Op Ed

What Lies Are Holding You Back?

An online friend of mine feels that at her job at a university, people are always conspiring against her. I’m sure universities can be tough places, but she reported the same thing in two other jobs, which makes me think her perception might be part of the problem. She also believes she is terminally unlucky and can never catch a break.

It’s easy to see how believing these things could be damaging. If you view your coworkers as likely enemies, you won’t get along with them that well. If you think you have terrible luck, you may not recognize opportunities that come your way.

Being able to identify someone else’s harmful thinking is easy enough. It doesn’t do me a lot of good, though–or her, either, because we’re not close enough for me to talk to her about it. The more difficult and helpful issue is: what stories am I telling myself about myself?

Most of us believe negative, fixed things about ourselves, from big ones like I’ll never find love or I hate all exercise, to smaller ones, like I need a drink after work every day. We came up with these lies, sometimes disguised as irrational fears, for certain reasons. All of them come with emotional benefits–we wouldn’t hang onto them otherwise.

I’m going to show what it looks like when I break down one of the lies I tell myself–not even the most painful and embarrassing one–and start to disprove and replace it.

LIE (if it seems too extreme to call it a lie, call it a “questionable belief”):

  • I am too absent-minded and too prone to depression to achieve everything I’d like to achieve.


  • I have always been absent-minded.
  • I have struggled with depression.


  • While I am still forgetful, I’ve gotten way better than when I was a kid and it was a serious impairment. I’ve figured out strategies for coping with it and overcoming it.
  • Being mentally unhealthy is not the norm for me. I am fine most of the time.


  • I get to be lazier and more inured from rejection. If I don’t achieve my goals, I can tell myself it’s not because I didn’t work hard enough or wasn’t talented enough. I was born flaky, and it’s not my fault.


  • My self-esteem. I am always viewing myself as fundamentally flawed, which makes me feel ashamed of myself.
  • Arguably, success in several areas of life.


  • I have overcome absent-mindedness and depression, and I achieve great things.

I don’t expect to change the mythologies I’ve created about my life overnight, but if I’m more aware of my unhelpful thinking, I can gradually revise it and get into new habits of thought. It’ll make me feel happier in the short term, and I suspect it will make my life better in the long term.

What lies do you tell yourself about yourself? How are they holding you back? And what can you tell yourself instead?

By Bryn Donovan

Romance writer, poet, quilter, and dog cuddler.

6 replies on “What Lies Are Holding You Back?”

I know it’s an older post (I’m working my way through the archives) but this made me want to share something:

My counselor once told me that under normal circumstances, this would be really unhealthy of me, but that given the way my mind works, the more important part is the coping skills/relieving the psychological pressure, but:

I actually kind of like that voice telling me that no matter what, I’ll never be good enough, because then somehow I don’t feel driven to try to be perfect and beat myself up when I fail. It’s not something I did wrong by not trying hard enough, it’s just the nature of the universe. It turns falling short of perfection into one of those “accept the things you cannot change” kind of things, and then I can tune out the other nasty voices telling me that I’m a bad person. It’s weird, but just putting it out front takes the bite out of it for me.

It’s like how that’s the only way I can deal with the various kinds of activism in which I am interested: trying to do the best things I can drags me down, because I get stuck in a spiral of never being good enough and at the bottom there’s the pit labeled “the best way to help is just kill yourself and stop taking up resources you selfish thing” and yeah that’s not a nice place to take your vacations. But if I can accept that, ok, I’m not doing EVERYTHING and I’m a terrible person already, it kind of, I don’t know, gives me permission to go a little easier on myself? Because any bit of good a terrible person chooses to do is a step up from where they were expected to be, but anything a good person doesn’t do when they could is a step down and a failure? I’m sure it sounds absolutely bonkers, but it works for me.

Using your own self-loathing against itself ftw…

Every so often, when I am tired and stressed, I catch my eye in a mirror and very calmly remind myself that no matter what I do, I will absolutely never be good enough and that nobody will ever actually love me. I am working very hard to replace that knowledge with a list of things I have done and am doing and of people who love me. I have been trying to quiet that cruel voice, and to replace it with a message of sufficiency. Thanks for sharing this post, it reminded me to keep working on my lies.

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