Self-Limiting Behaviors

Self-Limiting Behavior


“Why do I keep sabotaging my own success?”

We have the opportunity to apply for our dream job, but we end up procrastinating and missing the deadline for submitting the application. Or we go to the interview, but our behavior is uncharacteristically subdued and unenthusiastic, and we “blow the interview.” Or we actually get the job, and we find ourselves botching up simple assignments and functioning below our performance level. What is going on?

How is it that we can be acting against our own interests? Why are we sabotaging our chances of realizing our dreams? Can it be that we don’t want what we say we want? Can it be that we don’t want our dreams to come true? Yes, it can.

Fantasy and success

We come into adulthood with defenses that we developed as children to cope with the pain and frustration that is inevitably part of growing up. One of these defenses is fantasy, which we could escape into whenever unpleasant emotions became excruciating.Instead of experiencing the negative world that we were in, we went into an imaginary world where we were loved and life was good.

But today escaping into fantasy is no longer an effective adaptation; it is a destructive habit. It interrupts our pursuit of gratification and success in our real lives, and inhibits our realization of our potential.

Now that we are adults and we are free to shape our lives, it would seem that nothing would hold us back from making our dreams real; from achieving what we have always wanted. It would seem that we would have nothing to lose by going forward and leaving the past behind. But all is not what it seems.

When we move toward succeeding in our adult lives, we experience a loss that is two-fold. First, we lose the identity we formed in childhood. Even though it may be a somewhat negative identity, it is familiar and how we’ve come to know ourselves. If we question it or change it, we are rejecting who we were in our family. If we become the success we always dreamed of being, we will no longer be the unlovable, lonely person who found it necessary to create those dreams.

Second, we lose our fantasy world. In pursuing our dreams in real life, we are taking them out of the internal sphere of our imagination. If we keep our dreams in fantasy, we are in control; we are creating the story, the situations, the relationships and the outcomes. In real life, we are out of control. Suddenly there are people, events and circumstances that impact us. But worst of all, when we pursue our dreams in reality, we destroy our fantasy world. There is no longer an imaginary place to escape to where we can imagine that life is different than it really is.

Challenging fantasy

To overcome this obstacle to our success, we have to abandon the two aspects of the fantasy process that we are clinging to: the negative feelings and identity that we grew up with, and the defensive solution we utilized in childhood. To challenge our negative identity, we have to investigate our long-held critical assumptions and take action to change our behavior. To disarm the fantasy defense we have to examine the painful feelings that we were originally trying to escape. By taking an honest look at ourselves and the world we grew up in, we can move into the real world we are living in today.

Instead of dreaming about success, you can translate your dream into an actual goal and begin to take steps to realize it. If you fall back into fantasizing, you can catch yourself and correct your lapse by taking action. Living without an old identity and a habitual defense feels unfamiliar and provokes anxiety. Nonetheless, it is important to take the practical steps involved in challenging your defense and to endure the anxiety that is aroused. The anxiety will gradually subside as you adjust to a realistic way of seeing yourself and to achieving genuine success in the real world.

Related Articles:
What Are Defenses?
Critical Inner Voice
How to Identify Your Critical Inner Voice

Related Books:

Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice

Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion


About the Author

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I think this article is full of crap. Achievement is not what it’s cracked up to be. And yet an achievement mindset is required just to survive these days. In a world based on competition, everyone is running just to stand still. If this is what being an “adult” is about, This 34-year old is not interested.


Achievement means different things to different people though. To me, at this point in my life, it means paying off my credit card, spending my downtime more on my bucket list, and enjoying my kids more while they are young. The “rat race” ceased to be how I define achievement a long time ago. My car and house are “good enough” to make me happy. More isn’t always better. Perhaps you are ready for different personal goals too, having outgrown your old ones that no longer suit you. Introspection can help with that. Best of luck to you!

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