7 Barriers To Personal Growth That May Hold You Back

The words “personal growth” can apply to a rather wide spectrum, but tends to refer to mental, spiritual, and emotional maturation and development.

This can happen spontaneously, such as when people have sudden epiphanies during or after life events, or it can be done with focus and intention.

Ultimately, the end result of this kind of growth is a healthier, happier, and more well-rounded person.

So what are some major barriers to personal growth? What would cause a person to hesitate or shy away from becoming the best versions of themselves possible?

There are a number of issues they may come across, but as always, there are ways to scoot around these. Let’s take a look at them, and how to go about overcoming them.

1. Fear of change (or potential failure in trying to change).

Change can be quite scary, especially if a person has cultivated a strong sense of security and comfort in their current lifestyle.

Additionally, a lot of these people are afraid that they might fail at their new endeavors if they try to make real change happen. When push comes to shove, many people fear failure more than they despise circumstances they’ve long outgrown.

As a result, they’ll either remain in a state of denial in order to maintain the status quo, or they’ll engage in self-sabotaging behaviors.

Imagine a retiree who spent many years raising children and tending grandchildren, all the while dreaming about the amazing garden they wanted to cultivate, and the artwork they wanted to create. For years, they resented their family for taking up all their potential gardening and painting time… but then once the kids were all grown and gone, the retiree didn’t do anything.

The garden was left fallow, and the art supplies were still in their boxes. And the retiree spent days and days drinking on the porch, complaining about all the time they lost when they could have been doing their hobbies, and saying that they’d get that garden and those paintings started tomorrow.

Their dreams about their garden and artwork are more important to them than actually making those dreams a reality. After all, you can’t fail at something if you don’t try it, right? Their dream garden will never fail to thrive, or wilt from neglect, and their imagined artworks will be masterpieces rather than poorly executed.

The key to remember here is that no real growth can happen without failure. Sure, that retiree might make a complete dog’s breakfast on canvas at first, but those initial missteps will help them improve their technique. They might discover color combinations they love, and brush strokes that work gorgeously.

Change is necessary for growth and, ultimately, the only way to truly fail is to not bother trying.

2. Changing means admitting they might have been “wrong” before.

Another reason why someone might hesitate to change things like their stances on certain topics, their belief systems, even their religious faith, is because that kind of change might require them to admit that they were “wrong” before.

A startling number of people would rather live in misery, appearing to hold true to their convictions, than to experience losing face, or feeling embarrassment.

The thing is, changing your mind because new information has come to light, or because you’ve experienced something that has shifted your perspective, isn’t a weakness. What you felt before wasn’t “wrong” because it was true to the version of yourself that you were then. Similarly, what you’re feeling now isn’t necessarily “right” either.

We’re all on amazing journeys of growth and self-discovery, and we’re different people literally every single day of our lives. As such, we’re going to have different viewpoints and preferences over the course of a lifetime. This is a vital part of growth and development!

Look at how a child’s palate will generally change as it ages. Think about the foods you liked best when you were five years old. Chances are those aren’t the same foods you love the most now. Just as our taste buds and preferences for certain things change over time thanks to experience (and neurological shifts), so do our perspectives.

If they didn’t, you’d likely be the only adult at the table dipping chicken nuggets into ketchup while everyone around you enjoyed their padh thai.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying that you’ve changed your stance or beliefs as you’ve learned more. In fact, many people will likely respect you for having the courage to admit that.

3. The feeling that you need to adjust yourself to meet others’ expectations of you.

One of the major barriers to personal growth that someone can come across is the disapproving glare in another’s eyes when they say: “you’ve changed.”

Many people feel that they’re trapped in certain modes of behavior and lifestyle because of the version of themselves that others know and love. That version might be the polar opposite to how they’re feeling now and who they want to become, but every time they try to break free and be the person they want to be, they’re either mocked or condemned for wanting to change.

As an example, let’s say someone was the class clown all through school, and being a joker became an intrinsic part of their persona. They might have become the “fun friend” who could always be turned to for a laugh, and they might have gotten quite a reputation for being an irresponsible partier.

Now fast forward 10–20 years. This person is now in their late 20s or 30s and wants a completely different life. Maybe they’ve developed some significantly different priorities, like wanting to focus intensely on their career, or developing a really strong relationship with their partner.

If they still associate with the friends who knew them as a hilarious party person, they might feel conflicted in several different directions. They might want their old friends to see that they’ve “grown up” and become more serious, and they may also worry that said friends will sabotage their job or relationship.

The same can go for family members. You might want to be someone very different from whom your relatives recognize, or even who they want you to be. As a result, you might be torn between not wanting to disappoint them, but living true to your own nature.

In situations like this, you can try to be honest with those close to you, with loving kindness and compassion. You can explain to your friends and family that you’ve changed, that you want to pursue living a life that’s more authentic, and that you understand they might feel uncomfortable or alienated about this because it’s so different from what they’re familiar with.

If you’re lucky, then your endeavors towards greater personal growth will be understood and supported. You may find that some people support you and encourage said growth, while others get defensive and resentful that you’re not the same person that they love. They might try to sabotage your efforts or wish to cut you out of their lives.

If the latter is the case, it’s important to be prepared to take some distance from them. You may not need to go “no contact” or cut them out entirely, but it’ll be important to show them that you’re serious, and that you’ll take the actions you feel are necessary in order to pursue this path of Truth.

4. Cultural or religious programming.

This goes along with the above note on other people’s expectations.

Some people balk from certain types of personal growth because they feel like the kind of emotional, mental, or spiritual maturation they want will be in conflict with their cultural or religious upbringing.

For example, let’s say a person was raised in a strict religious household. They might not have had any exposure to other world religions and philosophies. They may have even been told from day one that those faiths were dangerous and wrong. If they get to a point where they want to learn more about what people of other faiths believe, they might feel as though they’re betraying their family and spiritual community by doing this research.

The same goes for those who fall in love with people of other faiths or who come to terms with being LGBTQ+. They might be deeply conflicted between wanting to grow and change into a version of themselves that feels more authentic, and wanting to honor the teachings of their faith, cultural/ethnic background, and family values.

This is where the phrase “to thine own self be true” comes into play.

If you’re struggling with what you perceive to be constrictions of faith, then it’s important to really study that faith. Have you delved into it thoroughly yourself? Or merely gone by the teachings shared by elders, priests, and the like? If it’s the latter, chances are you’ve only gleaned a snippet about the various teachings that are out there, shared by those who want people to think and behave a certain way.

Do your own research, from a number of different sources, and don’t depend on the teachings of those who have their own biases and agendas.

Additionally, remember that when it comes to world religions, the books being referred to were written a long time ago, by very fallible human beings, not by the higher powers themselves. As a result, there will be aspects that fit far more with the past than the present, and those which might not even have a place in the future.

Aim for the essence of your faith rather than the words that have been committed to paper.

If you’re still in turmoil, caught between what you’ve been taught and what you feel, go with what feels “right” in your heart. That will be the right way for you.

5. Self-criticism/negative self-talk.

Are you the type of person who has a running mental dialog of cruelty and criticism aimed towards yourself? If so, please take a moment and give yourself a big self-hug.

This kind of negative mental chatter is common amongst people who have experienced a great deal of mental and emotional abuse, especially from parents and caregivers. The constant criticism and insults received from elders becomes a sort of background soundtrack, undermining any effort to change or grow.

Want to change your wardrobe and personal aesthetics? Then you likely have a ton of mental chatter about that. “You look ridiculous, those clothes won’t suit you, you don’t have the body for that look, and everyone’s going to laugh at you.”

Aiming to change university courses or career? “Why bother when you’re just going to fail? You’re not smart enough to pass those classes, nobody will want to hire you, and you’ll be exposed for the imposter you are if you actually get the job.”

^ Like that.

To overcome this, you need to dive into the reasons why you have this kind of negative self-talk. Once you recognize that, and the triggers that set it off, you can work towards replacing the negativity with more positive, encouraging words instead.

Every time you hear a bit of negativity in your mind, envision the hurt part of yourself as you when you were a child. Then embrace that little kid with your current, grown-up self, and overwrite the negativity. Tell that inner child that they’re brave, and kind, and strong, and capable of so much more than they realize.

You might be amazed to see how just quickly those criticisms die away, leaving you free to soar towards greater personal growth.

6. Not knowing where to begin.

The first steps to take in terms of your personal growth will depend entirely on the changes you want to see. Or, as others would phrase it: “create clear goals.”

For example, let’s say you want to change your personal mindset. Maybe you’ve become quite bitter and angry and you don’t want to be that person anymore. You won’t be able to turn your mindset inside out immediately, but you can start making very small changes on a daily basis.

To start with, you can start keeping a gratitude journal. Keep it with you and write down every time you feel angry or irritated by something. Then beside or beneath those entries, force yourself to write down something positive about the situation as well. Something like this:

“I’m angry and frustrated because my phone isn’t working and I can’t message my friends on social media until it’s fixed.”

“The good side to this is that instead of spending several hours scrolling, I spent an hour doing yoga this morning and felt amazing. I also spent more time talking to my family face to face.”

If the personal growth you want to take involves changing your belief system, personal perspectives, or skill sets, then the very first step will require education. You don’t have to enroll in university courses in order to broaden your horizons, though you can if you feel academically inclined. Instead, a wealth of information is available at your fingertips.

Read books, or papers published on sites like Scribd or Academia.edu. Schedule time to talk to professionals whom you admire and respect, if you like that kind of interaction. Call around to places of worship if you want to learn more about a different faith.

Every journey begins with a single step, and it doesn’t have to be a big one. A teensy shuffle in the direction that interests you is enough to get that momentum going. Just make sure you have some clear goals in mind and take whatever steps you feel are needed in order to attain them.

7. Aversion to taking responsibility for where you are now.

A key aspect of personal growth is being very honest about how you got to your current circumstances. Owning your own contributions to who and where you are in this moment will allow you to shift direction towards who you want to become.

For example, self-victimization is incredibly common these days, and often encouraged by those around us. People who have experienced difficult or traumatic events end up identifying with their pain and building their personalities (and overall lives) around it.

This also gives them an arsenal of excuses as to why they can’t (or won’t) do various things. They blame those who hurt them for everything bad that has happened to them, and then use their pain to excuse their own poor behaviors, lack of responsibility, etc.

In simplest terms, they have given up their personal power and chosen to stagnate in a state of pain and victimhood. Sure, they’ll get a lot of sympathy and emotional support from those around them, but then they end up stuck in that rut. Some create so much drama about their victimhood and suffering that they develop loyal followers who feel let down and betrayed if their pain guru decides to move on from their own misery.

If you’re feeling stuck, and blaming countless others for your current circumstances, then you’ll need to draw back for a real, honest perspective.

Grab a journal, make a tasty beverage, and have some tissues close by. You’re going to take a good, honest look at where you are now, and how you got there.

Every time you start to blame someone else for your current predicament, be very honest with yourself about how your own actions contributed to the situation as well. Ask yourself whether things might be different if you had behaved or chosen differently. Then ask yourself what’s stopping you from taking action now to change things for the better.

If once again you slide back into all the awful things that others are doing, then choose ONE thing that you can change RIGHT NOW to shift direction onto a different track.

In simplest terms, take your power back.

When someone is in victim mode, they’ve given away all their personal power and allowed themselves to be the passengers in their own life; dragged along on a journey they don’t really want to be on.

So take initiative, open that passenger door, and get off this ride.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve been thinking about working towards personal growth and feel stuck, here’s a nugget of good news for you: you’ve already taken a massive first step.

The fact that you searched for this article means that you’re already on your way. You’ve recognized that you want to experience growth and change, and have gotten the ball rolling. You can change direction any time you like, but the hardest part has already been achieved.

Make some clear goals, identify the barriers to personal growth you are faced with, and decide what little steps you want to take next. All of these little steps will accumulate and push you forwards until one day, you’ll wake up and realize that you’re well on the way to becoming the person you’ve always dreamed of being.

Remember that the tallest mountains on this planet are made of multiple layers of tiny particles. They were specks of dust once: it just took time for those layers to bind together and grow into Everest, Annapurna, etc.

Just give yourself time, space, and patience, and you’ll get there too.

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About Author

Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.