“That’s not for me!” How your self-concept may be limiting you without you even knowing

February 22, 2022 | By More

by Dr Róisín Joyce

Lead Clinical Psychologist

I have been thinking a lot about the importance of self-concept and more specifically how our beliefs about ourselves can limit us without us even realising. Sitting here writing this blog is a big achievement for me given the amount of work I had to engage in to overcome my self-limiting beliefs before doing so.

I had Covid last week and being in isolation gave me lots of time to read and reflect, as well as way too much time watching tv.  Some of the realisations I had were that a) I watch too much tv and it doesn’t make me feel good when I do that, and b) one of the things that is really important to me is sharing the things I know that may be of service to other people.

I have felt for a long time that while 1:1 therapy is a wonderful way to share helpful psychological information, this is not available to everyone and writing is another avenue to do this.


What usually happens

Typically after an insight like this is, I put a loose plan in place, such as, “I must start writing my ideas out after work”.  Sometimes I even do this, writing a few notes down on my phone for example. This lasts for a few days, I feel that I have made some positive steps and then life takes over and I slip back into the same old routine.  For months, I have noticed this process on and off and wondered about it but then I get distracted by something in my daily life (usually another wash needing to be put on, glamorous I know) and then I forget about it until the next time.  

This time was different

I have been reading a lot and thinking deeply about the impact of self-concepts and how the beliefs we hold about ourselves harden into fact over time.  I have been reflecting on the beliefs I have that hold me back from my values and the life I want. I began to realise that the distractions in my life are a way for me to maintain the status quo in my self-concept. Staying the same is safe, change is scary. I decided to pay close attention to the workings of my mind and see what was happening “up there” so I could make conscious decisions about whether or not to go along with it. With this in mind, I made a decision to reduce my screen time and use the time to write about my experiences of using psychological concepts and skills in my day- to-day life. Great, decision made, off I go to write…or maybe not so simple….

How the self-limiting beliefs showed up

Monday came and I went through my day paying very little attention to what was going on “up there”.   When it popped into my mind that I was mindlessly watching tv, I reassured myself that it’s my day off, I have just had Covid and I need to rest.  That seemed fair to me, I was being compassionate to myself and that’s always a good thing right?.  Next Tuesday came and I had an idea during my morning clinic – I could write about how hard it can be to do the things you value and want to do and the importance of being aware of your self-concept and self-limiting beliefs so that these do not derail you. 

I was about to come upstairs to write some ideas down and I became aware of self-limiting critical thoughts such as, “No-one has any interest in what you have to say”, “You are not a writer”, “Nothing useful will show up in your mind”, and worse, “This will really expose your lack of psychological knowledge”.  Harsh enough eh?

Since I had decided to focus on being aware of my self-concept and the potentially limiting impact it is having on me, I told myself that there is no harm in going upstairs and getting some thoughts down, even if I don’t do anything with it.  This is when the “doubting-self” got sneaky and tried another way.  Instead of criticising me, it started to say, “You’ve done enough today, you are tired, why don’t you go and watch tv?”.  Now this was harder to manage in ways, because it seemed compassionate and as a Compassion Focused Therapist, I love a bit of self-care!  But I then heard the question – “Is this self-care or is it fear avoidance masked as self-care and compassion? The minute I heard the question I knew the answer was that it was fear and I resolved to go upstairs and write something. “Ok then”, my mind offered as I walked towards the stairs, “You don’t need a rest, but there are so many things you need to do around the house – the washing needs to be done (is it just me or are those laundry baskets like the never ending porridge pot?), the kitchen floor needs a wash” and on and on.  This was tricky as it was all factually correct – those things did need to be done and if I didn’t do them, they were going to build up and stress me out later, at least that was what my mind was telling me was going to happen.  At this point, I began to bend to the pressure and I knew I was fighting a losing battle.  I had the laundry basket in my hand and then I had a moment of insight and clarity.

“If I continue to accept the view of myself as someone who has nothing important to share, that will be my reality and I will be in a constant battle with myself any time I try to be creative or share what I know”.

How I overcame these beliefs

I began to think about how I work with people in therapy when they hold beliefs about themselves that do not serve them well.  Given that we know the brain responds to imagined experiences as it does real ones, one of the strategies we frequently use in Compassion Focused Therapy and other models of therapy is to generate experiences in the imagination that are then experienced in the person’s mind and body in the present. 

If you practice this regularly and continue to have new experiences of yourself in the present, even though they are imagined, these experiences can harden and form a new self-concept over time. 

So that’s what I did.  I began by recalling times I had positive feedback for information I had shared in therapy sessions, supervision meetings, previous blogs, and I called to mind the feeling of what it is like to have something helpful to share. I stayed with this feeling in my body and mind, focusing on it, experiencing it in the present and then imagined what this would look like in the future.  I began to have the feeling of being  someone who has something important to share and this gave me the encouragement I needed to sit at the desk and write.  I focused on the moment, reminded myself of my intention and started writing.

I’m not saying that’s the end of it.  The self-doubt jumped in and out several times throughout the time I was writing, but I kept bringing in the feeling of having something to share that kept me going.  I have plenty more work to do on this but I made a start and that’s the important thing.

Over to you

Can you relate to this experience? Do you ever get in your own way by telling yourself that something isn’t for you, that you are not that kind of person, that you wouldn’t be able for something or other? Can you identify your self-limiting beliefs? What might it be like to pay attention to the workings of your mind and make a conscious decision whether or not to go along with these beliefs? What would happen if you brought your attention to times when the alternative was the case? You might just surprise yourself, just like I did….

As Lao Tzu so eloquently put it,  “When I let go what I am, I become what I might be”.

I hope that something in the above has been helpful.  In my next blog, I will share with you how an idea that maths is not for me got hardened and the impact this had on me.  For now though, time to put on that wash…….


Best wishes,



PS the final photo was taken by our multi-talented therapist Lisa Healy Thanks Lisa!

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