It’s insanity when people argue for, on behalf of, in defense of–their limitations.

It’s just insanity. Craziness. It makes no real sense to do it.

But at some point, we all do it. We insist to someone that we can’t do something. We lay out an elaborate defense of having no time, no money, no babysitter. We make up Stories that they must have had an easier life, or that their pain must not feel as bad, which is why they’re “able” to make a different choice.

I call bullshit. Of course, time, money, and easier circumstances exist–but that’s still no reason to argue for, on behalf of, or in defense of, one’s limitations.

Start Catching Yourself

We “argue for our limitations” when we get defensive in the face of someone else suggesting that there’s a way to transcend the things that currently limit us.

For example:

  • Someone suggests that forgiveness might bring peace. Defending limitations: “Well, I can’t forgive that.”
  • Someone suggests that taking a day off might be a positive self-care practice. Defending limitations: “We can’t all just take a day off!” (said as if they have zero access to resources for taking a day off when in fact they do, and as if the person suggesting a day off is a pampered heiress who is out of touch with reality).
  • Someone suggests that it might be helpful to speak respectfully during times of conflict. Defending limitations: “That’s just not the way I express myself!”


Sometimes it’s not even that direct.People argue for their own limitations when they see a happy person and say, “Happy people are so annoying!” or when they carry a Story that rich people are selfish and mean and always out to get you, or when they wave the martyr flag of self-sacrifice around anything from being parents to taking on a lot of charity work.

The critical difference is the energy carried around the idea of transcending a limitation–what do we choose to do in those moments when an alternative is proposed? How irritated do we get with the person proposing an alternative?


Why We Do It

We defend our limitations because we’re afraid, and being in the thick of fear can feel like a crazy-insane experience.

What’s the fear? The unknown. Letting go of an old self or a set of behaviors, and having nothing to replace them with.

For example, when I first began working on patterns of anger, it was suggested that I was “in choice” around my anger and could actually control how angry I got. (P.S. This suggestion made me really angry!).

Years later, I understand and have compassion for that woman who was struggling with a pattern, who had used that pattern to define who she was. I felt shame. I felt like saying I was a victim of that limitation was safer than transcending it and not knowing what else I’d do to protect myself, if I wasn’t using anger as a protection.

When we stop “arguing for” our limitations, this massive, huge, yawning wide open space opens up.

Working with my anger, I didn’t know what in the world was going to fill that wide open space. Since anger had become a protective mechanism, it felt intensely vulnerable to imagine being upset by something and finding another way to react.

That’s the way it is when we’re stepping into some new space–it feels too wide open, out of control, terrifying.

Someone suggests that it’s possible for us to step out into that space, and we argue for our limitations, un-trusting of our capabilities to fly.

We do it because we’re in pain. If I’m holding on to anger, I’m in pain. The anger is the less vulnerable expression of that pain, but pain it is.

We get annoyed with happy people because they reflect back to us our own lack of happiness (our pain). We make up a Story that rich people are bad when we experience pain around finances. We insist that someone else doesn’t “get it” because they don’t have kids or don’t do as much charity work, because we’re feeling swamped with responsibility.


Start With Curiosity

Just get curious and open as to what’s possible. A common coaching exercise is to ask a client who is insisting on their limitations to simply brainstorm all of the possibilities before them–even those options that they know they wouldn’t choose.

The point? To acknowledge that we’re always in choice, because we are.

Even the choice to say that we’re not in choice, is a choice.

So here’s what it might look like to be open and curious:

  • Someone suggests that forgiveness might bring peace. Not defending limitations: “That’s what I’m truly after. I don’t yet know how to do that, but I’m going after it with all I’ve got.”
  • Someone suggests that taking a day off might be a positive self-care practice. Not defending limitations: “I’m going to talk to a friend and see what she does to give herself a day off.” or “I’m going to save money for __ days until I have enough to take time off” or “I’m going to stop going in to work when I’m sick, even if I know that my co-workers will make a mess of everything while I’m gone. I’m going to trust that in the great grand scheme of life, it actually does not matter whether or not anyone makes a mess of anything. I’m going to put my health as my highest priority.”
  • Someone suggests that it might be helpful to speak respectfully during times of conflict. Not defending limitations: “Since I’m after love and connection, I’m interested in learning about how you want to speak in these conversations. I’d also like to talk about what feels comfortable for me, and see where we can both express ourselves in ways that feel respectful and natural.”


Ego Alert!

You Ego/Inner Critic is going to think all of this is bullshit (in other words, it’s going to start arguing for the limitation of not seeing this as a worthy endeavour, because “of course” it won’t work).

The Ego is going to say that all of this is cheesy and fluffy and too hearts and flowers and purple light (another way of arguing for limitations, and not trying something new–make it bad! make it cheesy! make it wrong!).

The Ego is going to say that this seems like an awful lot of work to go for (another way of arguing for limitations–it’s so much work!).

The Ego is going to say that maybe things aren’t so bad the way they are, and sure, sometimes you argue for limitations, but it’s not that big of a deal, is it? Nah. (Another way the Ego is arguing for limitations–why bother?).

The Ego will think of the perfect little hipster comeback that makes fun of it all, and then says, “God, don’t take it so seriously.” (Yup. More arguing for limitation–degrade it, degrade it, degrade it, and then don’t take it seriously).

One of the hallmarks of the Ego or triggered Inner Critic is to suddenly play the “coolness” card–anything that lacks drama, smacks of common sense, or that would involve accountability and respect for self or others is dismantled.


It will come back, again and again, to what you choose. It’s your life, and they’re your limitations. It’s worth asking: what are you choosing to do with them?


CLP-sidebar-2013 A Program in Daily Courage. A guided process. Mapping out a plan for change. These are the courage practices that you can immediately apply to your life, in manageable increments, to build towards lasting change. Click to start.