5 Hidden Fears That May Be Secretly Sabotaging Your Life

“Sometimes what you’re most afraid of doing is the very thing that will set you free.” ~Robert Tew

I like to say I don’t regret much in life, because I know I’ve always done the best I could and have learned from every experience. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t considered what my life might be like now if I’d overcome certain fears sooner.

For years I shut people out because I feared I might ruin relationships if I opened myself up to them. And there was a good reason for that—I’d damaged many relationships in the past by acting in response to my trauma.

I’d driven people away, sometimes with unnecessary drama that stemmed from insecurity and other times with dangerous behavior, like binge drinking, that required them to take care of me.

The binge drinking was particularly terrifying to me because I couldn’t seem to stop once I started, and I often blacked out, which meant I didn’t trust myself.

I didn’t trust myself to drink responsibly. I didn’t trust myself not to humiliate myself when alcohol lowered my inhibitions and opened the floodgates to my deepest pains. But most importantly, I didn’t trust myself not to confirm what I suspected everyone thought of me: that I was a mess. Unlovable. And not worth having around.

I remember a time when I was working on a marketing tour, when I was twenty-three, taking a mobile appliance showroom from state to state. My boss and I would often get drunk together at bars, along with my one female coworker, after we powered down the showroom for the night.

A few shots in and I’d be all over him on the dance floor, with him all too happy to accept the attention.

At one stop, my coworker, who was also my hotel roommate, met a guy who stayed in our room for several nights. This meant I moved to my boss’s room, where we finally took things to the next level.

In hindsight I see it had “bad idea” written all over it—and not just because it was clearly a crossed boundary, but also because I was an emotional mess back then. But that’s exactly why I didn’t see it at the time.

I convinced myself that he loved me and I’d finally found “the one.” Something I feared would never happen after my college boyfriend left me, after three years of my self-destruction. Which made it all the more devastating when he told me we had to keep things professional once we hit the next city.

On the final night of the tour, in NYC, where it had originated, we met up at a bar with several people who were going to be my boss’s new coworkers. I got black-out drunk and—as I’ve been told—cried hysterically in front of all of them, screaming at him, “You used me!”

I don’t think I’ve ever felt shame like I did in the days that followed, and I’ve felt some pretty deep shame in my life. It wasn’t just that I’d lost control and humiliated myself, though that obviously stung. And it wasn’t because I’d hurt someone I claimed to care about, though, once again, realizing this was brutal.

It was also that I’d revealed my darkness and my damage to people who I assumed were better than me, much like I had as a bullied kid. I had publicly exposed the most fragile, broken parts of myself.

This wasn’t the first time, but it was the first time “relationships” and “work” overlapped in the Venn diagram of my fears. And that terrified me. Because now I wasn’t just afraid that I’d mess up my relationships with my emotional issues but my professional life as well.

We don’t always talk about these kinds of things because no one wants to broadcast the experiences and fears that make them feel most ashamed and vulnerable.

But when we don’t process these kinds of experiences, they fester inside us, growing into toxic blocks that prevent us from pursuing the things that would bring us love, joy, and fulfillment.

They keep us hiding, playing small, depriving ourselves of the connections and experiences we deeply want to embrace—if only we weren’t so scared.

Scared of what we can’t do. Scared of what we might do. Scared of what people will see. Scared of what they might think.

We barricade ourselves into a corner of our minds, somewhere down the hall from all our fantasies about the life we really want—filled with people and passion and pleasure.

Because it feels safer there. Because less can hurt us if we don’t put ourselves out there.

But life is out there. Love is out there. Passion and purpose and contribution—all the things that make life worth living—are out there. Beyond the fears that many of us don’t even realize we’re holding.

Not sure what fears are holding you back? Maybe one of these will sound familiar.

5 Hidden Fears That May Be Secretly Sabotaging Your Life

1. If I get into a good situation, I might mess it up.

Maybe, like my former self, you fear ruining relationships. Or perhaps for you, this fear pertains to your work and taking on more responsibility. Maybe you’ve cracked in pressure-filled situations before and worry you will again. Or maybe you fear having kids because you’re afraid you’ll mess them up, even if you try your best to be a cycle-breaker (a fear I know all too well).

I believe this a three-pronged fear, born from equal parts shame, mistrust, and perfectionism.

We’re ashamed of things we feel we’ve ruined in the past, and we don’t want to relive that pain. We don’t trust that we can do better than we’ve done, or that we can handle it if the past repeats itself. But most importantly, we don’t realize that the goal isn’t to never again make mistakes but to know that we can repair and bounce back when we do.

I’ve often felt I’ve messed up as a parent to young kids because I’ve had moments when I’ve failed to meet my high standards of calmness and gentleness. And maybe this is why I waited until thirty-nine to have my first son.

But in those moments when I disappoint myself, I remind myself that what matters most is how I respond to my mistakes—because my sons are human and fallible too. Even if I could do everything perfectly, which I obviously can’t, it’s far more valuable for me to show them how to repair, learn, and grow when I inevitably fall short.

When I look back, I recognize that every I’ve time I’ve messed something up—in parenting or other parts of life—I’ve learned something that’s helped me do better going forward. Which has enabled me to slowly become more confident in my relationships and my work.

The key to overcoming this fear, I’ve realized, is diving in, accepting that the worst might happen, and knowing that getting through your worst moments is the key to getting closer to your best.

2. If I put myself out there, people might find out I’m a fraud.

If, like me, you’ve struggled with low self-worth, you might find it challenging to overcome the fear of being seen as inferior, incompetent, inadequate, unworthy, or somehow less than others. And this might compel you to sabotage opportunities to make a difference in the world.

It feels a lot safer in a shadow than a spotlight because people can’t criticize what they don’t see. And you don’t have to worry about being exposed as a fraud if you’re never in a position to be scrutinized.

But I’ve come to believe that most of us feel like we’re really just winging it. Most of us worry that someday people will find out we have no idea what we’re doing. That despite the degrees and credentials and filters and followers, we’re all just wounded kids underneath it all, trying to outgrow the limitations that our trauma and other people have imposed on us.

This is partly why authentic sharing has been so compelling to me. When I put my cards on the table, no one can question if maybe I’m bluffing. Because here you go, I’m showing you! I don’t have the best hand. But I’m playing it the best I know how. We all are. And there’s something empowering about letting that be enough.

3. If I don’t push myself, I might never prove my worth.

This is the other side of the last fear, but instead of creating a sense of paralysis, it keeps us in a perpetual state of busyness—depriving ourselves of rest, connection, and fun so we can hurry up and matter.

It’s the fear that tells us to keep working. Or networking. Trying to build the right thing or meet the right person so we can finally make a name for ourselves. And make the kind of difference that proves we’re valuable.

It’s the ticking time bomb of pressure and productivity that eventually explodes in a breakdown or burnout, ironically pausing all our efforts to do something big and significant.

When we’re driven by the fear of dying unimportant, we’re never truly able to devote ourselves to the things that are important with us. Both because we’re too busy to find the time for them and because our minds are too busy when we finally do.

And what a shame that is—because the people we’re most important to don’t care what we do or what we earn. They just want us. Our presence. Our attention. But we can only offer those things if we fully accept that they’re just as valuable as anything we could accomplish or create.

4. If I’m honest and authentic, people might judge, reject, or abandon me.

Maybe you’re afraid to set boundaries or speak up about your needs. Or perhaps you’re afraid of sharing your trauma because you worry that people might look down on you, or worse, doubt or blame you.

When we suppress our needs and deepest truths, we not only withhold our authentic selves in our relationships but also reinforce to ourselves that we need to hide. That what we have to say is wrong or shameful.

This means we simultaneously sabotage our relationships with others while fracturing our relationships with ourselves.

Looking back, I now realize my binge drinking was partly my authenticity trying to survive. It was the liquid courage that enabled me to release my social anxiety and say the things I wanted to say.

But the irony was that lots of people rejected me when I was a sloppy, emotional drunk.

It took me years to recognize that my binge drinking wasn’t just rooted in the fear of rejection. I drank to excess in social situations because I wanted to numb the voice in my head that told me it might happen. And that maybe I deserved it because I was fundamentally flawed.

So really, the key to overcoming the fear of being rejected was to stop rejecting myself. To recognize that it was okay if some people didn’t like me, and it didn’t have to mean anything about me. It didn’t have to mean there was something wrong with me—just that we were wrong for each other.

5. If I don’t settle for what’s right in front of me, I might end up with nothing.

Every fear on this list stems from low confidence in ourselves and our worth, and this is a sad but common belief many of us with low self-esteem subconsciously hold—that we probably can’t get anything better than what we have right now.

So we settle for unfulfilling jobs and dysfunctional relationships that leave us feeling drained and empty.

We hold onto people and things that hurt us, thinking it’s better than having nothing at all.

And we do it because we believe we need those people and things to feel happy and whole—without realizing they’re actually keeping us stuck in feelings of unhappiness and brokenness.

They probably didn’t cause those feelings, though. Or at least they’re not the root cause. They’re just the most recent iteration of familiar dissatisfaction—a new level in a pattern we’ve been repeating for years because we don’t realize we’re playing out the past over and over, recreating the initial pain that led to our low self-worth.

No one is born believing they deserve the bare minimum. We learn it when that’s when we’re given.

Then many of us go through life without ever questioning why we accept so little, from others and ourselves. We hurt but don’t know why, and try to drink it away, smoke it away, eat it away, or love it away—all to avoid facing ourselves and our deepest wounds and fears.

We may even convince ourselves those fears are just parts of our personality. I’m just quiet. I’m an overachiever. I’m a cautious person.

But that’s not the real truth, or not the whole truth. The truth is that we’re living behind a wall of our fears, yearning for life on the other side while taking comfort in the perceived safety of not exploring it.

And I get it. I really do. I want to feel safe. Safe with other people and, most importantly, safe with myself. I now know that starts with trusting myself.

Trusting that I can do hard things—and bounce back if I fail.

Trusting that I can put myself out there—and handle it if someone doesn’t like me.

Trusting that I can face the pain that comes with a life unnumbed—and grow through every uncomfortable moment.

And maybe that’s it—trust. Maybe that’s the antidote to fear.

I’m not sure if it’s the result of boosting our self-worth or the path to doing it. But I know that trust is the reward for trying. Because we can never guarantee that we’ll do everything perfectly or that other people won’t judge or reject us. But we can trust that with every step we take in spite of our fear, we are growing a little further beyond it. And that the more we grow, the less our fears can limit us.

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha. She started the site after struggling with depression, bulimia, and toxic shame so she could recycle her former pain into something useful and inspire others do the same. She recently created the Breaking Barriers to Self-Care eCourse to help people honor their needs—so they can feel their best, be their best, and live their best possible life. If you’re ready to start thriving instead of merely surviving, you can learn more and get instant access here.

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