Got Change for a Paradigm? Understanding the Paradigm Effect

paradigm effectOne day when I was in high school, my stepdad walked into the room where I was studying (or maybe I was playing video games—I don’t know). He was wearing a new sweatshirt. “Read it,” he said, beaming.


The sweatshirt’s white text stood out against its black color, clearly displaying a simple question: “Do You Have Change for a Paradigm?”


Clever, I thought as I laughed. My stepdad was was a thoughtful guy and constantly challenged my thinking, so the sweatshirt was fitting for him. Because of his influence, I was exposed to many ideas that I would not have been otherwise. Did I have change for a paradigm? Well, yes, I liked to think so.


Indeed, many of us like to think that we’re open-minded, reflective, and willing to see the world differently. And often, at least consciously and about some things, we are. We can be open to new paradigms, or ways of looking at and organizing our experiences.


But we can’t help but use the lens of our unconscious minds to look at and make sense of the world. That’s where something called the paradigm effect can influence our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. And that can keep us stuck. But how?


Self-Limiting Beliefs: The Foundation of Your Paradigm

As you were growing up, you had a countless number of encounters with family members, friends, and others in your life. Before you were five years old, you internalized these encounters as beliefs about yourself and what relationships are like.


You see, kids are inherently narcissistic. They believe that whatever happens in their lives is about them. So when Mom or Dad is angry, for example, they believe that it’s because of something they did. “It’s my fault that Mommy’s angry,” they say to themselves. Over time, they start to believe that what happens to them is a reflection of who they are.


As we’ve discussed in previous posts (like this one), these internalized beliefs run the gamut. I’ve found that some of the following self-limiting beliefs are common for those struggling with shame and sex or porn addiction:

  • I’m not good enough
  • I’m worthless
  • I’m weak
  • I’m not safe
  • I don’t belong
  • I’m not wanted
  • I’m unlovable
  • I’m a disappointment
  • I’m powerless


There are many, many different iterations of these self-limiting beliefs. However, most of them are variations on some of a “greatest hits” (i.e., most common) self-limiting beliefs, which you can find here.


Self-limiting beliefs are important to understand. They form the foundation of how we make sense of the world. Moreover, these beliefs will, if unexamined, radically influence our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that inhibit our personal growth.


The Paradigm Effect: How Self-Limiting Beliefs Keep Us Stuck

If you struggle with toxic shame, for instance, the internalized belief that you’re a worthless POS, you’re going to look at the world this way. That you’re a worthless POS will be your emotional and relational paradigm (whether you know it or not).


Paradigms work to support self-limiting beliefs. You unconsciously seek out, magnify, and remember information from your life experiences that “prove” that your self-limiting beliefs are true. You unconsciously ignore, minimize, or dismiss information that challenges or contradicts your self-limiting beliefs.


This is the paradigm effect. For example, you don’t believe that you can stop masturbating to pornography; every time you try, you fail and prove again that you’re a failure. Or your partner asks you to take out the garbage, which you take as a criticism that confirms that you’re not good enough. Or you procrastinate on important business projects because if you were to complete them, everyone might find out that you’re a fraud.


Here’s what the paradigm effect so helpfully illuminates about self-limiting beliefs: If you believe in your toxic shame that you are a worthless POS, you’re going to unconsciously assume that everyone else sees you that way too.

  • Because your self-limiting beliefs (SLBs) are running the show, you’re convinced that you’re not going to get that job promotion, for example.
  • You don’t believe that you’re going to get that promotion, so you don’t engage your work to earn that promotion. You procrastinate, make excuses, turn in projects late, or, if you’re like me (eep!) you avoid doing them altogether. (I’m working on this, for reals.)
  • You don’t get ahead professionally, which just goes to prove that you’re a worthless POS.


How do you see this operating in your own life?


Getting Unstuck from the Paradigm Effect

Doing anything that challenges or contradicts your SLBs will create anxiety for you. Guaranteed.


Think about your mind as formed of various committee members, each with their own voice. There are committee members whose only aim is to help you avoid this anxiety.


For example, this past spring, I launched PornFree, an online course and membership site that will help porn addicts kick the habit. For months, I put off launching the project. I didn’t have time, I said. I was too busy seeing clients, I told others. I can’t launch and also be present as husband and father, I reasoned.


The real reason? I was scared. Big time.


I thought that surely other coaches and therapists knew more than I did. I didn’t think that anyone would listen to me. Who am I, anyway, that anyone should trust what I have to say? Other voices in the porn addiction recovery world are bigger and better than mine.


I was proving in my actions that I am inadequate and don’t measure up. It’s an ever-present paradigm that I deal with, especially as I try something unfamiliar. I still feel the accompanying fear as I prepare to launch a YouTube channel and consider creating a podcast.


Feelings are feelings and they’re going to come whatever you do. It’s what you do with the feelings that matters.

Clients ask me all the time how to avoid feeling unpleasant feelings. I get it. But feelings are feelings and they’re going to come whatever you do. It’s what you do with the feelings that matters.


Susan Jeffers wrote the classic book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. She says that we need to move through the fear to take action, create meaning, and make our lives fulfilling. And guess what? Positive action kills fear.


I say this to myself as much as I say it to you: Whatever you’re afraid of, whatever limiting paradigm that’s hanging around your next, you can take steps to heal and move forward.


Sometimes that means finding someone safe to talk to. If you need someone to connect with, if you’re struggling with addiction or a relationship, and you don’t know what to do, I’m here.


Live in California?

I’d love to connect.

Contact me today to get started.


Jeremy Mast

Jeremy is a licensed marriage and family therapist (CA LMFT90961) in private practice in Ventura, California. He helps those struggling with drugs, alcohol, and out-of-control sexual behaviors awaken to new possibilities for their lives. He lives with his wife, son, and cat in beautiful southern California.

No Comments

Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.