Pushing Past Presumed Limits

Ellen J. Langer, author of “Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility” says: “The hefty price for accepting information uncritically is that we go through life unaware that what we’ve accepted as impossible may in fact be quite possible.”

In another of Ellen J. Langer’s books, entitled, “Mindfulness” she says: “If something is presented as an accepted truth, alternative ways of thinking do not even come up for consideration.”

In the same book, “Mindfulness”, Langer adds: “The more we realize that most of our views of ourselves, of others, and of presumed limits regarding our talents, our health, and our happiness were mindlessly accepted by us at an earlier time in our lives, the more we open up to the realization that these too can change. And all we need do to begin the process is to be mindful.”


If you lived for years in the confined, repressive milieu of a high-control group – especially if your ‘captivity’ included your childhood years – once out, you may still be operating under a set of erroneous assumptions about the world and about yourself.

In many high-demand groups there are controls and limits put on our access to information, reading materials, associations, education, our freedom to explore the world and our freedom to explore our own talents and inclinations. Having now liberated yourself from such undue repression, it is imperative that you question any premature assumptions you were forced into making about how the world operates and about the scope of your own aptitudes, abilities, capacities and latent talents.

Having spent the first thirty years of my life in a pseudo-religious cult, I experienced all the controls and repression that that cult imposed on its members. Immersed in their sea of rules and dogma, it never occurred to me that I possessed talents which I had never had the opportunity or the encouragement to explore. Even once out of the cult I assumed that the adult I was, with the competencies I was aware of, constituted the range of my skills and abilities. Fortunately, an innate need for expression and the interventions of kind, not-so-encumbered mentors eventually helped me push past my “presumed limits” and discover worlds and possibilities I had never dreamed of.

Are you too, unknowingly placing limits on what you believe might be possible for you? Are you still, unknowingly living by the constraints and controls forced upon you in the high-control situation? Have you made assumptions or accepted statements about yourself that now mean exciting options or possibilities do not even come up for consideration?

Once out of the high-control group, we not only have to work at clearing our mind of the ideology and fears instilled while serving someone else’s agenda, but we also have to clear our minds of assumptive limits about who we are and what we are capable of.

If you notice yourself thinking or saying things like, “Oh, I would love to be able to do that, but I don’t have that kind of talent”, or “Some people have all the talent”, or “I’d just make a fool of myself if I tried to do that” or “There’s no point in exploring that, surely I would know by now if I had the ability to do that”, etc. etc. CHALLENGE THOSE THOUGHTS!

You were carefully groomed to not believe you had any abilities that could take you away from service to the high-control group. PUSH PAST YOUR ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT PRESUMED LIMITS OF YOUR ABILITIES. Reach out to learn. Claim your right to explore. Dare to test your presumed limits. Of course, you will not discover aptitudes in every area you explore, but you may find one that brings tremendous meaning, joy and delight to your life. The discovery of latent talents may not bring wild success, acclaim or riches but will absolutely enhance your sense of self, your ability to fully express all that you are, and your ability to add meaning and joy to your life.

I remember once out of the high-control group, both admiring and envying people who could write. I recall saying to my husband that I could not imagine a more idyllic life than that of being a writer. But my old assumptions about who I was and about what I was capable of immediately dismissed the possibility for myself. It was only once in university and writing term papers and my thesis that I began to notice that I often received positive feedback about my writing skills. Then, many years later when a series of opportunities converged, when I saw a need in a niche population, I stepped out of my old, cult-designed constraints and dared to think of writing a book. It seemed like a huge presumption due to old, mainly unconscious assumptions about myself. It felt like a huge risk. It was hard work, but I discovered that I loved the process. There was joy in allowing myself to try to develop a talent.


Now, a few years down the road, I have written six books about recovery from manipulation, exploitation and thought-control that have thousands of grateful readers. I would never have believed that possible if I had not been willing to take the risk to push past old “accepted truths” about myself, learned in a controlling group.


Because, as Langer says, I took things I learned about myself in the cult “as an accepted truth, alternative ways of thinking (did) not even come up for consideration”. I had to challenge and push past the limiting assumptions I had made about myself as a child of high-control abuse. I had to be willing to take risks, test my abilities, make a fool of myself, and perhaps experience disappointment in order to discover if abilities I admired in others were also possible for me.

Another example: As a child in school, I always received good marks on art projects, but I compared myself to young artists in my class who could draw exact representations of a horse or a human face. I could not, so I jumped to the conclusion that I could never be an artist – besides such a goal would be summarily dismissed in the cult. I ignored the fact that nothing excited me more than blank pages and colored pencils. I thought it was just me desiring something that was not possible.

Once out of the cult, a few people began to compliment me on my design and décor. Psychologist colleagues who rented consultation rooms in my offices and loved the decor said on more than one occasion, “You should have been a designer!” I found the remark amusing and did not let it burn through my long-standing, limited assumptions about myself.

Once while at a dinner party, the hostess brought out some paintings she had just finished in an art class. Something in me thought, “I could do that – and I want to do that.” This time I listened to myself and went out and purchased some canvases and art supplies. Still not convinced I could paint, I began to tentatively create collages using tissue paper and glue. As my family saw the work I was doing, they expressed their admiration. That positive feedback emboldened me to begin to try to paint textured abstracts on large canvases. Whether anyone found them worthy, or not, whether they had any artistic merit, or not, I had just discovered the most exciting form of personal expression I had ever known!

Walk With Me 1


What joy! What satisfaction!

The point of sharing these personal stories with you is that to become or enjoy anything that I now value – being a psychotherapist, becoming a writer, enjoying painting abstract acrylics – I had to push past “accepted truths” and imbedded assumptions about myself and what I was capable of.

What assumptions have you made about yourself? What assumptions encouraged in a high-control group are limiting you? What might you discover if you pushed past any “presumed limits regarding (y)our talents” and opened up “to the realization that these too can change”? As Langer says, “… all we need do to begin the process is to be mindful”. Pay attention to clues that you have made erroneous assumptions about the limits of your potential. Do not allow the high-control group to continue to control your life and your potential with their old, repressive beliefs.

Be mindful now about skills you notice that you admire or envy in others. What information, for example, might be contained in simple thoughts such as “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to play bass guitar in a band” or “I’ve always admired jewelry designers” or “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a teacher” or “I’ve always been curious about urban design” or “I’ve always envied people who lead a contemplative life”, etc. etc. Take such thoughts or statements as a possible nudge from your unconscious about hidden talents or abilities waiting to be explored. Challenge your assumptions, groomed by a controlling, repressive group that did not want you to have your own goals or work on your own projects which would take you away from service to their goals.

Sometimes a certain ennui with life, a recurring depression, feelings of despair, anxiety, or hopelessness can be sourced in not living up to our full potential. Are you plagued by unexplained, seemingly unwarranted anxiety? Consider that it could be due to unexplored talents or abilities yearning for expression.

What assumptions are you still carrying from your experience in a high-control group that are limiting the full and meaningful expression of all that you are? How are old, outdated beliefs about yourself limiting your potential and enjoyment of life now as a free person? As Ellen J. Langer says, “… what we’ve accepted as impossible, may in fact, be quite possible.”