Limiting beliefs are those mental blocks that keep us from living happy lives and fulfilling our potential. They tell us things like, "I am not good enough" or "I will never have enough money". Limiting beliefs are created in reaction to life experiences. The most powerful limiting beliefs are formed when we are children and adolescents, when our brains are not yet fully developed. When we are young, we react to events the best we can, forming beliefs that protect us from further psychological harm. Not all limiting beliefs are formed during our young years, however. Adult experiences can cause us to form limiting beliefs, too, but they generally don’t exert as strong a hold on us as ones created when we are young.
Becoming aware of our limiting beliefs is a large contributor to overcoming them. I know about this from first-hand experience. I recently became aware of a limiting belief formed during adulthood, and the simple awareness of it has made a huge change in my life. I’ll share how it was formed in hopes that others can relate to the story and begin to identify some of their own limiting beliefs.
The limiting belief that I was operating under was "I shouldn’t travel for work because bad things happen to my family when I’m gone." This belief has caused me extreme internal conflict every time I travel for business - I love my work, but I hate to leave my family. Here’s how it was formed.
When my son was an infant, he was chronically ill with asthma, extreme food and environmental allergies, ear infections and constant colds. Every time he caught a cold, he would have a severe asthma attack. Asthma in an infant or small child is extremely dangerous - their small airways get so closed down that they cannot breathe. We called him the canary in the mineshaft, because he was so sensitive to almost everything. He was hospitalized numerous times during the first three years of his life, and my husband and I nursed him through many anxious nights.
When he was three years old, I planned to extend a business trip to New York City to spend the weekend in Maine with an old friend. This was the first time that I had planned a solo pleasure trip in the three years since my son’s birth. The night before I was supposed to go to Maine, my husband called and told me that our son was getting a cold. My husband and I kept in close touch by telephone. By noon on my last day in New York, it was clear that my son was in the middle of a severe asthma attack. I needed to go home to take care of my family. I changed my plans to go to Maine and re-scheduled my flight so I could return home that night. My husband said he would meet my plane and drive me home from the airport.
I arrived at my hometown airport at 1:30 am that night, exhausted. When I got out to the curb, I realized that my husband wasn’t there to meet me - a bad sign. I called home, and, to my horror, my minister sleepily answered the phone. My heart sank, fearing the worst. He told me that he was staying at our house for the night to care for my daughter while my husband took my son to the hospital.
I took a cab home and then drove to the hospital, where I exchanged places with my husband, who went home to be with our daughter and send our minister home. I joined my son in the Emergency Room, where several doctors were working on him. They needed to put an IV in his arm, but my son couldn’t lay still due to the asthma drugs that made him jumpy. He was wheezing, crying and thrashing his arms and legs. They had to put my baby in a straight jacket to restrain him. At that point, the doctors suggested that I leave the room, perceiving that I was about to lose it. I sat down on the floor in the hallway, put my head in my hands and wept as I listened to my son scream in the adjacent room. I never felt so desperate and hopeless as that night.
Although my son and I survived that night, I internalized that traumatic experience into extreme guilt and worry during every business trip I’ve taken since then. It’s been a limiting belief for me - robbing me of internal ease and confidence when I traveled. Now that my children are almost out of the nest, it seems time to give that up.
At my prayer group meeting recently, I had a revelation. During our sharing time, somehow this story came up. I told it and wept. Then I realized that this event had caused me to develop a limiting belief around travel. I had told myself that I hate to travel for business, which is not entirely true. I felt compassion for myself, understanding how and why I had built up this belief. It had served me well during the years my children were young, influencing me to make decisions that kept me closer to home. But now, girded with the knowledge of this limiting belief and that my family is OK without me, I can start believing that business travel is OK and maybe even fun!
I’m off to both Finland and Nashville tomorrow for a week-long business trip. I look forward to testing my revised belief that business travel can be fun!