When we really look within, we are able to acknowledge realities that other times are so subtle they simply fly under your radar. You are unaware to the extent that they can operate facets of your life absolutely out with your awareness, and so blame external sources: other people, environments, or circumstances.
Recently I have been setting to work uncovering some of these unseen aspects of myself – subconscious limiting beliefs, learned behavioural responses, and unhelpful coping mechanisms.
Firstly, let’s look at what I mean by subconscious limiting beliefs. The subconscious is a psychological term for the mechanisms and functions of our mind that operate ‘under the radar’. These encompass such things as innate behavioural responses (or our instincts), and learned responses which have become automatic – that is, they take no conscious effort to execute – which generally stem from childhood. Think how learning to ride a bike, or drive a car, took immense effort and concentration; now you can do it while practically unaware of what you’re actively doing.
As well as behaviours, the subconscious deals with our thoughts. This includes all the things we think about the world, ourselves, and other people or things. What we learn throughout life forms our opinions, attitudes, and beliefs about the world around us. Again, much of this is formed in childhood – although it is continually added to or revised as we go through life. An example of this thought-history can be seen in this example:
A young boy is playing in the garden with his Mum, when suddenly she freezes. She spots a snake, and grabs the young boy by the arm, shouting “Run! Snake!” (Let’s assume she has always had a fear of snakes, perhaps her Mum also was afraid of them.) So now what has the boy learned in this first encounter of a new animal? He has learned, through witnessing his Mum’s reaction, that snakes are dangerous and to be avoided. She might reinforce this once they are safe inside by telling him that snakes are dangerous, and that he should keep away from them.
Now, let’s say the snake slithers through the hedge and in to the neighbour’s garden. In there, another young boy is playing and his Mum spots the snake: “Look! A snake!” She goes over and picks the snake up, knowing a thing or two about reptiles, and tells the boy this is a grass snake – completely harmless – and lets him hold it before releasing it to go on its way. She teaches him about snakes, how some are venomous, and others are not.
You can see how these experiences inform the child about some aspect of the world, albeit one boy now has a fuller appreciation for snakes than the other. It’s possible that in the future, the boy who has been taught to fear snakes will do just that (and might even pass this on to his children) and he might not even consciously remember the experience which implanted this fear. Each child has learned a behavioural response to seeing a snake, and a belief about snakes. We could say that the boy who now has a fear of any snake, has a limiting belief about snakes. He believes that snakes in general are dangerous, and so has a limited awareness of the reality of the situation.
We pick up all sorts of beliefs, from countless sources, as we progress through life; it isn’t always the case that we stop to evaluate these, or even become aware of them. Once a belief or behavioural response is embedded in our subconscious, it becomes the default setting by which we operate when the appropriate trigger arises. We pick up limiting beliefs about ourselves quite readily, depending on our experience. Common examples may be that you just aren’t good enough at something, or not deserving of something, which often times won’t be the case. The tricky part is, as I’ve said, that these will often be under the radar. So while we may not say “I’m undeserving of a promotion at work” we may have convinced ourselves that we’re happy where we are, despite it not being the case, as our opinion of ourselves become tainted by these subconscious beliefs.
These sorts of beliefs about ourselves can stem from unsupportive parents, difficulty in early (or indeed later) school years, troubled relationships, or a whole host of other scenarios. Doing this sort of introspective work, where we stop to identify these beliefs or behaviours (the two so often go hand-in-hand), can seem daunting – there are however an array of tools you can use to guide you through the process, and different things work for different people. For me, a combination of therapies, energy healing, and self inquiry (through meditation, journaling and other introspective practice) has brought me far on this journey. That’s what it all is, after all: a journey. You don’t know the destination when you set off, and you need to learn to read the map as you go, but what you get to experience along the way is priceless.