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  • Writer's pictureSarah Dresser

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, the oldest subconscious components which are designed not for critical thinking, but for instinctive survival.

The most sophisticated parts of the brain are the last components to develop and are not fully formed until 8 years of age.

The Child's Mind is Wide Open to Learning

As adults, the conscious part of the brain is a filter, the gatekeeper to the subconscious. But as children we do not have that filter in place, so the child's mind is wide open to absorbing all experiences. We are learning not only how to walk, read and write, but also creating our own internal library of beliefs, all of which are stored in the subconscious.

The Race to Survive

It is a race. Not to compete, but rather to quickly learn about the world in order to survive. The rapid writing of beliefs helps us to speed up response time. So, the first time a negative or positive experience happens and we react and survive, we record that response in the database of our habits and beliefs located in the subconscious part of the brain.

Our Early Childhood Experiences Form Our Core Beliefs

Once we have compiled our library of responses and beliefs these become 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 flaw in all of our minds. The subconscious does not evaluate: it simply references 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 work with clients to overcome a range of limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits.

Support to Help You Release Limiting Beliefs

If you'd like help releasing limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits, you can 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 I look forward to supporting you and many others on your journey to unlock your life!

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