"Scrutinize the mystery underlying all things.
Seek in higher dimensions of understanding a
meaning behind all of our sufferings. Unmask
what appears to be the caprice of human
Pir Vailayat Inayat Khan

"To make no mistakes is not in the power of
man, but from their errors and mistakes the
wise and good learn wisdom for the future."


When sailing a ship we are going to encounter
problems; this is normal--it happens to all sailors.
But because of these difficulties we shouldn't feel
unworthy of our voyage. Instead, we need to
understand what is causing the problems, so we can
more wisely choose how to respond to them. The same
is true in living.
A boat sometimes needs an anchor for resting
safely. It also needs to be freed from being anchored
in order to make further progress. Similarly in our
lives, ingrained habits, patterns, and points of view
provide security and stability for us. However, these
qualities can also form internal barriers that
inhibit us from making progress. The more we become
stuck in them, whether out of fear or laziness, the
more difficult it is for us to grow. By discovering
these internal barriers, we can better overcome them.
Sometimes people may feel as if they are more
"mixed up" and unhappy than others. They also may
feel they are inadequately prepared to handle the
difficulties of living, just as all people at one
time or another feel as if they are failures. Such
feelings are not abnormal; they are a natural part of
living and learning.
When we look at others, we often may not see the
problems which they conceal. Yet it's important to
realize that all of us have a host of problems that
are inherent to being human, and we all have to work
through them if we're to live to our fullest. Rather
than being alone in our pain and frustration, in our
fundamental problems we share a remarkable similarity
with the rest of the world.
There are two important keys in dealing with
these basic problems. The first is realizing that
they don't make us bad or unworthy: having these
problems doesn't erase the intrinsic worth with which
we are born. The second key is knowing that by
learning about our internal barriers, we are more
able to deal with our external problems.
Because we can better understand and control the
forces in our lives by looking at them from different
viewpoints, two views of internal barriers are
presented here. Although the first is much simpler
than the second, it can still be very helpful.

Throughout our childhood, we gradually acquire a
large collection of feelings, beliefs, behaviors, and
ways of thinking about ourselves and the world. This
acquired aspect of ourselves automatically springs
into action whenever it is aroused by something in
our surroundings. Part of this pattern is necessary
for protecting ourselves and being integrated into
society, but other parts of it block us from
achieving our potential.
The underlying problem with this collection of
automatic responses is that as children we were not
experienced and knowledgeable enough to make wise
decisions about what to accept and what to reject.
All children naturally acquire some self-defeating
patterns of responding to the world--and just as
these unhelpful patterns are learned, they can also
be replaced by learning more appropriate patterns.
These recurring, automatic responses can be
compared to the programs that comes on whenever a
radio's "on" or "play" button is pushed. If the
station isn't changed, then every time the radio is
turned on, the same programs will again be played. If
we don't like the programs we keep getting, rather
than just ignoring the problem, we need to recognize
it and do something about it. The most reasonable way
to change the programs is to change the radio to
another station so that each time the radio's "play"
button is pushed we'll get better programs.
Additional alternatives some people seem to pick,
other than continuing to listen to an undesirable
program, are destroying the radio or buying the radio
station itself (equivalent to destroying oneself or
excessively trying to control one's environment), and
both have tremendous drawbacks.
The first step in changing our programming is
recognizing when it isn't giving us what we want, and
that it keeps repeating. A wise adage says that it is
foolish to continue doing the same thing when it
keeps producing the same unwanted results. Therefore
we need to push ourselves to acknowledge when we're
not getting what we want, and that we won't unless we
make a change. Then we have to push further to
identify which thoughts and behaviors keep repeating.
Also important is to identify the beliefs that
accompany and reinforce our thinking. Often these
recurring behaviors, beliefs, and ways of thinking
that cause us problems have been with us since
childhood. We can help identify these recurring
traits by going back in our memory to see which ones
we've had for a long time.
The second step is identifying specifically what
we want to use in place of our old program. This
replacement can be a specific, different way of
thinking or acting, a new belief, or a combination of
these. Without this step we are more likely to
replace the old program with an unstable or
unsuitable new one, along with its related problems.
In addition, without this step there is a high
probability that the old program will come back and
the new one will be dropped. Choosing a specific
replacement is important to successful change.
The next step in changing our programming is
altering our system one part at a time. We don't
change a radio's program
by simultaneously altering the radio's antenna,
volume, location, power source, and tuner. Similarly,
attempting too many simultaneous changes in our lives
reduces our probability of success. By choosing to
put energy into making just one modification, we are
more likely to concentrate the effort needed for
integrating the change into our lives. Also, when we
make one modification and give it sufficient time to
work, we can more fairly judge its effect than if we
divided our effort into making several modifications.
The last step is evaluating the change--is it
working by giving us what we want? If it isn't, then
we need to go back and try something different.
A big temptation is to give up because of an
apparent failure. But even when we try something and
it doesn't work, it's only a complete failure if we
don't learn from the experience. Every time we do
something that doesn't work out, we have the
opportunity to learn what doesn't work and what else
might. With this new information we can try something
that may work because of what we have learned.
If the change is giving us what we want, we need
to give it adequate time to become firmly established
in our habit patterns. Our programming is like a
habit--in order for an old habit to be firmly
replaced by a new one, the new one has to be
practiced until it becomes an established habit that
overrides the old one. Like learning any new routine
which replaces an old one, this process requires
conscious effort and time. Once the new routine is
firmly established, we can go on to the next change
we want to make with the confidence that the last
change has become ingrained deeply enough in us to be
As we have learned certain beliefs and ways of
thinking and behaving in the past, we likewise can
now form new beliefs and learn new ways of thinking
and behaving that are more appropriate and
up-to-date. By incorporating these into our lives,
when our "play button" is pushed we can respond with
a new, updated program instead of an old,
inappropriate one.
To make such changes we have to push ourselves
to honest self-examination, and ask meaningful
questions which lead us to alter how we live. Then in
making changes we need to move step-by-step, yet not
too slowly. Not only does change require time and
energy, but also patience and perseverance. Most of
all, it requires a commitment to creating a better

Some questions we can ask about our programming:

1. What beliefs, feelings, behaviors, and ways of
thinking can I trace back to when I was much younger,
and now occur as an automatic program?

2. Are my programmed beliefs about fundamental
principles based on sound information? Does my
thinking include updated, more rational
information even when it disagrees with old material
from the past? How can I incorporate such rational
information into my way of thinking when it conflicts
with old information?

3. What is my programming for dealing with my
feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that I don't like?
Does it produce the results I really want? What
specific new program would I like to adopt and use in
place of an old program?

Examining ourselves is essential to dealing with
these issues, but it can also be very helpful to
enlist the assistance of an honest, knowledgeable
person in our process of self-discovery. Despite all
our efforts, we can't alone see ourselves as fully as
when we have such a person assisting us.
There have been several times in my life when I
couldn't understand what my real problem was
originating from, and this lack of perception
interfered with finding an appropriate solution.
Finding a wise person to help me gain a greater
understanding of the origins of my problems enabled
me to find and apply better solutions.

Next is the second view, which is a summary of
the basic origins and manifestations of internal

During infancy when our basic needs are met, we
feel contented and connected to our world without any
sense of inadequacy or of right and wrong. But as we
grow into early childhood, we experience a variety of
common situations that are important influences in
our development.

1. To children it's natural for adults to appear as
big, powerful, dominating figures. Added to this
perception is the fact that children are dependent on
adults. Therefore, children, without realizing they
are doing it, see themselves as inferior in
comparison to adults. This perception causes them to
have feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, while
the adults appear to be superior and to have more

2. As children progress, they become gradually
separated from those parenting relationships that
provide most of their nurturing and security needs.
This separation is deeply felt with a great deal of
anxiety and often fear, but the discomfort is not
always noticeable to parents. Although as adults we
usually don't remember these childhood feelings on a
conscious level, they still remain deep in our

3. Children model their behavior primarily on the
behavior of their parents and other authority
figures. Whether or not this behavior is effective at
producing happiness doesn't prevent the child from
modeling it; the modeling is not a result of
reasoning, but is due to simple observation and
imitation. This mimicry is illustrated in the old
saying "Like father, like son," or now better put,
"Like parent, like child." Whether parents are happy
or not doesn't stop a child from imitating what he or
she observes; children are like dry sponges ready to
absorb the first water they come in contact with.

4. Children are told by their families and culture
what they are and aren't capable of doing
(attributes), and what they should and shouldn't do
(injunctions). Whether any of these are actually
correct makes little difference as to whether these
messages are incorporated into their lives. Because
of the power of parental figures and culture, and
because of children's lack of experience, knowledge,
and reasoning ability, children incorporate--with
hardly any resistance--these attribute and injunction
messages into their thinking, and subsequently into
their feelings. These messages become an important
part in a child's version of reality, which is then
carried into adulthood. Often such messages are
invalid and/or counter-productive, but children will
still usually accept them like an empty vessel will
accept any water.
This process is frequently carried further when
children are also told that the differences in people
and lifestyles are either good or bad, and
consequently that the bad ones should be suppressed.
While some of these differences may be genuinely bad
for people, sometimes they are labeled "bad" only
because they are different. But because children
don't have the psychological resources to question
the "badness" of these differences and whether these
"bad" differences should be suppressed, they
incorporate this suppression, both the just and the
unjust, into their lives.
Eventual targets of such suppression can range
from the differences in life-style such as sexuality
(heterosexual versus homosexual; celibacy versus
monogamy versus promiscuity) and family values
(simplicity and frugality versus opulence and luxury;
encouragement of independence versus adherence to
family custom), to the differences between the races,
religions, and nationalities. The result is often
unjust discrimination and harmful intolerance against
those with the characteristics that are different and
deemed "bad." Sometimes it leads to the destructive
hostility of racism, nationalism, and religious
Children also take this implication that
different means "bad," and therefore needs to be
suppressed, and unconsciously apply it to themselves.
All children will at times perceive differences in
themselves, and frequently they will attempt to
suppress these differences because of the messages
they have received that being different is bad.
Because of this internal suppression, children learn
not to value some of their more creative and joyous
aspects, and they often have internal conflicts about
who they really are. Usually this internal conflict
and loss of creativity and joy is unconsciously
carried into adulthood.

These childhood experiences are so inherent to
being human that they can be called universal. Though
they may vary a great deal, every child has them to
some extent. As a result of these experiences, each
of us acquires in childhood certain beliefs,
feelings, and behaviors:

1. That I am inadequate and inferior--I'm not OK
and I don't have much value.

2. Feelings of isolation and separation from the
rest of humanity; that I don't belong.

3. That my ability to live and grow is within
narrow and fixed predefined limits.

4. Problem solving and relationship behaviors that
are ineffective, counter-productive, or
sometimes even destructive.

5. The feeling that something is missing and
incomplete in my life, and if only it could be
found, the world would be ideal.

As adults we generally aren't aware of such
early beliefs, feelings, and behaviors. However, they
become imbedded deep within us, and their residual
effects have more of an ongoing influence on us than
we usually realize.
The acquisition of these beliefs, feelings, and
behaviors happens to some degree under the best of
circumstances and in the best-parented families.
Therefore parents shouldn't view themselves as
inadequate or as failures because this happens; it's
a natural part of being human. Yet parents need to
understand that they have learned their way of
parenting primarily from their own parents, and that
their parents were doing the best they knew how as a
result of the conditioning and knowledge they had
picked up. And just as with our parents, sometimes
even when we do our best, things won't go right
because our old programming and lack of awareness
gets in the way.
Whether we are examining the parenting we
received or that which we're giving our children,
condemnation doesn't improve the situation.
Condemning ourselves just makes us feel worse about
ourselves, and condemning our parents or our culture
just helps to shift our responsibility away from us.
Nevertheless, parents can become more aware of how
children learn from these experiences, and then they
can interrupt their old programming and help their
children handle feelings and form beliefs and
behaviors in such a way that fosters greater

The most basic needs of people are food and
water, adequate clothing and shelter, and to be
reasonably safe from harm. Once these needs have been
met, people will try to overcome the anxiety which
stems from the feelings of inadequacy, separation,
and incompleteness that began in childhood.
Based on superficial appearances, there may seem
to be many approaches to overcoming these feelings.
But when these approaches are carefully examined for
their underlying similarities, four basic ways of
dealing with these feelings become distinct. Although
they often blend together, they can be listed
separately as the following:

1. Pursuing some form of power or control,
frequently by acquiring a position of status and/or
material wealth; sometimes this will involve a
position of leadership. Power or control may even be
pursued through a renunciation of these or other
things, even food. Such renunciation can range from
anorexia to self-inflicted poverty or severe
self-denial for philosophical or religious reasons.
The underlying factor in these behaviors is the
effort to gain some sense of control in an attempt to
escape unwanted feelings.

2. Distracting or numbing ourselves from our
feelings through an excessive pursuit of pleasure,
entertainment, or work. This can be accomplished in
many ways, such as an excessive interest in sports,
hobbies, sexual activity, or drugs (certainly
including alcohol). It can often be seen in
compulsive exercising or working (sometimes called
workaholism). Quite common is the "entertainment
addiction," in which people pursue forms of
entertainment as a means of avoiding the reality of
their situation--but when the entertainment stops,
their old unwanted feelings return, which causes them
to again seek entertainment in order to escape their

3. Compensating for feelings of unworthiness and
trying to obtain love or approval through
self-sacrifice. This can be seen when someone,
because of his or her own needs, takes on
inappropriate responsibility for another person or
even a group. By making the sacrifice of taking on
someone else's burden, the helper feels more worthy,
or more likely to receive love or acceptance. Such
self-sacrifice can also be a way of avoiding
responsibility for ourselves; by spending time
helping others, we can avoid doing what is really
needed for ourselves. This behavior can also be
detrimental to the person being helped if his or her
growth towards self-responsibility is hindered
instead of promoted. Attempting to escape anxiety
through such compensating, along with the
accompanying drawbacks, is a major component in the
current concept of "codependency."

4. Conforming to a group and getting others to
conform to it. The members of the group feel united,
less isolated, and more valuable as a result of
belonging to the group. They may also gain a feeling
of superiority from being critical of people outside
their group.
Although this is easy to see in its more obvious
forms (ranging from exclusive social groups and clubs
to such extremes as the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis),
it usually happens in more personal and subtle forms,
of which most people are unaware. An example is when
a person, without being conscious of it, looks down
on another person or group and feels superior in
doing so. Such feelings of superiority frequently
are related to economic status, occupation, sexual
orientation, religion, nationality, and race;
sometimes this leads to hatred and harsh, unjust
discrimination based on these criteria.
In addition, this drive for group conformity
also causes people to give up much of their
individuality and creativity. In doing so they lose
an important part of themselves that could add to
their development, and ultimately their happiness.

These four general behaviors, however, when
practiced with appropriate moderation and care can
provide considerable benefit to society. But they
become detrimental when people rely upon them for
their self-worth or when they are used to an excess
which interferes with recognizing the intrinsic worth
of all people and developing the inner qualities that
lead to a feeling of wholeness.
These ways of attempting to alleviate the
feelings of inadequacy, separateness, and
incompleteness also have a quality referred to in the
chapter on happiness: they all depend on something
outside ourselves, and therefore have the unfavorable
characteristics of externally based happiness.
In our journey of growth, it can be very helpful
to understand how the beliefs, feelings, and
behaviors we acquired long ago interfere now with
achieving a better life. By questioning ourselves
about these issues, we can gain insight into how to
overcome the problems that result from them. Then we
need to question ourselves further about how we try
to relieve our anxiety and discontent, and if it's
producing the results we really want. This process
can also be facilitated by finding a knowledgeable
and relatively objective person, or group, to help
Yet it's also important not to dwell on these
issues--doing so can block us from taking the actions
necessary for overcoming our problems. Many times
people will become stuck in analyzing the dynamics of
their lives or bemoaning their problems related to
the past. Whenever this prevents us from taking
action, we need to push ourselves past the analyzing
or the grievances and do what is needed to resolve
our problems.

Other sources of internal barriers are the
natural occurrence of mental defense mechanisms and
one basic, innate tendency. These occur in everyone
and can have value in protecting us from excessive
instability, anxiety, and pain. However, the mental
defense mechanisms of denial, rationalization, and
selective perception often interfere with realizing
our potential. In addition, a basic tendency we all
have as children is the avoidance of pain, which
naturally leads to an inherent avoidance of
discomfort; frequently this tendency to avoid
discomfort prevents us from doing what we need to do
to improve our situation. Selective perception and
the avoidance of discomfort are dealt with in chapter
Denial limits a person's accurate view of what's
true. Its influence becomes similar to that of
sailing a ship in the fog and pretending the fog
isn't a problem; the denser the fog, or the greater
the denial, the more likely is disaster. Denial on a
limited basis can have a positive role in protecting
us from too much anxiety, but the more it's used, the
less we base our thinking and actions on accurate
Rationalization--a flawed justification or
excuse for one's actions--is often used for
explaining and continuing behavior that is harmful to
oneself or the world. It's similar to a captain
piloting a ship using inaccurate bearings for
navigation just because the bearings support his or
her preconceived opinion. He or she then guides the
ship according to these bearings, but since the
bearings are flawed, the ship goes on a more
dangerous course. The lure of rationalization is that
it's actually a thinking process which makes us feel
as though we are justified or right, merely because
we are thinking. The problem with it is that some
aspect of what we are thinking about is distorted or
ignored in order to maintain our own viewpoint;
rationalization blocks understanding instead of
promoting it.
These inherent defenses usually happen on a
level which is below our awareness. The key to
reducing their negative effects is in first
understanding how they block our ability to grow, and
then increasing our awareness of how we use them in
our thinking. This awareness by itself improves our
situation--in changing from being unaware of our
defenses, to being able to see them, we gain greater
control of them.
The process of overcoming our internal barriers
requires sustained, conscious effort, but the
benefits of living a life based on more factual,
up-to-date information is worth it. We are products
of our past, but we now create the future.

Questions we can ask about our internal barriers:

1. What feelings, beliefs, and behaviors can I
trace back to my childhood? How do they hamper
my progress?

2. Are my beliefs about important aspects of
living based on sound information? In what
ways do I exclude rational, factual
information? How can I increase the
up-to-date, accurate information I use in
my thinking?

3. What are the ways in the past that I've dealt
with feelings that I didn't like? Do I still
use these methods and do they produce the
results that I want? What am I doing now that
may be a way of dealing with feelings of
which I'm not even aware?

4. When do I restrict my view of the world by
denying that which conflicts with what I already

believe? When do I use the flawed reasoning of
rationalization as a justification for behavior
that is detrimental to myself or the world?

Suggestions for further reading:

"The True Believer"
by Eric Hoffer

"The Heart of Man: Its Genius For Good and Evil"
by Erich Fromm

Copyright 2001 by Keith L. Kendrick
E-mail: awaken@teleport.com
Url: :http://www.inner-growth.com