How Limiting Beliefs Complicate the Stepfamily Dynamic & What to Do to Change Them

Limiting Beliefs Stepfamily Magazine Article

About Limiting Beliefs

When I was young, I was often told to “stop whining”, “stop crying” or “be quiet, you are making too much noise.” I was supposed to be seen, but not heard. I wasn’t allowed to express myself, so over time, I developed a belief that “what I think and feel doesn’t matter.” These were limiting beliefs

I have almost always felt like I didn’t belong. I had few close friends throughout most of school and never had a “best friend.” I felt different from my family and have never really felt that I fit in with them, either. “I don’t belong” became a theme for most of my life.

“What I think and feel doesn’t matter” and “I don’t belong” are examples of limiting beliefs. Often, limiting beliefs are described as “the lies we tell ourselves.” But sometimes they aren’t lies. They became beliefs because of actual, true, life events. These beliefs we have are limiting because they keep us in a state of disempowerment. If we believe that we don’t belong, we often act as if we don’t belong.

Tony Robbins states, “Limiting beliefs are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are that hold us back from becoming who we are meant to be.” Limiting beliefs are stories. Stories can be based on fact or fiction. Whether the limiting belief formed out of truth or lies, the bottom line is that they prevent us from being who we were meant to be. Limiting beliefs can hold us in a state of disempowerment and victimhood.

Limiting Beliefs and the Stepfamily Dynamic

Before I met my current husband, I thought I was pretty much put together. I was divorced, had a job I loved, owned my own home, and overall had a great life. Sure, I had challenges and things weren’t perfect, but I was mostly content and happy.

All of that changed quickly. I fell in love. I decided to quit my job, sell my home and move closer to where he lived. He had kids after all, so he couldn’t move. Eventually, we married and I moved in with him and his three children (which he had 50% of the time.) My content, peaceful life was over and I was not at all prepared for what was to come.

I was thrust into a situation with three stepchildren, a new marriage, a new house and a very challenging, established family dynamic. My simple life was a thing of the past. The house was new to me but not to everyone else, they had already been living there for years. It was loud, really loud. I had no privacy and no space of my own. I felt like a fish out of water. I felt like an outsider. All those limiting beliefs I had, that I thought I had overcome, came creeping back to the surface and eventually exploded.

“I don’t belong” was something I repeated to myself frequently. I didn’t know where things were in the house, they all did. It was now my house too but I didn’t feel right about moving things. I didn’t want to upset anyone. I wanted them to like me after all. I wasn’t in any of the family pictures. My family pictures weren’t on the wall. I wasn’t part of any of the family stories I had to hear over and over again. I was a spiritual person in a house full of people who called themselves atheist. At the age of 43, I didn’t belong. I didn’t belong in what was supposed to be my safe place, my home.

“What I thought and felt didn’t matter.” I wanted a space in my home that was just mine, but the space was already filled. The kids were used to being allowed in my bedroom so one of them particularly often walked in without knocking. I wasn’t asked about my stories, what I did for a living, or how I felt about world events, but I listened when everyone talked. I wanted at least an hour alone with my new husband every evening, but there were no bedtimes.

I don’t want to make my husband look bad. My husband was trying to balance a new relationship with me while also considering the well-being of his children, children who had already lived through a move and a divorce. He didn’t want anything to change for them when I moved in. Understandable.

You see, it doesn’t matter if you enter into a stepfamily with your own kids or without or having been married before or not. The fact is that you are entering into a family that already has things in place. They are already a unit. Even if it is a dysfunctional unit, it is still a unit that you had no role in creating. You really are the outsider. You really are the newbie. You very often are treated as invisible. You very often are ignored. You very often are unloved (at least at first).

If I would have had a strong feeling of belonging or had a strong feeling of being heard, things in my stepfamily may have gone very differently. I likely would have spoken up more. I would have set boundaries. I would have been loving but honest. I would have created a space of my own because I believed that I was a valuable person, regardless of what the people around me believed.

Being part of a stepfamily can be a challenge. It can be hard for everyone, but when we bring all of these limiting beliefs and negative emotions into the situation it can make the journey a lot harder than it needs to be. For those of us that have emotional baggage (and I would argue that everyone does to some degree), the more we work on identifying and healing this baggage, the easier stepfamily life can become.

How to identify your limiting beliefs.

To help you discover your own limiting beliefs, I’ve provided examples of common ones below:

I am not allowed to take up space. I am not enough. I am always right. I am invisible. No one truly loves me. Everyone else is the problem. I’m ugly. I’m not good at anything. Everything is always so hard. If someone is unhappy, it is my job to fix it. I am responsible for other people’s feelings. I’m stupid. I never succeed at anything. I am not good enough. I’m fat. There is no one to trust. It is better to not even try. I am unlovable. I have to do everything myself. I am unworthy of love.

There are many ways you can identify your limiting beliefs. This is definitely not a complete list, but hopefully these suggestions can help you begin the process.

  1. Pay attention to your self-talk.

What do you repeat to yourself over and over? When you make a mistake, what do you say to yourself? I like to pay attention to my thoughts while I’m driving. I turn off the radio and listen to my thoughts instead. Eventually, you will pick up on trends or topics that help you identify your limiting beliefs.

  1. Reverse meditation.

If you find it hard to pay attention to your self-talk throughout your day, focusing may be helpful. Try sitting for five minutes a day for a reverse meditation. Typically, with meditation you are encouraged to “quiet your mind”, but for this type of meditation, your goal is to think. Listen to your thoughts and write them down in a journal. Reread them and see if there are patterns or common themes.

  1. Stream-of-consciousness journaling.

Write. Simply write down the thoughts that come into your head. Just keep typing or writing. Many people call this “wild writing.” I first heard about this technique from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. It is a great way to get in touch with the thoughts swirling in your head.

There is likely a good reason that you formed these limiting beliefs. Have compassion for this process and for what you find. The best you can, stay out of self-judgment. The more you find compassion for yourself, the easier it is to change your limiting beliefs into more empowered ones.

How to change your limiting beliefs.

First, approach this as a journey and not a destination. You likely can’t turn these limiting beliefs off instantly. They have likely been beliefs you have carried for a long time. They won’t disappear overnight.

  1. More journaling.

Writing is a great way to get in touch with your thoughts and feelings. Here are some journal prompts that may give you more insight into how to change your limiting beliefs.

  • If a friend told you they had this belief, what would you tell them? Can you extend this same kindness and care to yourself? Why or why not?
  • Is this limiting belief truth or is it a lie?
  • Is this limiting belief still relevant today?
  • What is this limiting belief allowing me to avoid?
  • Are their examples in my life that prove this belief wrong?
  • Is this limiting belief allowing me to remain in victimhood?
  • How is this limiting belief preventing me from living my fullest life?
  • What is holding me back from living my best life?
  1. Challenge the belief with a positive affirmation.

If your limiting belief is “I am unlovable”, your positive affirmation could simply be, “I am loveable.” If your limiting belief is “Everything is always so hard”, your positive affirmation could be “I live my life with ease and flow.” If writing a positive affirmation is too hard, try a neutral one. Such as, “I am beginning to notice the ease and flow in my life.”

Write the positive affirmations down and post them around your house. If you don’t want members of your stepfamily to see them, hide them. I didn’t want my stepkids to see them so I hid them in places they wouldn’t look, like behind the coffee in the kitchen or behind the cleaning supplies.

You can also create a list of positive affirmations and read them to yourself before you start your day. Read them throughout the day if you can and before you go to bed.

  1. Take action.

Dr. Matt James, Ph.D. recommends taking action and “act as if your new, positive belief is true.” If you are trying to integrate the belief “I am loveable”, start by loving yourself and taking actions that support that. Take time for yourself, daily. Treat yourself to some flowers. Do something you enjoy, daily. If you have had a hard day, acknowledge that, go home, rest and take the time you need for yourself. Buy yourself flowers.

  1. Find a therapist or a coach.

Often, these limiting beliefs are hidden under layers of pain and trauma. Your limiting beliefs may require more unpacking than you can do on your own. Finding a therapist or coach that understands the unique dynamics of a stepfamily is key.

We all have limiting beliefs, and it is likely the other members of your stepfamily (and this includes your partner’s ex) have emotional baggage, too. If we are to thrive in a stepfamily, we have to look at our own baggage and how it may be affecting others and the situation as a whole. You may not have created a lot of the issues going on around you, but you do have the responsibility to make sure you get the support that you need.

This work has changed my life. While it has been a challenge at times, it has been worth it. The work I have put into loving myself, changing my limiting beliefs, and forgiving myself and others has helped me transform. I changed many of my disempowered beliefs into empowered ones. I learned to love and accept myself more often. I learned to forgive myself. In the process, I learned how to love, accept and forgive others, as well – at least most of the time. This isn’t about perfection after all.

The more I worked on myself, the more I found myself not caring that I didn’t belong in my stepfamily. The more I found myself not caring if my stepkids disliked me. I started believing that I had a right to my own space. I realized I didn’t have to depend on someone else to give it to me, so I took it for myself. I started stating what I felt and needed in more and more situations. I couldn’t control if someone else heard me or not, but I could make sure I was speaking my truth.

When I learned that it may take years to feel like I belonged in my new stepfamily, I found other people, outside of the stepfamily, that accepted me. I started standing on my own two feet. I started setting boundaries. I found I could stay calmer when there was conflict. I found myself getting less angry. I found myself being more vocal about what was and was not tolerated in my home. I started believing that my home was my home and that I belonged in it.

Releasing negative beliefs empowers you. You have to get rid of the beliefs that are not you, so you can become who you were meant to be in the first place.

References:

Cameron, J. (2016). The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. (25th Anniversary Edition). Penguin Random House LLC.

James, M. (2013, November 5). 4 Steps to Release “Limiting Beliefs” Learned from Childhood. Psychology Today.

(n.a.). (n.d.). The Complete Guide to Limiting Beliefs. Tony Robbins.