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What's REALLY Holding You Back?

“There’s no such thing as self-sabotage because the behaviors that you think are holding you back are really just meeting your needs. It’s not a matter of trying to push yourself beyond them; it’s a matter of seeing them for what they are and then finding better, healthier ways to fulfill them.”

The Mountain Is You, Brianna Wiest

As a soon to be Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Practitioner, this reminds me of one of the 10 suppositions of NLP: “Behind every behavior is a positive intention.” If you’re interested in learning more on this topic you can read my blog:

When I first began the coursework for NLP, I couldn’t quite understand this statement. How can EVERY behavior have a positive intention, especially when that behavior is outwardly destructive and hurtful, not only to themselves, but to others?

And truthfully, the same can be said for myself. Why do I do what I do? What prompts me to make the choices I make, even when I know it’s not the best choice for me? Granted, these choices/behaviors may not be as obvious or as “bad” as others' choices/behaviors, but they are still not good. And even the smallest, unhealthy actions, done daily, can have major impacts.

"Show me your habits and I'll show you your future."


As I study and learn about the brain, I know that it’s number 1 job is to keep us safe. And now it makes sense. Our brain is wired to protect us regardless of whether we are facing real immediate danger (a car coming at us), or an unreal fear (past/future fears), something that has already happened, or something that hasn’t happened yet...both of which are not immediate and don’t exist.

The brain doesn't know the difference between a real or unreal fear.

In an effort to keep us safe, the brain sends out warning signals through the body (anxiety, depression, fear, doubt, confusion, chaos, erratic and unhealthy behaviors, desperation, etc.). The brain is on high alert because whatever it is we’re trying to avoid, feels too painful and scary to face.

Both subtle and destructive actions, come from a place of needing/wanting safety and protection.

This can look like:

A person wanting love and connection, yet continues to push people away, or stay in abusive relationships.

A person wanting to be able to cope with life, yet struggles with addiction while hurting themselves and others.

A person wanting to feel accepted, yet pushes others away because they’re afraid of rejection.

A person wanting to feel adequate and capable, yet they cheat or lie to feel enough.

So, what is the need we are looking to meet? And if the brain’s only job is to keep us safe, why don’t we feel safe?

Well, there are many reasons why we may not feel safe. But ultimately, our past experiences have taught us that we are not safe. And we began to build belief systems that confirm this, in an effort to keep us safe. And these belief systems have become the filter through which we view the world and others, and create our reality.

We’ve built a fortress to keep out the possibility of those experiences happening again. And the irony is that while this fortress keeps out the bad, it also keeps out the good. We stay stuck in past experiences, or future anxiety. We can never truly have new, healthy, and different experiences, because we’ve trained our brain to be on high alert.

We've trained our brain to create a world in which we feel "safe."

So maybe another way to look at self-sabotage or “bad” behaviors is to not look at the behavior itself, but to look at the need, to explore the need, to understand the need.

One of the best descriptions I’ve heard relating to this matter:

When a baby cries, we don’t yell at it and tell it to stop crying, or tell it to just push through. We don’t get upset at the behavior or the baby, we look to see what the need is. It’s not about judging the behavior, or the baby.

In that same sense, a lot of time and energy is spent feeling bad or judging ourselves and trying to make ourselves change or do better, without ever really trying to understand the need.

We can learn to separate ourselves from the behavior so that we can make choices based on what we need, rather than what we've done or continue to do. We can learn to see ourselves with more compassion, patience, and understanding.

Let’s say that you have a toddler and you’ve been feeding the toddler a certain type of bedtime snack. Over time, the child anticipates the snack. In fact, maybe the child cannot go to sleep without the snack. But, you learn on the news that there are ingredients in this snack that make it toxic and over time it can affect your child.

And even though your child cries every night for it, you tell them: "I’m sorry I can’t give you the snack anymore, it’s unhealthy." And you listen to them and allow them to cry. You understand that it’s really not their fault, they may not understand why you stopped giving it to them. In fact, you expect them to cry for it. You don’t try to shut them up, shame them, or get angry with them. You simply say, "I'm sorry, I understand." After awhile you replace it with a healthy snack and the child begins to cry less and less overtime. Soon the new, healthy snack becomes the norm.

As we think about our behaviors and the behaviors of others, we are reminded that we all have needs that we're looking to fulfill. We all want to feel safe and protected. We all want to understand our needs (because we consciously and unconsciously seek out ways to meet those needs, even in unhealthy ways). Because deep down, and with positive intent, we want to be able to "see [our needs] for what they are and then find better, healthier ways to fulfill them.”

Sending my Love and Light.

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