How Our Childhood Can Form Lifelong Limiting Beliefs
Every single child is born with an incomplete brain, with key components and functions still in development.
At birth, we are only equipped with the most primitive parts of the brain that are designed not for critical thinking, but for instinctive survival: a subset of the subconscious.
The last parts of the brain to develop by age 8 are the most sophisticated: our higher conscious thinking located in the cortex.
The Child's Mind is Wide Open to Learning
The conscious part of the brain is a filter, the gatekeeper to the subconscious. But as a child, we do not have that filter in place, so the child's mind is wide open to absorbing all experiences and is primarily focused on learning as quickly as possible. We are learning not only how to walk, read and write, but also writing our own library of beliefs, all of which are stored in the subconscious.
The Race to Survive
It is a race. Not to compete, just to learn enough about how the world works in order to survive. The rapid writing of beliefs is to help speed up our response time. So, the first time a negative or positive experience happens, we record it in our database located in the subconscious part of the brain. We then recall it in the future without taking time to deliberate, to respond faster, all with the intent of survival.
Our Early Childhood Experiences Form Our Core Beliefs
From those first few years, we compile our library of beliefs, habits, and default emotional responses, and that becomes our world reference system. And by 8 years old, 95% of our belief system is in place, all stored in the subconscious.
However, in all this rapid learning process, you may have already realized that there is a fundamental flaw: the subconscious does NOT evaluate what it writes to our library of beliefs. Yes, those first 8 years of life form what may end up being lifelong habits and beliefs. What happens in those first 8 years can truly last a lifetime. They are vulnerable years in more ways than one.
Our Childhood Mind Sacrifices Happiness for Survival
As an example of the impact of our early years, imagine that your first ever experience seeing a dog was terrifying. Maybe it barked at you, or you simply interpreted it in some way as scary. If the emotional response was significant enough it may have embedded a lifelong fear, a phobia even, and you may continue to replicate that first fearful response to this day. It doesn't matter how friendly any future dog looks and behaves. What matters most is the PAST, not the PRESENT.
Because even BEFORE we check our external reality, our subconscious has already told us how to react based on past experiences. This is a design to keep you alive and a design flaw in all of our minds. The subconscious is not rational, it is logical: it is simply referencing the page you first wrote in your belief system. These beliefs are not just in relation to physical safety but also encompass our own identity, our beliefs about others, and more. Each of us has our own world reference system.
Once the Mind Learns, it Resists Re-Learning
And once we are past the age of 8 years old, with over 95% of our library of beliefs and habits set, the subconscious is done writing beliefs and, over time, reverts to a read-only state.
Like a password-protected hard drive on your computer or a vinyl record, you can look up your core beliefs but it is much, much harder to modify them or update them with new information you take in as an adult.
Inner Conflict Comes From Outdated Beliefs
From age 8 onwards we have most of the key components of our brain developed. And with the conscious part of the brain mostly developed, we are now equipped to analyze and question our own thinking and behaviour. Inner conflict arises when we become consciously aware that our behaviour, emotions, and beliefs are not helpful, and are, in some cases, even harmful - but the subconscious continues to operate according to the book of beliefs written during the first years of life, referencing our earliest experiences and conclusions.
Ask yourself if you have ever had the feeling that some of your behaviour and reactions are like an old record playing the same tune over and over, despite an intense internal struggle to change that tune. This struggle within yourself is evidence of conflict between the conscious wanting to change and the subconscious resisting.
Willpower is Not Enough to Change
We can perform an intervention of our behaviour through willpower. We can consciously change some of our behaviour by choosing a new action. But it is much harder with emotional responses and beliefs. Ask anyone who has tried to use willpower to overcome insomnia, to stop blushing, to quiet intrusive thoughts, to end OCD, or to deal with emotional eating through willpower. Willpower simply does not work in these and many other situations because willpower is in the conscious part of the brain whereas deep-seated emotional responses, habits, and beliefs are all stored in your subconscious.
The most challenging behaviour, beliefs, and responses are those with a high emotional charge or attachment. As just one example, when faced with a raised hand, a child from a loving family will reach out to high five with a smile on their face whereas a child with a history of physical abuse will automatically brace for a slap or get ready to fight or run away. The speed of the subconscious means it reacts before conscious awareness can even consider a response.
The Subconscious: Larger, Faster, More Powerful
The subconscious is not only faster than the conscious part of the brain, but it is also the dominant part of your brain, estimated to be 80% to 95% of your total brain. And it is ALWAYS the first to respond, up to 1 second faster than the conscious part of the brain. And so, it becomes an internal battle of wills between the stronger, faster, larger subconscious and the smaller, slower, higher functioning conscious mind. And it is a battle that the subconscious usually wins because of its size, strength, and speed to respond.
Hypnotherapy: A Second Chance to Create Healthy Beliefs
There is hope, however. And not just hope but also significant evidence that updating beliefs is possible; you CAN retrain your brain. Although the subconscious is in read-only mode while in a normal waking state, hypnosis is one of the few states where the mind enters a read-write state where it is open to updating beliefs.
While many know of hypnotherapy for just giving up smoking or weight loss, it is actually a powerful way to tap into your mind to release limiting beliefs, let go of fears and resolve childhood events that affect your wellbeing to this day.
I speak from experience. Now a clinical hypnotherapist, I first experienced hypnotherapy as a client, after more than a decade of insomnia. From the very first session, I experienced a full night's sleep. As someone who has overcome emotional eating, food addiction, and insomnia with the help of hypnotherapy, I know that it does not matter how long you have had an issue, there is ALWAYS the possibility of positive change.
Now trained as a clinical hypnotherapist, I have gone on to successfully work with clients with a range of limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits (which I believe most of us have).
Support to Help You Release Limiting Beliefs
If you'd like help releasing limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits, feel free to browse my Healing collection of MP3s and my playlist on YouTube of hypnosis sessions and guided meditations to help you retrain your brain to Release Limiting Beliefs. You can also explore 150+ hypnotherapy sessions, guided meditations, and affirmations at no cost to you on the Unlock Your Life YouTube Channel to help YOU retrain your brain, and unlock your life!
About the Author: Sarah Dresser, Clinical Hypnotherapist and Coach
Thanks for reading! I'm Sarah Dresser, Clinical Hypnotherapist (M.H., C.CHT) and Coach. I quit a 17-year corporate career in IT to create a role for myself that aligns with my passions, interests, and values. You can read more about my journey and background here. I chose hypnotherapy over all other therapy types because of its incredible power to retrain the subconscious brain in a way most therapies cannot. I believe that low-cost and no-cost therapy and social support should be available to all as a right, not a privilege. I now support a community of over 300K subscribers on my YouTube channel Unlock Your Life.
You can access over 150 hypnotherapy sessions, guided meditations, and affirmations to deal with everything from anxiety, insomnia, emotional eating, low self-esteem, and more on my channel at Unlock Your Life. If you wish to help me continue to provide low-cost and no-cost support for all, you may do so at https://www.paypal.me/unlockyourlife. I look forward to supporting you and many others on your journey to unlock your life!