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Breaking Limits – Uncovering Self-Protective Behaviors That Hold You Back

Written by: Lynette Chartier, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Are you feeling stuck, unfulfilled, and playing small? Our behaviour patterns often reflect the ways in which we have learned to protect ourselves emotionally, and physically. These patterns may have served us well in the past, helping us to navigate through difficult circumstances. However, if left unchecked, these same patterns can become counter-protective and limiting, ultimately holding us back from living our best life.

Young businesswoman trapped in carton box

It's essential to gain awareness around these patterns, break free from their hold and find new, healthier ways to feel emotionally secure in order to achieve the life we yearn for.

These patterns can show up at inappropriate times and in unexpected ways. Many of us may not even realize the extent to which our self-protective behaviors impact our personal and professional lives. Despite their negative effects, we may not make the connection between these behavior patterns and our current life circumstances. This is because many of these patterns were developed in childhood, and they are well ingrained. They are not always logical or beneficial to us as adults. As a result, we may continue to rely on them unconsciously without realizing the harm they cause.


When our chosen response originally kept us feeling safer, it was embedded into our nervous system. Over time, our response to the circumstance and similar ones that followed may have even been accompanied with false beliefs we created and “shame meaning”, adding more layers to the pattern. As young children, in the midst of feeling the pain of what was happening, we may have subconsciously made the decision that this chosen pattern would be the way to respond in similar situations, from then on. Understanding how these patterns were formed, and connecting them to the original event, is a powerful step towards breaking free form their hold.


EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques)

As women, if we don’t take the time to examine and update these patterns, we may find ourselves operating on a daily basis with outdated programming without even realizing it. This can lead to making life decisions based on false assumptions, and worse yet, self-sabotage that keeps us from manifesting what we truly want. We find ourselves in backward spirals or procrastinating on tasks required to achieve our desired outcomes. It's common for women to struggle with self-protective behaviors like perfectionism (and its stepsister people pleasing), workaholism, and anxiety.

The Perfectionist

This pattern is born from a false belief that that in order to be emotionally safe and secure, we must constantly strive to be enough in every aspect of our lives. We spend our days scanning for clues on how to behave and present ourselves, all in the name of making everything “just right” for others.

If you take a moment to reflect, you may recall at time when you allowed yourself to be seen and heard, only to be met with negative judgment, criticism, or blame.

This experience may have left you feeling humiliated or ashamed, and you may have interpreted it to mean that part of you was not good enough or that it was not safe to be yourself.

Subconsciously you may have made the vow to be “perfect”, setting the foundation for the pattern of perfectionism to take root. Decades later, you find yourself always striving to prove your worth, wondering how you became a perfectionist in the first place.

The charm of perfectionism is very alluring. It can make us feel appreciated, validated, and valued. In many ways, perfectionism is seen as a virtue, with high standards that others cannot match. At the same time, you may deny being a perfectionist, believing that there is always something to improve upon.

Here are some signs of perfectionism that you may recognize in yourself:

  • Do you worry about what others think of you, even after an interaction has long ended?

  • Do you spend so much time trying to make things just right that you feel depleted and lacking energy, time, joy, love, and money?

  • Do you find yourself constantly preparing to take action but never actually making progress?

  • Do you struggle with procrastination or paralysis by analysis?

  • Do you dismiss recognition or credit for a job well done, believing that you are not enough?

  • Do you tend to be hypercritical of yourself and others?

  • Do you struggle to speak your truth or worry that it is not appropriate to do so, leading you to feel inauthentic?

Brené Brown says it brilliantly: “Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.

The Workaholic

Being a workaholic is not just about loving what you do, and it leaving you energized and inspired. It is a compulsion to work really long hours, often to the point of neglecting other aspects of your life. This behavior can be a way to protect yourself from facing what is really not working in your life, and sometimes it is a response to trauma that you have not yet acknowledged or healed.

If any of the following statements apply to you, it may be time to take a step back and re-evaluate your relationship with work?

  • Do you constantly take on more than you need to, at work or at home, even more than what is expected of you?

  • Do you feel stressed about things even if they are not your responsibility, because you feel like you need to be helpful?

  • Do you feel like you are the only one who can do things right, even if it means overworking yourself?

  • Are you present for your loved ones but emotionally unavailable, with your mind always on work?

  • Are your personal interests and self-care being deprioritized due to work?

It is OK to feel uncomfortable or cringe when you first gain clarity about your workaholism. As a recovered workaholic myself, I understand the challenges of recognizing and overcoming this pattern.

For me, the pattern started in high school, where I worked after school to avoid bullying. Later on, work helped me cope with the loss of my infant daughter and the fear of losing my sons. However, the temporary solution turned into an addiction, where work became my go to solution for any challenge or crisis, even when it was not necessary.

The Making of a Pattern

I didn't realize that I was creating a pattern until it was too late. Work was a way to feel emotionally secure and safe. I had fooled myself into thinking that overworking was a positive attribute, and others had even appreciated my work ethic.

However, workaholism has high costs. Long term, it can lead to a lack of joy emotional disconnection, stress, depression, and even burnout or other health issues.

If you are a workaholic, it takes courage to look at what is driving this behavior. Underneath the hood, you might find that you feel guilty about having fun and relaxing, or that you feel undeserving. Perhaps you learned as a child that you needed to “provide in some pleasing way” to avoid rejection.

Remember, it is possible to break this pattern and find a healthier balance between work and other aspects of your life. Be kind to yourself and seek support.

Julia Cameron says “Workaholism is a block, not a building block.”

The Anxiety-Ridden One

Anxiety is an interesting phenomenon. Did you know that it can actually be a form of self-protection? I was surprised when I first learned this. Anxiety can protect you by steering you away from better situations that would allow you to be more authentic and fulfil your potential.

The costs of anxiety

However, there are many costs to anxiety. It can cause you to shrink back, to go unnoticed and unheard. This can lead to a lack of confidence and make it harder for you to pursue your dreams and desires.

But don't be fooled ‒ this doesn't mean you're not capable. In fact, you're incredibly intelligent. Proof is that you have always known how to keep yourself safe. Unfortunately, you may not have been taught how to update your coping mechanisms over time.

If you're feeling stressed, this can make your anxiety worse. High levels of stress can cause your heart to close off, preventing you from truly experiencing and processing your emotions.

If you've ever felt disconnected from your body, like you're stuck in your head, anxiety and stress may have been the way you coped.

But don't lose hope – these patterns and beliefs can be overcome with the right guidance. You can choose to make more empowered choices and change your circumstances. Remember, you are not broken – far from it.

In Summary

As we wrap up, I want to remind you that you're not alone. Many smart and motivated women struggle with patterns that hold them back from achieving their goals and living their best lives. But the good news is that these patterns can be changed. It takes courage, self-awareness, and an open willingness to seek support. The rewards are certainly worth it!

So, take some time to reflect on the questions I've posed and be honest with yourself. It may be uncomfortable, but it is necessary for growth and transformation. And if you find that you have self-protective patterns that are keeping you stuck, don't hesitate to reach out for help. You deserve to live a life that is fulfilling and aligned with your values and true desires.

Remember, the truth may sting, but it also sets you free. Embrace it and take the steps necessary to release yourself from old patterns and beliefs that no longer serve you. You've got this!

If you or anyone you know is struggling with self-protective patterns you can reach out to me at and it will be my pleasure to help you gain clarity and recommend the next steps. 

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Lynette Chartier, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Lynette Chartier guides smart, motivated women who feel stuck, unfulfilled, or are playing small to overcome long-buried pain and fears that limit them. Drawing from over 17 years of experience in spiritual work rooted in SAM’s philosophy, as well as extensive study and accreditation as an EFT practitioner, Lynette offers a practical framework of empowerment and results-focused approaches. Having navigated personal challenges across various domains and transformed her own life, Lynette is dedicated to empowering women to make their desired transitions and enhance their quality of life.



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