Mental barriers are beliefs that hold you back. We look at how they can affect your life, plus tips for overcoming them.
Often, the most difficult challenges to overcome are the ones within us.
Limiting beliefs — known as mental barriers — are internal assumptions that we develop about ourselves that can affect how we see and feel about who we are, our abilities, and how we fit into the world.
Attachment to these ideas about ourselves can hold us back from making progress, taking action, and living our fullest lives. That said, a variety of tools can help you move beyond the barriers.
Mental barriers are a set of limiting beliefs we have about ourselves. If we attach ourselves to these thoughts, they can prevent us from taking action or moving forward. For example, a mental barrier might keep you from writing that book, taking that promotion, or pursuing that relationship.
Even though you want to do these things, paying too much attention to limiting beliefs may make you feel as though you aren’t capable or talented enough to pursue them.
Also referred to as emotional or psychological barriers, mental barriers can manifest in our thoughts or opinions, feelings, or attitude toward others. They’re often driven by fear, for example:
In addition to your actions (or inability to take action), they can also affect your ability to communicate or interact with others — or even with yourself.
Most people find themselves confronting their mental barriers at some time or another. While some can easily push past mental obstacles, others may find it more difficult to overcome them.
Every person’s situation is unique, and you may face different psychological barriers than someone else. However, some affect many folks to varying degrees.
Common mental barriers include:
Self-doubt and negative thinking
We all have a doubting mind from time to time. Self-doubt can become problematic if we start believing what our mind tells us about ourselves.
Self-doubt can prevent us from making progress or doing the things we want to do because we begin to believe that we don’t possess the skills, abilities, or talent to go after that promotion or forge that relationship. However, this is often far from the truth.
We all experience fear from time to time: fear of the unknown, of failing, of not being good enough. In fact, fear has an important evolutionary role in helping to keep us safe from danger.
Regardless of what drives our fear, it’s a powerful emotion that can dictate what our next steps may be — or whether we move forward at all.
Most of us have established a “comfort zone,” where we feel safe, secure, and confident. Like fear, our aversion to discomfort is partly explained by evolution and it can help keep us safe.
Staying within our comfort zone can be problematic if we consistently make decisions based on avoiding discomfort or fears to the extent that it disrupts or limits our lives.
Much like fearing the unknown, it’s natural to hesitate before stepping outside of these parameters, as it can feel uncomfortable or even unsafe. For many people, the potential for discomfort stops them from leaving the comfort zone they’ve created.
Overcoming any obstacle takes time and dedication, but it is possible. Breaking down your mental barriers is no exception.
There are several strategies that you can use to change your mindset and move past your limiting beliefs, including the following:
Talk therapy can help you work through your limiting beliefs by discussing them with a mental health professional. They can recommend strategies and techniques to overcome them based on your unique situation.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy where a therapist helps you challenge and change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. CBT uses a variety of different strategies to help recognize and alter certain patterns in behavior, including journaling, role play, and cognitive restructuring.
Looking for a therapist, but not sure where to start? Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.
Writing about your thoughts and feelings can help you identify what barriers are standing in your way — and why they exist. Journaling can have many mental health benefits, such as helping you process emotions, relieve anxiety, and work out your true feelings about situations.
If you’re finding it difficult to get started, consider using journal prompts to help you get started.
3. Venturing outside your comfort zone
It can be scary to move beyond our own “safe space,” or comfort zone. But progress doesn’t have to be large. Taking small actions can help you move forward one step at a time.
For example, maybe you want to take on more duties at work, but you’re afraid that you won’t succeed or will become overwhelmed.
You may want to consider adding one new task to your workload rather than several at once. After you’re comfortable, you can then consider adding another.
4. Practicing self-compassion
Self-compassion is all about treating yourself with kindness, care, and understanding.
While our limiting beliefs may make us more prone to self-judgment rather than self-care, engaging in self-compassion exercises can help flip our mindset.
Dr. Kristin Neff, co-founder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, recommends exploring self-compassion through writing, supportive touch, or acknowledging and changing critical self-talk.
5. Using digital tools
In a 2020 study, researchers developed an app for promoting a growth mindset and overcoming self-limiting beliefs. Using digital tools like apps can provide real-time support when you need it — all from the comfort and ease of your phone or tablet.
While more research is needed, mental health apps might be effective in identifying your mental barriers and developing techniques to overcome them in real-time.
Mental barriers are a set of limiting beliefs that can prevent you from taking action or moving toward what is important or meaningful to you — no matter how much you may want or need to.
Mental barriers can affect all aspects of our lives, including our professional lives, our social interactions, and our relationships with both ourselves and others.
While mental barriers can hold you back, it’s often possible to overcome them. By engaging in strategies such as therapy, journaling, or self-compassion, you can begin to move past your limiting beliefs.
If you find it challenging to overcome your mental barriers on your own, a mental health professional can help. They can help you identify the unique barriers and beliefs that are holding you back and work with you to develop coping techniques tailored to your needs.