Breaking Free from the Prison of Fear, Self-doubt and Self-criticism

You may genuinely want to improve the quality of your life – you may want to be in a relationship; you may want to increase your circle of friendship; you may want a better job, or a pay raise; you may want greater energy, motivation or greater self-belief, or you may just want to feel better about yourself, to like yourself more and to know that you are a lovable and likable person. But for whatever reason you simply can’t seem to be able to achieve these ambitions.

Something is getting in the way. It’s like you’re trapped inside a prison and it’s not just any old prison but a maximum-security prison – a cruel, rigid, authoritarian institution designed specifically to keep people like you firmly stuck where you are.
The prison that holds you captive isn’t a real prison of course but a metaphorical prison. A prison of the mind. And moreover, this is a prison from which I know you desperately want to escape.

Wanting to escape the prison represents your desire to break free of the constraints that are holding you back such as shyness and a lack of social confidence. I know you have a deep-rooted desire to change – you want to overcome your shyness and develop great social confidence, we all do. The desire to change is certainly there but wanting to change and actually changing are two different things – something is holding you back. Let’s have a look at what that might be.

Let’s imagine for a moment what this prison of the mind might ‘look’ like – it has for example, a small square exercise yard in the centre surrounded by four huge brick walls. Distributed around the top of these walls are several observation towers and in each of these towers there’s a mean-looking prison guard scowling down on you as you stand in the middle of the yard looking up thinking about what life might be like beyond the prison walls.
The mean looking prison guards, aren’t just looking down on you – they seem to understand what your thinking – that your thinking of trying to escape and just as you start to have these thoughts one of the mean looking guards shouts down to you saying:

“I hope you’re not thinking of trying to escape. Who do you think you are? You’ll never do it. Let’s face it – you simply don’t have what it takes do you? Your stuck here for ever, you loser!”

Your wanting to escape, as we have seen represents your desire to change. And the mean looking guards represent your self-talk, the negative, self-deprecating self-talk that always seems to be with you, putting you down, telling you off, destroying your dreams, desires and aspirations.
Needless-to-say, you take on board what the officer says and give up on any thought of escaping. However, you really do want to escape – your desire to change will not go away and you start to think again of escaping. The prison officer picks up on your new-found optimism and again he responds through talking you down only he does so more aggressively this time saying something along the lines of;

“Don’t you dare try and escape! If you do try and escape I will do everything in my power to stop you and I will stop you. I’ll make sure you fail. And, moreover, I’ll make you look like a complete idiot for just trying!”

And what do you do when the prison guards shout at you and put you down? You comply of course – you do exactly what they say by getting back into line. You decide to stay in prison but it’s not the life you want. That said, at least it’s familiar to you. Every day is the same. Everything is organised for you. Life in the prison is boring but at least you know where you stand.

You don’t like being in this prison, but you can’t help admitting to yourself that it it’s also strangely comforting. The prison, you come to realise represents your comfort zone. You also understand however that the most exciting experiences of life, the greatest opportunities that life has to offer you don’t lie within your comfort zone – on the contrary, they lie beyond your comfort zone and that the only way you are ever going to overcome your shyness and create great social confidence is to push beyond the limit of your comfort, to escape, in other words, this mental prison you’re in.

The guards may threaten you, bully you and push you around but they can’t take away your dreams – they can’t stop you wondering about what life might be like on the other side of those prison walls. Those nasty prison guards simply can’t take away your desire to change no matter how hard they try.

Your desire to change grows – you find yourself developing greater and greater determination. You remind yourself that you’ll never achieve your goal of having greater confidence if you stay trapped in your comfort zone and so you make a bold move – you move closer to one of the prison walls. You feel scared, of course, but you’re feel excitement as you start to think about making a dash for freedom. The guards, you tell yourself can’t stop you now and in a moment of tremendous courage you quickly scale one of the prison walls.

Suddenly you find yourself standing on the top of the wall! You’re no longer wondering what lies beyond the wall – you can see what lies beyond the wall. For the first time you are starting to explore life beyond your comfort zone – yes, your scared, but more importantly you’re also excited!
Just before you jump and make your break for freedom you become aware of the guards. They can see you’re about to escape and so they start shouting at you telling you to stay exactly where you are. Your heart is racing but not through fear but though excitement! You’re not going to listen to some pesky little prison guard any more – you tell yourself you’re going to make a break for freedom at last!

You jump off the wall and start your escape! But what about the strict, scary prison guards who have seen you escape – what are they going to do? Are they just going accept this prison break? Of course not! The prison guards come running after you – and they’ve got dogs and guns. You try your hardest to get away, but the guards track you down and catch you. You tried to escape and failed. The guards shout at you and put you down. They are relentless in their abuse;

“How dare you try and escape! Who are you to think you can live a fun and interesting life! Look at you! You screwed up didn’t you? You tried and failed. When are going to learn that you‘re nothing but a complete loser?”

You feel down, despondent and rejected as your dragged back to the prison. Self-doubt, self-criticism and thoughts of despair fill your mind but in time your confidence begins, once more, to grow. Your desire to have great social confidence is still with you. Encouraged by this you try once more to escape only this time you have a better plan in place. You wait until the guards have an afternoon siesta and while they’re asleep you make a run for it only this time you make it. By the time the guards wake up and realise what’s happened it’s too late – your long gone! You make it to freedom.
One of the first people you meet when you finally stop running is a wise old man. He takes an interest in you. He’s curious to know your story and listens intently to what you have to say. He also suggests that what you’ve told him are just the first few chapters of your story and that it’s you to you to write the next part. You agree – you make the decision your story isn’t finished yet – in fact, it’s still evolving, and, moreover, your story isn’t going to be some woeful tale of a sad loser who nobody liked or wanted to talk to but an inspirational story of a shy guy who took bold action and changed his life, the story of an ordinary dude who achieved extraordinary things through breaking free from the constraints of fear, self-doubt and self-criticism. A story that one day he will call The Great Escape. So, what is the next chapter of your story going to be and when are you going to start writing it?

James Woodworth ATPC

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