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Limiting Beliefs 
and Their Effect On Self Esteem 

One of the biggest challenges dyslexics face are limiting beliefs and the low self esteem that goes along with those beliefs. Here’s a metaphor: In the old days at the circus, elephants were trained in the following way. A baby elephant was staked—a rope was tied around it’s foot and attached to a stake in the ground. As a baby, the elephant didn’t have the strength to pull out the stake. It’s entire world was limited to what it was taught in that small circle of experience. When the baby elephant grew up into a big elephant it easily had the strength to pull up the stake and go out on its own. But the elephant didn’t know it had that strength. The habit of the small tug of the rope on its foot was enough to keep it captive. This is a limiting belief system in action. If the stake was removed and the elephant freed, it was disconcerting for the elephant because it didn’t know who it was other than the tricks and performance it had been trained to do and the limited life it been allowed to lead. The elephant had been trained out of its true nature. If an elephant is once again given it’s freedom by being released into its natural environment, it can begin to take delight in finding its true nature. Elephant International Carol Buckley writes, “The joy elephants show when they’re freed from chains – you cannot mistake it. It is pure joy.” 

It’s the same with people. Dyslexics are often put in a small circle as kids and don’t know they can step out and find their true nature. They don’t know that it is their birthright to claim their gifts and shine with their natural brilliance. What happens when kids keep getting “error messages”—“You’re not smart,” “You can’t do it,” “There’s something wrong with you,"—is that kids have to make some sense of the world in order not to go crazy, so they start to believe the error messages are true even when they’re not. Even when they grow up, there’s still that tug of the old tether to believe the critical messages and stay in a small acre of life instead of having access to the world. It’s like the big elephant, you don’t believe you can pull the stake out of the ground, or if you do you don’t know who you are. You are stuck in this small circle of experience. One dyslexic described it as being “a boy in a bubble” where his world was limited by what he was told he could do and the critical way he had learned to think about himself. Fortunately, he eventually got therapy and went on to become a cutting edge therapist and trainer who developed one of the early programs in Oregon to train other therapists.

“Reading disabilities often match in intensity the level of shame associated with incest.” 
—Gershen Kaufman, Ph.D.

Help on the Quest

Longing is the Doorway to You 

Feel into your experience of the word “longing.” Ask yourself, “What am I most longing for?” The word longing brings real magic. It’s a right brain, felt sense, evocative word that has the power to go straight to the heart of what matters most. It is the doorway into what you want and who you are. 

Receiving "The Missing Experience" 

Once you begin to identify what you are longing for, it’s vital to actually have the experience in a felt sense way. Knowing theoretically or rationally is simply not enough to begin living from new beliefs. One part of healing is for you to identify the longed-for belief. The other part is to actually begin to experience it so you can practice the habit of feeling good instead of practicing the habit of feeling less than. Because we learn and we repair with others, healing your self esteem and repairing your belief systems involves finding others who can support you in your longed-for experience. A connection with some other dyslexics can be especially important. A skilled experiential or somatic therapist has a range of techniques to help you embody nourishing beliefs. Hakomi, for example, even has a name for what you are seeking—The Missing Experience—and helps you learn to have what you naturally long for and what is your birthright, but what you may never have had. 

Limiting Belief—becomes—Nourishing Belief: Your Birthright 

Here are some examples of shifts that are not only possible for you to make, but which are your birthright: 

  • The Limiting Belief—becomes—The Longed-For, Nourishing Belief, Your Birthright 
  • Here are some examples
  • I have to hide—becomes—It’s okay to be seen 
  • I must be dumb—becomes—I am smart! 
  • No one will understand me—becomes—I am understood, especially by those who care 
  • I’m a phony—becomes—I’ve got some uniquely kick ass, helpful gifts! 
  • I’m lonely—becomes—I am loved 
  • I’m defeated—becomes—I am powerful 
  • There’s something wrong with me—becomes—I’m loveable and naturally unique 

Here’s something you may find interesting to try on your own. 

Did you know that our body posture can signal you to have certain beliefs, and that shifting body posture helps shift beliefs. You might want to experiment with the pairs of beliefs above, focusing on the ones that speak most to you. You might look at it like going to the store and trying on a new shirt to see how it fits. 

For example, you can play around with the limiting belief, “I have to hide.” As you sit comfortably in a chair on your own, take on “I have to hide” and see exactly how your body “does” this belief. You might find that you tighten certain muscles, that you dampen your energy, that you cast your eyes down. Okay, now shake it off, literally, and come back to neutral. Now, “try on” the nourishing belief, your birthright, “It’s okay to be seen.” Don’t worry if you don’t believe it, or don’t see how it could ever be true. Pretend you are an actor in a scene taking on the role of someone comfortable with being seen. You might notice that you find your sitsbones in your chair and let your spine lengthen. Don’t try to sit up straight as that is exhausting. Instead, find your sitsbones, lengthen your spine as it rises out of the pelvic bowl, and let your chin come up a bit. This is important too—let yourself take up more space by letting your hips open and letting the angle of your legs open a bit more. 

Commonly, this is what happens: the first thing to happen (albeit maybe only for a second or two, so watch for it!) is that it just feels so good and “right.” This can quickly be followed by a lot of messages about why you can never do this. Take heart!—if this felt “right” for a few seconds, and even only a tenth of a percent of you participated, that is the path into finding yourself. One way to explore this in a practiced way is with an expert like a somatic/experiential therapist. You might also explore what feels “right” by taking a yoga class, a martial arts class, or a dance class. And yes—everything I mentioned includes the body and sensory awareness. 

Please note, the exercises you will find here are not meant to replace professional help. If you find that they are activating to you, please seek the guidance of a professional. 


When we slump, or tighten our chest, we literally have less room to take a breath because the slump compresses our lungs. The result is that we have less oxygen in our blood because we haven’t taken a full breath. The brain doesn’t know if you are just slumping in your chair at your computer, or if you are feeling scared—what the brain reads is less oxygen! and it interprets less oxygen as threat! You can make a practice of noticing when you are tightening, and take a stretch, yawn, or simply find your sitsbones and let your spine elongate naturally (again don’t try to sit up straight). The brain reads a fuller breath as safe now! and sends signals to your body to produce feel-good chemicals instead of anxiety chemicals.

"Choose Strength, Not Shame" 

Ben Foss, dyslexic, prominent entrepreneur and activist and the founder of Headstrong Nation, a not-for-profit organization serving the dyslexic community, talks about his journey of dyslexia and moving from shame to strength: