Many of us go through life having certain beliefs about ourselves from childhood. As we grow older and wiser we may discover that those very things we knew to be true are indeed false — a distorted perception of who we truly are.
Sometimes we believe these things so wholeheartedly into our adult years that they actually hold us back from doing and achieving our fullest potential.
We carry these limiting beliefs with us so internally that all too often we are left feeling unfulfilled and unhappy with ourselves, but we are unaware of why.
If left shrouded in the shadows of our subconscious minds, these beliefs can become a defining — and at times crippling — part of our identity. However, it is entirely possible for those beliefs to simply vanish when one day something unexpected occurs that completely shifts our perception of ourselves, opening our minds and hearts to new amazing possibilities.
Allow me to share one such case of mistaken identity from my own experience. This experience paralyzed my creative spirit for over a decade, until one day it all began to shift.
Growing up is rarely a cakewalk, especially in the teen years. My youth was no exception. I was picked on quite a bit. This chipped away slowly but surely at what self-esteem and sense of self-worth I had. Eventually, I became a severely insecure young adult.
I gladly finished high school and entered the post secondary education system, spending the next six years of academia in Visual Arts. Generally a Visual Arts class would consist of 12 to 20 students, sometimes more. We were assigned art projects to complete by a given deadline. Then, as a group, we would look at each student’s work and offer our “feedback”. This system of evaluating is called a “critique”, but it should be called a de-valuing.
Like most teens choosing Fine Arts as their path, I began my journey in the ways of “critiquing” right out of high school. Imagine an already-insecure 17 year old entering a new world where 20 of her peers and a professor pick apart the work into which she had poured her heart and soul. Not fun times, let me tell you.
After six years of this constant “critiquing” my sensitive young creative spirit was crushed, seemingly beyond repair. A hundred kind and positive words could not repair the damage caused by a single negative statement, instantly sending me to a dark, self-loathing place. I carried this horrible feeling with me after graduation, spending the next 11 years creatively blocked to the point where I might draw once a year.
Unaware of the significant impact my academic experience had on my fragile psyche, I went about life with an inability to communicate my internal struggle. There was this underlying sadness about me that was quite noticeable only to those close to my heart. I felt unhappy, unfulfilled, with no sense of direction or purpose. I merely existed, with no real outlet of self-expression.
For 11 years I was absolutely convinced that I had no imagination. My self-critic was so incredibly present in my thoughts that any attempt to be creative was immediately met with deflating negativity. As soon as I put pencil to paper the chastising would begin: See, you can’t draw, you suck, give up before you waste your time, stop kidding yourself, it’ll never look the way you want it to, so why bother? and on and on. Being so creatively crippled, I obediently listened and stopped even trying.
For most of my life I had been consumed by negative thinking. This was part of who I was … or rather, who I believed myself to be. However crippling, it was familiar. I had absolutely no concept that I could ever be anything different.
Even though I hated this about myself, it defined me — the tortured artist plagued with inadequacy. My kinship with self-loathing shrouded my conscious awareness that my inner critic was a root to my unhappiness. This affected my personal relationships quite profoundly.
After many years of misery, I finally sought the aid of a therapist. She asked me a few thought-provoking questions. Before long we had reached the core of my issues. Once I realized to what extent my critic was holding me back from living my potential, I told her I just wanted the voice to shut up and go away. I wanted it gone!
The therapist explained that my critic could actually be a blessing if I chose to see it that way. She said that this critic, if embraced at the appropriate moment, could propel me to excel in all that I do. By wanting the critic gone, I would be denying myself a valuable ally in the creation of beautiful artistic expression. Being the perfectionist that it is, my critic was actually the one to thank for all of the amazing creations of my past. In that moment I felt a burden had been lifted from me.
It was some time before I was able to positively shift the nature of my inner dialogue. Being mindful of my critic’s perfectionist intentions, I had been instructed by my therapist to consciously ask it, whenever it appeared, to simply come back later when I really needed it.
As a result, things began to shift. There was a noticeable difference not only in my work but in how I perceived myself as an artist. It was still a challenge, but now I was drawing more often and actually enjoying the process.
I began to seek out sources of inspiration, developing an affinity towards graphic novels and art of the fantasy genre. For some time I was trying to come up with a strong, interesting female character to paint, but to no avail. Once again I found myself giving into my ‘belief’ that I had no imagination.
Then one day, many months later, I was walking at the beach with tunes playing in my ears, and thinking.
Suddenly it struck me! The strong woman I had been so desperately searching for was a warrior.
At that moment my crippling belief about myself began to unravel. An entire story began to unfold within my mind’s eye: characters, landscapes, concepts. As images flooded my mind, my heart filled with elation. I realized with certainty that what I had believed for over a decade to be true was indeed false.
The unexpected had occurred. My perception had shifted and that limiting belief — that seemingly defining and crippling part of my identity — simply vanished. My mind and heart opened to new and amazing possibilities.
So I ask you this:
- What beliefs do you have about yourself that are limiting your perception of who you truly are?
- Do you have a tale of mistaken identity to tell? Listen to your inner dialogue.
- What is it saying to you?
- Is it holding you back from doing and achieving your fullest potential? If so, what can you do to initiate that shift for yourself?
The answers you seek are within you. The key is to seek and to learn how to ask the appropriate questions and be open for your journey to unfold before you.
Happy soul searching!
“fragements” meaduva @ flickr. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.