Working With Painful Emotions

Leaving Our Self-Constructed Prisons

Sometimes we build self-constructed prisons.

This is nothing to be ashamed of because there are often very good reasons that we build these prisons. They often serve some important purpose, at least initially. We often do not realize, however, that we have built these prisons ourselves and that we do not have to stay in them.

I have experienced this first hand.

For a lot of my life, I dealt with persistent anxiety, fear, and self-loathing attacks. They seemed to go hand-in-hand. I would first experience profound anxiety and fear that I was completely inadequate for the task at hand, whatever it was. And of course, my perfectionism ensured that I frequently failed to be adequate for the task at hand.

As my anxiety escalated, it would often morph into a full-blown self-loathing attack. I would become the consummate bully, berating myself for all of myself perceived failings and imperfections.

After a time of psychologically beating myself into abjection, I would reach a point where I felt I was adequately ashamed of my failures. And I had hope that somehow I could be better. This would restore my equilibrium for a while until I faced some other challenge again that highlighted my inadequacy (or perceived inadequacy). And the cycle would start all over again: the cycle of my self-constructed prison.

Maybe you struggle with this same cycle, too. I think a lot of people do.


I dreaded my anxiety and self-loathing attacks.

I didn’t know how to deal with them. They embarrassed me. Then one day I realized that on some level, I needed these attacks. I realized that at least some[1] of my anxiety and self-loathing were a prison I had constructed for myself, and as much as I dreaded these attacks, I didn’t want to leave my prison either. My attacks were familiar.

They were a tried-and-true coping mechanism I used to control my life and somehow make myself a better person. I was afraid that if I let them go, I would not know how to cope anymore. And I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to make my life better. I did not realize it, but I was afraid that there was nothing else outside of my prison. And as bleak as it was, it was some place I could hang out when life was difficult.


Leaving our self-constructed prisons can be scary.

But one day, I realized that there was some place beautiful outside of my self-constructed prison.

It was a place of self-compassion, self-love, peace, letting go, and trusting. I have written more about it here, here, here, and here. It took a long time for me to leave my prison, and I still return to it sometimes when I am having a particularly rough time, but I don’t stay there for long.

I am not a psychologist or counselor, and I am not here to tell you why you have the difficult feelings you have or that your difficult feelings are just like mine. What I am here to say is that sometimes our most painful feelings are a prison we have built because we do not know any better. You do not have to feel ashamed of that. Our self-made prisons often help us cope for a while, but they eventually imprison us in our own suffering. I am also here to say that if you ever feel like you have constructed your own personal prison, and you are ready to leave, Love is definitely outside waiting for you.


If you liked this post, you might like reading this post, too:
Seven Steps To Love: Recovering from Self-Hate

Self-hate often results from perfectionism. This is one of my favorite books about leaving behind this painful habit:  The Gifts of Imperfection


[1] Anxiety has a lot of different causes, and I do not mean to suggest that it has one cause or one solution. This is just how I have experienced some of my anxiety.

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