There are enough limitations in this world.

Physical ones, depending on your age and agility and health at the moment. Existential ones, in terms of having a finite lifespan and knowing that death awaits us somewhere. And the limitations that the dominant social norms of society might like to try to contain you with (prescribing what we’re all “allowed” or “supposed” to do or be in certain situations).

So there’s plenty.

Yet do you find yourself sometimes adding to this list?
Creating even more barriers for yourself?
Arguing for yet more limitations and making a watertight case for why you can’t possibly try or succeed or excel?

(Isn’t there already enough holding you back?)

And is it possible to drop that baggage and move on with a little less weight and a little more possibility?

First of all, let’s take a look at the kind of portable limitations you might be carrying around with you. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) calls these processes “negative self talk” or “automatic negative thoughts.”

Some common ones are things like:

  • “I just can’t do that sort of thing…so it’s not worth trying”
  • “I’m not as good as them”
  • “I’m not worthy of that”
  • “I’ll just end up failing again”
  • “I’ll just make a fool of myself”
  • “Deep down inside I know I’m just faulty”

(Do you recognise any? Or have any more to add to the list?).

It’s hardly uplifting stuff.

And, perhaps most strangely, it may not even be true. This stuff just comes along for the ride, for years if it can, sprouting its favourite negativities. And keeping you nice and contained.

But the good news is that it has an Achilles heel; a weakness. Logic and the light of truth are its kryptonite.

So next time you catch one of these thoughts – one of these limitations – see what it’s like to really shine a light on it. Don’t just go along with it. See what kind of questions you might like to ask about it.

Maybe something like:

  • Is that really so?
  • Where is the evidence for this?
  • What is the evidence against it?
  • What are the exceptions to it?
  • Where is it written that I can’t try or succeed or enjoy?

Another query that might be worth asking is:

Was I born with these thoughts? Are they really “mine”? Are they truly “just the way I am”? Or are they learned behaviours, picked-up from a mentor (or family member or caregiver) who was just passing on what they learned about how the world works.

Do you really want to endlessly repeat this cycle? To keep these thoughts, these limitations, alive – even at the risk of shrinking your own life?

Or is there a place to start limiting the limitations, and getting out of your own way?

(And what’s one small way you could do that today?)


Photo and text copyright: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She was the former editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.



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    Last reviewed: 16 Aug 2011

APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2011). How To Get Out Of Your Own Way: Questioning Your Limitations. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 2, 2015, from


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