Recognizing The Blockers That Hold You Back

Why is it so difficult to leave our old, unhealthy familiars behind and simply exchange them for new and empowering ones? After all, you’ve hit that “eureka!” point and now can recognize how you recreate emotional patterns from childhood and understand how these patterns impact your business and your career. So why isn’t anything changing? It is because replacing those old familiars is difficult as long as you are held hostage by blockers.

Most people, if asked to identify the blockers that are holding them back, will offer a laundry list of elements outside their immediate control: lack of education, the need to find a new employer, problems with crazy bosses, etc. In reality, these challenges that seem outside your control are not responsible for your discontent. These are false blockers. The real blockers that impact most people are contrast places and symbols.

“Contrast Places”

At first, it can be a bit difficult to recognize a contrast place. Put simply, you are in a contrast place when you receive a positive payoff for behavior in the present that you received a negative payoff for in the past.

Here is an example:

‘A CEO recognizes that his overreactions and verbal tongue-lashings of employees are counterproductive. But he seems incapable of changing his behavior. As a child his successes were met with severe criticism for what he didn’t do, rather than praise and acknowledgement for what he did do. Now, as an incredibly successful CEO, he often receives kudos for his achievements. But when this happens, he sometimes reacts by alienating and offending those who compliment him on his success. It’s better to leave a trail of offended and angry employees than to face the fact that even though his employees appreciate him, his parents never did.’


Symbols can be seen as emotional clones from our past. They are people in our lives today who elicit the same feelings as people who were important to us growing up. Typically, CEOs and other strong leaders are symbols for demanding, intrusive parents.

For example:

‘A young executive feels that her goals have been set unrealistically high, and she needs to talk to her boss about resetting these goals. The young executive is reticent to ask her boss to set more realistic goals because her boss is a symbol for her father. If she were to ask her father to rethink these goals, he would have responded, “You contracted for these goals. Do it! No more discussion!” She expects her boss to leave her feeling as diminished and worthless as she felt as a child.’

Blockers can stymie anyone. The first step is becoming aware of their existence, and distinguishing real blockers – contrast places and symbols – from false blockers. The second step is to clear them out of the way with some of the essential tools of the Internal Frontier Process. In our next issue of “Fifth Wave eNewsletter,” we will explore the tools to removing the blockers that hold you back from reaching your potential.

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