Handling the Enemy Within

by Liisa Kyle, Ph.D. on 07/06/2016

image via commons.wikimedia.org

Warning!  There may be an enemy lurking deep inside your brain. Do you have a little voice inside that is causing you damage? Do you have an inner saboteur that makes you doubt yourself, derail your progress, and/or otherwise create havoc in your life?  If so, join the club. As a coach, I work with smart, successful people, almost all of whom have one (or more) little tyrants inside of them that cause them to do things against their best interests.

You know yourself best.  Which of the following sound familiar?

The Fear Monger

Anything new is scary to our inner protector. Any change — even a good change — is regarded with anxiety and caution. On the plus side, The Fear Monger keeps us physically safe and prevent us from taking wild risks. On the down side, The Fear Monger keeps us riddled with doubts and insecurities. It keeps us questioning our talents, rather than enjoying them. The Fear Monger sucks all the joy out of the creative process. It keeps us paralyzed, fearing the future, rather than taking concrete actions today. The Fear Monger is particularly concerned about “them” and what “they” will say. (What will the critics say? I can’t write *that*! What will my mother say? What if my play bombs?  I’ll be a laughing stock. I’ll never work again.)  Also, the Fear Monger makes us demand constant reassurance from our friends, families, and colleagues:  this makes us draining and unpleasant to be around.

The Delayer

Perhaps the cleverest inner saboteur, the Delayer can find untold impediments to block our progress.  Symptoms may include a sudden urge to do chores. Or eat. Or nap. Or do more research. Or walk the dogs. Or surf the ‘net. Or consult with someone. Or check Facebook. The Delayer impedes our decision making:  we find ourselves hesitating to commit to a particular choice or option, let alone take action along a particular path. The less we do, sadly, the more frustrated and unhappy we become. We beat ourselves up, feel weak and ineffective and otherwise think poorly of ourselves.  This is heartbreaking for people who care about us.  For others in our lives — especially coworkers — The Delayer makes us undependable, annoying, and difficult to work with.

The Judge

The Judge is rarely satisfied. No matter what we do, our inner Judge knows we could have done it better. It’s the voice in our heads intoning, “This is not good enough.”  Ironically, we tend to do excellent work.  Because the Judge is picky with sky high standards, we tend to be conscientious, hard-working, and brilliant.  The downside is that we do so by putting tremendous stress on ourselves and those around us. We work frantically and joylessly, and seldom pause to acknowledge our accomplishments.  We assess every situation, every person, every thing we experience. The people around us find it uncomfortable to share with us, knowing that we are apt to assess and critique them.

The Distractor

This inner saboteur is adept at finding bright, shiny objects to dangle in front of us. We just get going on a project when suddenly, we are made aware something new that hooks our interest. The Distractor is a master at scattering our efforts in random directions so we don’t make sufficient progress in any one direction. The Distractor keeps us very, very busy — our lives are interesting and full — yet we don’t seem to be getting anything done and we always seem to be running late. Our friends, families, and colleagues get fatigued trying to keep abreast of whatever’s captured our fancy today.

The Quitter

You’re chipping away at something when you hit a roadblock. Before you can seek or implement solutions, The Quitter wails in despair, “We’re doomed! We’re done! We can’t go on!” We end up walking away from a perfectly viable project…or delaying it’s progress unduly. While the Quitter may make our lives easier in the short term, it dooms us to longer term dissatisfaction and unhappiness. The Quitter interferes with our efforts on things we actually yearn to do.  When we don’t do them, we can’t help but feel like failures.  We emit that ‘loser’ energy few people want to be around.


If one or more of these Inner Enemies is sabotaging your thoughts, work, or relationships, take heart:  You are not alone.  Many people face the same inner demons.  There are proven way to overcome each of them. Step One is to

  1.  Recognize what’s happening.

Given the sneaky nature of these inner saboteurs, job one is to detect them. (Hmmm. Why haven’t I picked up my banjo in a month? Good grief! The Delayer strikes again).

Once you are aware that an Inner Enemy is operating, dig deeper. Be specific:  what messages is the saboteur broadcasting in your brain? What actions are you taking because of it? What actions are you avoiding? What impact are you having on the people around you, personally and professionally?


Activity:  Begin with the Inner Enemy that is causing you the most disruption right now. Clear 5 – 10 uninterrupted minutes to write out (or type out) answers to the following questions.

– Name your Inner Enemy.

– What messages is it broadcasting?  What thoughts is it generating? (If in doubt, scan your mind for any negative, painful statements about yourself that you can latch onto).

– What actions are you taking because of this Inner Enemy?

– What actions are you avoiding because of it?

– What impact is this Inner Enemy having on your personal relationships?

– What impact is this Inner Enemy having on your professional relationships?


2. Look for effective countermeasures.

To fight The Fear Monger, try these techniques.

To defeat The Delayer, try these approaches or this program.

If you are in the clutches of The Judge, start with this article.  For a more comprehensive solution, try this book.

To disrupt The Distractor, try these techniques.

The best way to conquer The Quitter is to take action. Pick something — anything — to do and move forward. Here’s how.


The goal is to get into the swing of recognizing and countering your saboteurs as they arise.  When you get adept at this, you may even laugh at them.  “Oh, there’s ol’ Distractor tempting me with another bright, shiny project.  Nice try, D, but I’m going to finish the thing I’m working on first.”


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For more solutions, check out my workbook: YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE:  A Workbook to Become the Person You Want to Be. Available here: http://bit.ly/ChangeYourLifeWorkbook



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Are you struggling with too many talents, skills, ideas? You may have The DaVinci Dilemma™! Find tools, fun quizzes, coaching, inspiration and solutions for multi-talented people at http://www.davincidilemma.com/ .

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