Recognizing Core Limiting Beliefs

Certain mental maps form early in life and can hold us back from living to our fullest potential.

Photo via Getty Images/gremlin.

Excerpted from The Deep Heart: Our Portal to Presence by John J. Prendergast, PhD. Sounds True, December 2019. Reprinted with permission.

What Is a Core Limiting Belief, and How Do I Recognize It?

In the closing circle of a recent retreat, a delightful woman in her early sixties shared what had touched her the most. She admitted that she had attended the retreat mostly to be closer to her daughter (who was also a participant), but what struck her most was that she had never realized how much her entire life had been ruled by a core limiting belief. She confessed that she never knew that such a thing even existed. Seeing her belief and beginning to feel some space from it was a liberating revelation for her, and she was delighted to come out of a box that she didn’t know she had put herself in for most of her life.

It’s like that for most of us. Core limiting beliefs form in childhood and mostly reside outside or on the edge of conscious awareness. They are core in the sense that everything about us organizes around them — how we relate to others, work, and take care of ourselves. They are limiting because they constrain us, holding us back from living our lives as wakefully, freely, wisely, powerfully, joyfully, lovingly, and creatively as we can.

Beliefs are mental maps — approximations of reality. They help orient us, and most are benign. Generally, the closer they correspond to facts, the more useful they are. Of course, some nonfact-based beliefs provide solace and meaning in the face of existential uncertainty — for example, the desire for a pleasant afterlife somewhere up in the fluffy clouds or in a celestial desert oasis.

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