For most of us, when we think of prisons we picture large concrete buildings, barbed wire, electric fences, and steel bars. We envision criminals being held there for crimes against society.

There is also a different kind of prison. This prison is one whose bars are invisible to the naked eye. The walls are the human mind which houses the prisoner. And what are the barriers that form this prison? Fear, anxiety, worry, lack of self-esteem are just a few. Emotional problems we can’t break free from imprison us as does addiction.

Fear is a form of prison that prevents us from doing things we may want to do. Fear may force us to hold our tongue when we want to speak. Fear can confine an individual in his or her own home. Most of us are afraid of something. What, we must ask ourselves, assuming our fear is realistic, is the worst that might happen? Could we be harmed? True, some amount of fear is necessary. Healthy fear keeps us from doing things like jumping off bridges or standing in the middle of a four lane highway, so it is important to determine initially if what we fear is normal or if it is a form of self imprisonment.

I spent seven years living with the fear of being abandoned and rejected. I felt I had to be perfect. I didn’t voice my opinions, but allowed myself to be manipulated and controlled by another person. I sacrificed myself to keep someone else happy so I would feel safe, and guess what? My worst fear was realized anyway. I was rejected, abandoned, and betrayed. In reflection I realize that I am better off now because I have liberated myself from that self imposed prison. I am a lot happier also because I no longer fear what already happened.

Anxiety and worry are other forms of prison. All the worry and anxiety in the world won’t change the outcome of anything. It won’t add a single day to your life but may indeed take away a few years. This type of prison can affect your health. Individuals prone to anxiety and worry frequently suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, heart disease, high blood pressure, and insomnia. How is one released from this repetitive cycle? It isn’t easy but it can be done. It takes practice, determination, and a lot of support from good friends and family. Each time you worry about something ask yourself if there is anything you can do to change the situation. If there isn’t, then take a deep breath, try to relax, and if you are a spiritual person, pray a lot. The best advice I have ever received is to just “Trust in the Lord” or “Give it to God.” Recite the Serenity Prayer to yourself, over and over. Call up a trusted friend with a listening ear. It does help.

Through intimidation people attempt to imprison others, both intentionally and unintentionally. If you are the one being intimidated, you must break the hold it has upon you. If you allow others to intimidate you, you are giving up your own independence. Learning how to stand up for oneself is not easy, I know. When you find yourself being intimidated, ask yourself: “What can this person really do to me?” In the majority of cases there is no threat of physical harm; it is the emotional harm that could be inflicted upon us that we most fear. This is because we allow it to harm us. Most of the damage is being done by our own perception of reality. I have only recently begun to break the chains of this prison for myself by speaking my mind and seeing what transpires, and I have discovered that my fears were groundless! Those I allowed to intimidate me were not really dangerous. I allowed myself to be afraid and was held hostage by my own mind.

Lack of self-esteem can imprison us as well. When you don’t believe in yourself you can never realize your full potential. You don’t fail by trying. The only real failure is in not trying at all. Even when you don’t succeed at something, it is not a failure: it is a learning experience. Keep this old expression in mind: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.” Encouragement is the key. Encourage yourself. Tell yourself that you can do it. We all can use a little praise from our peers from time to time but don’t become dependent upon it. If you do, you have just built yourself another prison. Believe in yourself and be free.

Another form of imprisonment is addiction. This is a much more difficult problem and professional help will be needed. I worked in this field for many years. The first step towards freedom from this prison is admitting that a problem exists. Until one admits to an addiction, it cannot be overcome. The second step is asking for help. No individual can or should go through this alone. There are resources available. Support groups are listed in the phone book. Remember, drugs and alcohol never solved a single problem, they only create them and hold you prisoner. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you are in a self imposed prison, you have just taken the first step towards unlocking the doors that keep you hostage. Start walking towards the exit, one step at a time and don’t look back. The hallway may be long, but don’t be discouraged. If you come up against a locked door along the way, just take time to think about the problem blocking passage and you will discover the key to opening the doors of freedom, one portal at a time.