Feedback and the Birthplace of Beliefs

How much do we form beliefs around the feedback we receive? And how do different personality types process feedback? Are some personality types more likely to adopt limiting beliefs than others? These questions are worth considering as we think about giving feedback to others – as parents, as teachers, as managers, as partners and friends.

Buddhist abbot Ajahn Brahm gave the example of a monastery wall he built in Australia. The wall had two “bad” bricks sticking out at an angle. He was embarrassed about the appearance of the wall until a visitor pointed out that only two bricks were deficient out of 1,000.
The moral of this story:
Whenever we give feedback it is always important to put deficiencies into context. Talk about the 998 good bricks, as well as the two bad ones, otherwise people may feel you are attacking their entire wall.
When feedback is levied at a person’s identity rather than behaviour, this can create or reinforce limiting beliefs. Henry Ford once said: ‘Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right!’ He was making reference to the fact that what’s going on in our heads has an effect on the way we behave.
A belief is a thought, repeated in your mind, so often that it that causes the power of your subconscious mind to affect your chronic thinking habits and thence your behaviour. During childhood, adults – usually parents and teachers – give us feedback constantly “Good boy!”, “That’s naughty!” and so on. Because, as children, we have no frame of reference or experience against which we can validate this information, we tend to believe it as ultimate truth about our very selves.
If the feedback is negative, we can carry this negativity into our adult lives and allow it to affect the way we view ourselves. These thoughts limit what we believe we can achieve. “I’m stupid,” “I’ll never amount to anything’, “I’m not good enough,” are just a few of the beliefs typically running inside us.
For much of the time, we operate on autopilot: functioning without conscious thought, e.g. getting out of bed in the morning. Whilst these automatic behaviours are often required for efficient working, they can entrench these powerful limiting beliefs; often we do not even notice we are running them. These subconscious thought patterns go quietly about their business, generating self limiting behaviours without us ever even knowing they are there.
Do you have unhelpful habits running automatically under the surface of your life? Perhaps you find yourself apologising frequently, or procrastinating, or over reacting to the shortcomings of others, or perhaps you struggle to follow through on things you know you want or do for yourself?
Each personality type is likely to have certain common limiting beliefs running their automatic behaviours. (See our book ‘The Enneagram Encountered’ for more specific information on this.) We may have a whole range of additional limiting beliefs added on top, gleaned from our early experiences. Nature meets nurture and the combination can result in a powerful cocktail of unrecognised self sabotaging behaviours, all driven by a relatively small bunch of toxic thoughts.
If you hold a negative belief about yourself or about life, what can you do? The first step is to recognize it, because only then can you begin to change. Then we can start to look for alternatives and consciously practise them until they start to release. There are a number of different techniques available for this: it is the core of personal transformation.
The Enneagram, with its profound insight into our subconscious drivers, will give us an invaluable map to discover the likely limiting beliefs for each personality type – a great starting point and one to continue to revisit throughout our experience of life.
When receiving feedback, we realise the importance of checking our systems for any unwanted residue, if we notice that our negative self beliefs are being triggered. It is so helpful to have techniques at the ready to assist with this, (see
In terms of giving feedback, then, we are more careful in the light of all of this, to be ‘Clean’ in the way we give our feedback. Caitlin Walker’s Clean feedback process (see training is a great tool for ensuring that we do not unwittingly add to others’ limiting beliefs about themselves.
Above all, the Enneagram teaches us to tread softly, for we tread on others’ whole being when we affect the beliefs they hold about themselves. We have compassion and appreciation for the immensity of the journey of each person with whom we interact. We pay due diligence to the whole person as we feedback about one small aspect of their behaviour and we look with care for the drivers which will unlock their greatest potential.
“I praise loudly, I blame softly.” Catherine the Great.