Why You Are Afraid to Self-Actualize and What to Do About It

Siim Land

Are you the kind of person who frowns upon self-development and other such “new-age bullshit.” If you do, then this is just for you. I’m going to give you the why and also what to do about it. The reason for your judgement may not have to do with who you are objectively. It might be that you’re simply afraid to self-actualize.

Who Do You Think You Are

Let’s begin to dissect and analyze your mode of being first.

“I am who I am and there’s nothing I could do about it.” It’s true that one should always stick to their true colours. The ancient axiom used by Socrates and many others says: “Know thyself,” which is the greatest knowledge we should all look for. In fact, it’s on a next level playing field because it transcends it and becomes true wisdom.

But who is this “thyself” we should know and recognize? What are the words you use to describe yourself? The first ones probably include something like your gender, age, nationality, vocation etc. Next, if we’re lucky, you might add a few characteristics as well, such as friendly, well mannered, always late, very intelligent, the opposite or whatever the case may be.

Now, think about it in closer detail. Are you all of those things specifically, or are they the result of the conditioning you’ve received from the environment?

Of course, you can’t dictate some of your innate traits, such as age or sex. However, do realize that our minds are incredibly plastic, which means we mould ourselves according to the world around us. We adapt exactly to the situations we’re faced with. Therefore, your personality is nothing else but the result of where you were born, how your parents raised you, who are the people you spend time with the most, what activities and hobbies you do.

“It’s Not You, It’s Your Genes”

So, who you think you are, the construct of the “SELF,” is nothing else but the result of your environment. Your genetics and heritage predisposes you to have some of the traits your parents and ancestors had before you. However, it doesn’t mean that they will necessarily get expressed.

Epigenetics, meaning above genetics, is the science that investigates how genes express themselves in different environments and how to control them by modifying the surroundings.

What the biologist Bruce Lipton proved was that genetic determinism is false. We’re not slaves to our genes and it’s wrong to presume that our heritage makes us develop certain characteristics, whether that be biological of psychological.

When you put cells inside a petri dish, they’ll begin to duplicate until there are millions of them. If you separate half of them and put them into a different dish, then they’re still identical. Now, change the environment of one of them and they’ll develop different characteristics. Same genetics but a different environment. “It’s not you, it’s your genes,” is a false statement, as it’s your surroundings that influence the expression of your genes.

The Same You in a Petri Dish

Imagine a situation, where you’re born as twins. Genetically and appearance wise your both identical with a few insignificant variations here and there. You’re the 2 sides of the same coin. After birth you get separated and put into different environments.

  • Your sibling gets raised in a supportive and successful family. Their childhood is full of happy memories with parents encouraging them to always improve themselves and try to make the best out of their life. They go to a school that teaches valuable life skills in addition to the standard curriculum, such as emotional intelligence, finance and healthy nutrition etc.
  • You on the other hand are sent into an urban slum with parents who are thugs and drug addicts. Sometimes, your father will actually beat you when he gets too drunk. Your mother doesn’t care about your health and gives you fast food. As you grow up, you never receive any good teachings about how to be successful in life. Picking locks and fighting gang wars may come in handy but they’re not for a righteous purpose.


Your genes are the same and you even look almost identical – same hair color, tone of voice and height. However, in your behavior you’re almost a completely different person. A part from the physical apparent variations, such as wealth, health and clothing, there’s also a huge difference in the twin’s personality and mindset. Your sibling will have an attitude towards life that’s based on self-embetterment and improvement, whereas your own perspective is that of scarcity. You’ll begin to see the world as a hostile force and will thus adopt the mentality of a victim.

The Power of Perception

Now, what rises above the environment is your perception of it. The way you see and perceive the world around you influences your experience.

Our reality gets created on the cellular level, where the mind can’t tell the difference between the stimulus it gets signalled and the actual state of affairs. This means that whatever gets put in can be turned into anything we like. The body will follow the perceptions it receives. Give it strength and it will produce more of it.

The brain-part of the cell isn’t the nucleus but the membrane, the outer layer through which it experiences the surrounding world. It doesn’t matter what the actual stimulus is but the reaction that follows. 

You’ll get a completely different physiological response to heat when you’re in a sauna, as opposed to a desert. One is a safe environment, in which you enjoy sweating, whereas the other is uncomfortable due to the sand and dehydration. Your body will trigger a negative stress response when your thoughts see the situation as something harmful or dangerous.

Therefore, our own mindset can alter this cycle. How we choose to perceive the world around us will influence our reality.

Your Power to Choose

However, you can choose how you’re going to perceive the environment. It’s not genetic determinism, nor is it environmental. Your surroundings pose you with certain stimuli, but it’s your perception of it that will lead to adaptations.

Your identity is the information you’ve received from the environment that gets picked up by your perception and implemented into your system of the “SELF.”

Therefore, what rises above all of these factors is your own behavior and how you choose to see the situations you’re in. Certain environmental variables simply influence the end result.

Without the knowledge of how this happens, easily controllable minds will fall victim to only the environment they’re surrounded by without even knowing that there’s another way. If you’re aware of this, then you also have the power to choose how you’re going to perceive and react to the stimuli around you.

Where am I getting with this? The fact of the matter is that you can develop the same characteristics of success and personal development in the favela, ghetto or anywhere else. You simply have to know it’s possible and then choose to do it.

The Defence Mechanism of Your Psyche

Most people aren’t aware of how much their perception influences their reality. Therefore, they get conditioned by their environment, parents, friends etc. Ever since childhood, you adopt certain behavioral and personality traits, which would help you to fit in. You start acting exactly the same way as your peers do because you want to be a part of the group.

Now, can you honestly say that this is your “true self?” No, it’s simply the construct of the self you use to navigate within that specific environment.

The deceptive nature of the mind creates this sense of duality between you and the world. This identity, who you think you are, is an illusion you’ve made up in your head, called the ego.

If you would resemble a broadcasting station, then the ego would be person in charge of receiving transmissions. Every single day the antennas of your consciousness are receiving radio signals, which are the stimuli from the environment. The ego is the one who makes the decision what gets accepted and what not. How come? Because he was the first one to get the job.

As a child, you came into this world practically tabula rasa – as a blank slate. Your initial environment simply got embedded into your psyche and you created the construct of yourself based on that.

Why the Ego Protects Itself

The manager of your broadcasting station is very selective and suspicious. It’s like a king in fear of mutiny. To not lose its throne and maintain a strong seat of power, it will only accept certain henchmen, or sub-egos, into the control room.

In your psyche there are several other personality types, which all get created by the habitual conditioning your mind receives. There are millions of them, which you use to identify yourself as, such as the brother, your nationality, the artist, the businessman, the athlete, the procrastinator etc.

circle of egos - why you are afraid to self-actualize
circle of egos – why you are afraid to self-actualize

This creates a certain “Inner Circle” of egos, that you use to create your construct of the “self.” What tends to dominate depends on yet again the stimulus you receive, or much rather your perceptions of them. It’s just that you fall into the conduct of your environment without consciously choosing to behave otherwise.

The inner circle of egos is like a secret society. They control your behavior without you even knowing it. You think you are who you think you are because of the deceptive nature of the mind. The ego tries to protect itself in any shape or form because it’s only concerned with its survival. It thinks that it knows best and thus takes control.

The Function of the Ego

Why did we develop the ego in the first place? It yet again has to do with survival of the entire organism. This is just a theory, but in the past, it was essential to create a sense of duality between your psyche and the world around you.

Danger was hiding behind every corner – a feeble man would’ve easily fallen as prey to more ferocious animals. If you weren’t careful, you would’ve been eaten by a lion or a crocodile. Therefore, natural selection supported those who saw the world as a hostile force, in which being cautious and self-protecting was beneficial. It was the survival of the egotistic, amongst many other traits.

Why You Are Afraid to Self-Actualize

Personal development and self-actualization implies constant growth and discovery of who you truly are. During the process of self-enquiry and improvement you peel down your psyche like an onion. Layer by layer you go deeper into the unconscious depths of your mind and realize that the construct of yourself, which you’ve been using your entire life, is nothing else but an illusion and false.

Underneath the mask you’ve put on because of the habitual conditioning you’ve received, there lies a much more truthful idea of who you are. You will also realize that how much power your perception really has and that you can choose to control it.

The reason why you’re afraid to go on this journey of self-actualization and development is because the ego imposes you with another defence mechanism. Growth means change, which is uncomfortable and detrimental for the ego’s sovereignty. You experience fear whenever your ego feels threatened. “Something’s bad about to happen, better take counter measures.”

Face Your Fears

Another reason is that your unconscious has hidden secrets or bad memories which are buried very deep into the depths of your mind. Self-enquiry and actualization forces you to come face to face with your deepest fears and subconscious issues. When you say that you don’t have any unconscious problems then, rest assured, we all have them, especially you.

You’re simply afraid of facing with who you really are due to some reason. You may have had some negative experiences that have scarred you and which you’ve locked inside a Pandora’s box. This self-imposed anxiety is an indicator of heading in the right direction.

If you accept the situation for what it is, without doing anything to overcome your fears, then you’re just coping with reality. You know that there are some issues but don’t have the courage nor the confidence to do anything about it.

Whenever you adopt a victim mentality and see everything as scarcity you give up your power. You forfeit to the ego and continue yourself to be conditioned by it. Our perception of the environment is a lot stronger than the stimuli we receive.

How to Overcome This

What to do about it then? Well, there’s no other way around fear. It’s a natural response, which indicates heading in the right direction. Use it as a compass while navigating within the depths of your subconscious mind.

It would be pointless to say “Don’t be scared,” because it doesn’t solve anything. To overcome this feeling of being afraid to self-actualize, you have to do just that – self-actualize.

The process of discovering who you are and then becoming as great as you can be is a hefty one. It involves deep personal development work. You have to analyze yourself objectively and peel your subconscious mind open layer by layer. Plunging in too quick won’t yield the best results because you have to go through certain stages of development and realizations. As you change and improve as a person, you’ll start having many realizations about who you truly are and how you’re being influenced by everything else.

Self-enquiry is the foundation to this. “Know thyself” still remains the main axiom to follow. It requires higher levels of consciousness and self-mastery, which enable you to attain a meta-aware perspective of yourself and the world. There are many practices for this, such as journaling, inner contemplation and meditation.

The Ultimate Mind Hack

If you’re afraid to self-actualize, then you’re probably fearful of meditating as well. “More new-age bullshit.” However, it’s your ego trying to protect itself again. You simply don’t want to face the subconscious issues of your mind.

Meditation is one of the best ways to realize the presence of your false ego and self-enquiry. It forces you to face your unconscious directly. By having to remain still in your mind, you create yet again more fear. At first you might not be able to become silent, as certain thoughts and emotions will begin to rise.

The ego will throw distractions at you so that you would become mindless again. “Is this working? You’re worthless. I should stop. What’s for dinner?” Thoughts like these are just another coping mechanism and an attempt to keep you away from opening the Pandora’s box.

However, for you to experience actual growth both internally and externally you have to overcome your fears by simply facing them. There’s no other way around this. Eventually, you’ll get used to this slight anxiety but aren’t hindered by it. Instead, you’ll be able to act in spite of being afraid and will thus make progress.

Knowing thyself is just that – realizing who you truly are. Start practices of self-enquiry, mindfulness and meditation. If you need any assistance with this, then I’ve also created a free guided meditation audio track. Join the Body Mind Agoge to become actualized.

Body Mind Agoge Cover
Body Mind Agoge Cover