“What happened Parm?! You looked absolutely terrified.“
The question was met with a blank stare. Inside I was churning, and outside I was frozen. What had just happened? I wasn’t sure.
This post is about fear, guilt, self-doubt and the emotions that pedal the wheels of self-limiting beliefs.
In my life, I’m aware of this feeling being triggered in a few different scenarios.
In an early job interview, when I was asked, “So how much do you think you’re worth?” I froze. Inside, I was frantically searching for an answer. Should my worth be taking into account that this company is a penniless new start-up or just the gruelling years of study I’d endured and how much money I need to live comfortably? And for that matter, how much do I think I’m worth? If the number is too high, I’ll sound selfish and full of myself. If the number is too low, I’ll be a doormat. What is the right answer?
By then, it was too late. Any leg up I might’ve had in salary negotiations had disappeared in a knowing gleam in the interviewer’s eyes.
Stages of self-limiting beliefs
Self-limiting beliefs begin with any situation or circumstance you may find yourself in. A comment or visual stimuli will trigger a feeling of fear, insecurity, guilt or regret that you’ve been harbouring under the radar. While the situation may be completely new, the feelings it brings up are all too familiar. More often than not, you’ll go into cruise mode and respond the way you always do.
Your subsequent response will also follow a familiar pattern. Afterwards, you’ll cringe, your day will continue; your mind will remain on the event. You will berate yourself for making the same mistake again and think about what you could’ve done better and what you should’ve said instead. Eventually, you will shush that hurt part of you deep inside until it lets you move on with your day and your life.
Let’s put this into context.
My interview was flowing normally, a pleasant conversation between two adults. Then, the topic of salary and self-worth came up and a part of me seized up, making one of my innermost battles public to someone who was in a position to take advantage of it.
After the interview, I went home and continued thinking about how I should’ve prepared more, that it was such a common blunder and that I should’ve known better. Eventually, I came to terms with my error and let it go.
In my post-analysis, I missed the point completely. I had chalked up the fear I felt to a lack of preparation rather than recognizing that it stemmed from a deep-rooted insecurity; I didn’t feel good enough. I was afraid to ask because I was afraid of the answer. I was afraid that in some way or another my fears would be reaffirmed.
Looking back, I can confidently say that I avoided researching and becoming comfortable with the topic because I was afraid to address my inner lack of self-confidence.
How do you face such a lack?
Running from the situation will certainly not make it go away.
In fact, you will be faced with the same situation over and over in different forms until you’re able to face your fears, go through them and learn the lesson they have for you.
Your self-limiting beliefs will continue to bring you misery until you break free from them.
The first situation I mentioned, happened years before that particular job interview but it had evoked a similar response. A comment was made and though I had watched my colleague’s face morph from friendly to leering – let’s call this version of him Vulture – what I hadn’t connected, was that I played a major role in that transformation.
“In that moment, you looked absolutely terrified.” Eventually, I shared what had happened and my friend, ever the observant one, broke it down for me. My colleague had made a comment, and in response my face had morphed into a mask of horror. My colleague quickly put together that that topic was a trigger for me and because it brought about such a response, any mention would place the ball in his court. He thus became Vulture.
The key is very subtle here, while I was under the impression that he had the upper hand, in reality, it was me who was giving him the upper hand. He was just taking it and running with it.
My friend pointed out that I was digging myself into a hole. Until I faced the topic at hand and pulled myself out of the hole, Vulture would keep pecking away. Sure enough, my next interaction with my colleague was coloured the same way. This time, I kept my gaze steady, hoping the inner quiver didn’t show. Like magic, before my eyes, Vulture took a back seat to my friendly colleague and it was over.
In both examples, my own limitations and inability to look my insecurity in the eyes were giving my power away.
Now, this is no reason to blame yourself.
There are many external factors and societal processes that facilitate meekness in you and reward blind faith and obedience.
One such example is infantilization. This happens when adults are treated like children and subsequently behave in the way they’re expected to. An illustrative example of the psychology of priming can be found here.
To some degree, this process is built into society.
Transitioning from a student operating under the umbrella of an educational institution to an independent professional, brings you face to face with the in-built hierarchy in society. When you were a child, your parents and teachers had authority. They knew what was better for you and through necessity, you had to bend to their will. Later in life, professors and educational institutions leveraged your degree to gain authority. In the workplace, employers, managers, and supervisors leverage your salary and job security to claim the upper hand.
You are never given the opportunity to take control of your life. Granted you could’ve done it at any point, but it was always easier to just do what everyone else was doing. Go to school, get a post-secondary education, get a job, get married, have kids, period.
There has always been a perceived authority in your life which makes it more difficult for you to step out of the mould and go against the grain.
Actually, authority shouldn’t be perceived as a bad thing. People who have authority shoulder great responsibility. It is the perceived separation between you and them that limits you. Moving past the labels of mother, father, boss, judge, police officer, etc. and all the associated emotions and perceptions you have of these figures in society, will bring you more balance and help you overcome any self-limiting beliefs related to these roles.
Let’s do a thought experiment.
Think about your profession and your title. Now, think about you. Think about your age, all the facets of your life, your ups and downs, your family, your friends, your social circles. Take your mind deeper to who you are, your likes, dislikes, what makes you happy and what makes you sad. Think about the happiest moments of your life and your lowest moments, your struggles and your victories.
With all of these things in your life, are you your profession?
You’re more than that.
So now, how can you reduce someone else and their whole life to just their profession? They have all the same intricacies to their lives that you do. They, too, must be more than the labels you’ve given them.
Move past your self-limiting beliefs. Take back your power.
Notice that labelling others places you into the complementary role. If that role reduces you more than you wish it too and leaves you grumbling and unhappy, learn to look past the ideas you’ve created in your mind.
Place a toe on the other side of the line you’ve drawn between you and the other. Get to know the person behind the label.
And don’t be so hard on yourself! Embrace yourself with your positives and your negatives. Know that everything is happening exactly as it should and that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.
Nobody is perfect, we’re all just doing the best we can.