiting beliefs in our head that we never question. We just agree with them and then perform them.
I didn’t believe I deserved a better kind of relationship, so I did all I could to try to sabotage any relationships that were mutually respectful and beneficial.
When I started dating my now husband and realized what I was doing (sabotaging a good thing), I started questioning my beliefs.
I don’t deserve any better, I’d tell myself.
“WHY?” I’d ask back.
Because that’s what I’ve always had, I’d respond.
“But that’s silly! You certainly want better and HAVE better if you’d quit mucking it up!”
Eventually, I rewrote my limiting belief by repeating affirmations.
Instead of “I don’t deserve any better,” I told myself:
I am lovable. I am capable and deserving of being loved and respected.
I wrote these on post-its and put them on the mirror in my bathroom and the steering wheel in my car. I set reminders in my phone that simply said “AFFIRM NOW,” and I’d go about saying to myself, “I am lovable. I am capable and deserving of being loved and respected.” I said these affirmations until I believed them, and today I’m in a relationship where I am loved and respected.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What kind of relationship would you have if you had no doubt in yourself?
Who would you try to go out with if there was no limit to your self-confidence?
What could you give to another person if you stopped telling yourself you weren’t good enough?
Changing your thinking isn’t easy, but it’s feasible. It doesn’t require changing what you eat or wear or drive. It requires you to address and change what goes on between your ears, to quit telling yourself you can’tand open yourself up to, “Maybe I can.”
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