First, let’s acknowledge that everyone participates in self-sabotage. Everyone. We all just do it to differing extents. For some, it is merely a bit of procrastination from time to time, and that usually doesn’t develop into a problem. But for many it is the daily occurrence of getting in our own way to keep us from excelling.

There are four primary reasons we participate in self-sabotage: self-hatred, comfort, rigidity, and fear. Any one of these motives can be a major contributor to our inner critic, but usually it is a combination or all four that we suffer with. There are many ways in which the critic latches onto our psyche and takes root.

Let’s tackle self-hatred first. We are all divided. One part of us is goal-directed, driven, and positive. The other speaks to us in a self-critical, self-denying, or even self-soothing voice. Your critic’s primary goal is to keep you in your place. To prevent you from moving forward and combatting the negative self-image it perpetrates. This critic is ingrained in us from a young age, usually due to the ways we were viewed and treated growing up. Our early life experiences help engrain these beliefs into our psyche. Which makes them challenging to overcome and silence but not impossible.

We have thousands of thoughts every day. Unfortunately, we don’t register most of them. The inner critic relies on our comfort to keep us pigeonholed in the identity we were assigned, not the one we have earned. This is a tricky position because not all of the critic’s thoughts are seemingly yelled at us. Some are whispered softly and go unnoticed. Those that are whispered are harder to recognize and confront. It takes vulnerability and introspection to hear these thoughts as they happen. Once you are able to detect them you can begin to confront them. Ultimately, gaining control over them, silencing them, and moving past the lies they tell us.

Having a negative self-image is destructive, but oftentimes goes unchallenged. Why? Because it is familiar. We become rigid in our acceptance of this image. We write rules to govern our lives based on that image. While in the short term these rules may not be a problem, in long run, I assure you, they will compound into much more hurt. Awareness of these deeper consequences usually manifest in behaviors that lead to chronically poor health, unhealthy relationships, jobs going nowhere, and abandoned dreams. The voice that drags us down these paths in nearly imperceptible making it an elusive adversary. Since our brains like to conserve energy and processing power, they tend to automatize the negative chatter because it views such thoughts as commonplace. Thinking, “That’s nothing new.” These silenced thoughts become what are known as confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the preconceived notion that we utilize to make determinations about situations or people (including ourselves). For example, if you continually tell yourself that you are clumsy, you will, in fact be clumsy. So, when you trip you blame clumsiness not the uneven pavement. Or, if you are like me, you trip on level, smooth surfaces.

Fear. Who doesn’t experience fear? I am a worrier and fear of the unknown governs many of my experiences. I have found that I fear failure above all and for many years I allowed that fear to prevent me from trying new things, from stepping outside of my comfort zone. This is how fear works. It bonds with the inner critic and inhibits your ability to expand your horizons. These are falsehoods, as we are all far more resilient than we think. We are more talented and exceptional than our critic would have us to believe. By limiting our access to self-esteem our critic binds us solidly to those falsehoods our early experiences formed.

Jim Carrey, while giving a commencement address, said it best. He said, “You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based on either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it.”

One thing that stood out to me in this quote is that we make decisions based on two factors, love or fear. Many of us lack self-love. Until we challenge our preconceived notions about ourselves, we cannot hope to make meaningful changes. We cannot move forward to a place of balance without abandoning those beliefs that keep us from loving ourselves. The crux to this situation is that it’s fear that binds us to self-hatred. Quite the conundrum. Not impossible to overcome because within you is the resilience and strength to abandon those beliefs. You can learn to love yourself. You can Evolve.