For most of my life, I felt that life was happening to everyone else and I just got to watch.
Someone else’s parents came to see their high school graduation and celebrated with them. I walked home alone.
Other people went to their own university graduation. I didn’t even bother turning up and had my certificate sent to me.
Other people dated and experienced what it’s like to spend their time with a variety of people in an attempt to find out who suits them and who doesn’t. I stayed at home watching TV instead.
Other people made friends at work and socialized with them. I went home and listened to their stories the next week. Until the following week the cycle would repeat itself.
Other people got married eagerly and put their wedding photos out on display. Mine stayed hidden in a cupboard.
Other people hosted big family celebrations and laughed the laughs I wish I had.
Other people honeymooned or traveled to exotic places with people they loved. People they held hands with. I never even had the thought that that was possible for me.
I have thousands of other examples of how I feel I missed out on life, and I know that the majority of people would respond to each and every one of them, “Well, why didn’t you make it happen? Why didn’t you make a different choice? Why didn’t you do something?!”
The honest answer is that I didn’t know that I had to do anything.
I believed that I had to sit around and wait for something good to happen to me while watching amazing things happen to other people. I didn’t see that mostly they were making them happen, and I didn’t understand why nothing exciting was happening to me.
I felt helpless and hopeless.
It’s not that I was ungrateful for the life I lived, though it should be more accurately described as an existence. And yes, in the grand scheme of things, it was a pretty good existence, but I was lucky enough to grow up in a society that offered a huge number of opportunities and possibilities… none of which I took.
I felt frustrated, drained, and depressed because, from my perspective, life was passing me by fast while others got to live it. Really live it.
And I never understood why…
Things have changed a lot since then, but it’s been difficult at times to recognize what I had or hadn’t been doing to and for myself.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe you too feel that you should be grateful for your life, comfort, and health while feeling the stinging pain of a life not unloved but unlived.
Maybe you’ve also felt like you’re watching from the sidelines while others get to play the game of life.
Maybe you have always wanted to join in too but felt too shy, too awkward, too … INHIBITED!
And that’s what I attribute my unlived life struggles to—my inhibition.
There’s something within me that has always held me back. Not just from the bad or unwise but also from the good and the fun.
Something within me always stopped me. That something within always felt scared and unsure.
Even if I had realized that I was supposed to make choices, I don’t think that I could have made any because I didn’t really know what I wanted.
I was taught as a child that you couldn’t have everything you wanted. I guess I made it mean that wanting anything was bad and would only lead to disappointment. In order to avoid that disappointment and feeling shame for my wants, I started to repress most of my desires.
That way, going without became a lot more bearable.
But the things I just couldn’t stop wanting—like friends or new and fun experiences—caused me a great deal of distress.
Not because wanting them was bad but because I felt absolutely powerless over making them happen.
And so, I was stuck with an unhelpful mindset characterized by inhibition, self-doubt, and passivity as well as an underdeveloped skill set. In combination, that led to:
- Friends I didn’t make or stay in touch with
- People I never met and dated
- Holidays I never took
- Career opportunities I let pass me by
- Parties I didn’t go to
- Celebrations I didn’t engage in
- Real intimacy I shied away from
- Connection I never formed
- Words I never spoke
- Dreams I didn’t make come true
- Opportunities I didn’t take
- A life I didn’t live
In the past, I thought of myself as a person who just wasn’t meant to be happy. A person who fun things just didn’t happen to.
I didn’t realize that I would have to be fun and that that was what I was craving.
I was craving a disinhibited me. A light me. An open me. A fun me.
I knew it existed, but I just didn’t know how to unleash it.
I was a repressed shell of myself. I was on the inside looking out, watching others live rich and full lives, wanting to join them but feeling imprisoned within myself.
“Good girls aren’t ungrateful and selfish. They don’t ask for what they want. They are happy with what they’ve got.”
Such a short message with such a big impact.
I stifled myself on every level without really knowing what I was doing. Instead, I felt sorry for myself and completely helpless.
It’s not that I was lazy and loved feeling sorry for myself. It’s that I didn’t know that the glass wall wasn’t really there. To me, it looked real. To me, it absolutely existed. I didn’t realize that it merely consisted of limiting and inhibitory beliefs that stopped me from creating the life I actually wanted and from becoming who I wanted to be.
And so, I stood by waiting while watching others live their lives.
Until one day, I met some quite unlike me. Someone who was more like the opposite extreme. Someone who has always said “Yes” to life and snatched up opportunity after opportunity and experience after experience.
He helped me see through my limiting beliefs and step through my imaginary glass wall. It was a difficult undertaking at times but one that was so very worth it. It’s also something everyone can do. I’m no special case or extraordinary in any way, and so I know that if I can do it, it is possible for everyone.
Here are the five main things that helped me liberate myself:
Don’t Believe Your Inhibitory Thoughts
This is HUGE! Just because we think something doesn’t mean that it’s true. It also doesn’t mean that it’s helpful or something we should act on.
Old thoughts feel real and true and are usually very strong. We believe them because they’ve been with us for a very long time. And yet, they may be stopping us from realizing just how powerful we are in creating our own life.
Just because you think you’re too old for this or for that, doesn’t mean that you are.
Just because you may find something new difficult or uncomfortable to learn, doesn’t mean that you should just not do it.
Just because there are things you’ve missed out on when you were younger, doesn’t mean that you should continue to go without or that you missed your chance.
We listen to thousands of limiting and inhibitory thoughts and then deprive ourselves of truly engaging in life.
We must become more aware of these thoughts in order to transcend them. This means we must stop treating them like they are absolutely true and valid reasons for choosing not to take part in the game of life.
Allow Yourself to Want Something
Maybe right now there is nothing you consciously want. That’s okay. I’ve been there too. We bury some things so deep down that we don’t even remember that they exist. Don’t worry about that—it will all come back to you.
When you start to open up and are willing to listen, miraculous things happen. You’ll feel a nudge here or there. Something interesting will catch your eye. You’ll feel a little pull in your stomach telling you that there is something you want.
And then it’s all about allowing that to be there without denying it, invalidating it, or pushing it away.
Just let it be there and listen.
Soothe and Reassure Yourself
Re-awakening your desires may bring uncomfortable feelings with them. What you want may be shame-bound, and so it might feel difficult or even forbidden and distressing to allow it back into your conscious awareness.
Learn to soothe yourself through these difficult feelings should they arise.
They are not a threat. They are simply an internal reaction to breaking the cycle of inhibition. It may feel scary, but it is not wrong to break this cycle. You are doing something good and life-affirming and life-enhancing for yourself.
Talk to yourself in a compassionate, encouraging, and reassuring voice. Make room for whatever feelings arise and calm your nervous system by breathing deeply and slowly.
Everything is fine. You are not doing anything wrong.
You are safe and you are well on your way out of the prison of inhibition and stepping bravely into the world.
Prepare and Plan for Action
Not having tried to proactively make things happen for and by ourselves means that we haven’t had much practice. We might not know yet how to deal with the frustration and disappointment of learning something new and it not turning out how we had hoped it would.
These are skills to develop. It is a natural part of learning, and we need to practice getting through our frustrations and disappointments so that we continue on our journey of making things happen.
We cannot let the discomfort of temporary disappointment and frustration stop us. These are just signs that there are different and better ways of moving toward what we want. They are not signs that we are doing it wrong or that we should give up.
They are signs that we are in the process of trying something different and learning something new. They are evidence that we are proactively taking part in life and growing as a person.
Learn New Skills and Take Action
This is the ‘doing it’ part. It’s exciting and scary all at once. But this is where change happens in a visible way. This is the part that’s easily noticeable.
It can also be the part where inhibition might raise its ugly head for one last time before it acknowledges its defeat. Do not give into it! You have worked hard for this moment, so keep going.
If you’ve wanted to learn how to set boundaries, say the words.
If you’ve planned on having a difficult conversation because there is something you just need to get off your chest, have it.
If you’ve planned on leaving your partner, leave.
Whatever it is, take action.
It is the last but most vital part. It is also something you can do especially now that you’ve prepared for it.
Notice your feelings and validate them. Speak to yourself with understanding and compassion. Soothe and reassure yourself. Then take action.
Take action even if it feels scary or uncomfortable. It’s new and different, so it can feel like a threat. but remind yourself that it isn’t.
You can do this.
Inhibition doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Make sure it isn’t one.
About Marlena Tillhon
Marlena helps people who struggle in relationships, due to codependency, insecure attachment, and unresolved trauma, develop and change in ways that allow them to finally get the love they need. She works as a psychotherapist, relationship coach, and clinical director and loves to connect on Instagram or via her Love with Clarity Facebook group and page. She is an expert in human relationships and sees them as the lifeblood of a meaningful existence.