10 Tyrannies That We Torture Ourselves With

Summary: The level of satisfaction you get from yourself and the activities you partake in, is strictly related to the degree you tyrannize yourself. The tyrannies are many. They stem from a plethora of whys, hows, and shoulds. Yet, they can be tamed and eventually act as gadflies that will propel your growth.


Side note: This is a long but important read. Make sure to make some time to read it because it covers a diverse set of topics.


Readability: 3130 words, Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease 67.2/100, Estimated reading time: 16 minutes


Remember when you were a kid?


You were a malleable entity that would absorb every bit of information and every experience like a sponge.


That is the nature of childhood.


When we are young, we somehow internalize the messages that the behaviors of others around us seem to communicate.


These messages eventually cement themselves as rules and dogmas that we mindlessly follow later on in life.


If the messages are well-intentioned and well-thought-out, they allow us to transition into adulthood more seamlessly.


If, however, they are spiteful, hostile, erroneous, and aimless, they torture our sense of well-being, they tyrannize us, and they impede our attempts to get our adult needs met.


The messages become our points of reference and we unconsciously become tyrants to ourselves.


Today I want to talk about this. About Tyrannies that we torture ourselves with.


Ideas, limiting beliefs, oughts, and shoulds that cause stress and tension and break down our bodies and our minds. Things that separate us from reality and isolate us from others. Things that force us to succumb to neurotic behaviors and oftentimes even foster the development of personality disorders.


Becoming aware of them helps us alleviate and even eliminate them. The key to fighting these tyrannies is not to lament over their existence.


You simply recognize their origin and how they jeopardize your life.


The more you notice them, the less power they have over you.


When you analyze them, accept them, and face them, they have a natural tendency to melt away.


They become awkward clothes that we were forced to wear as kids, but we decide to outgrow as adults.


Tyranny of the Urgent


Everything seems to be so urgent in the fast-paced world we have constructed.


We are always chasing an abstract something that is fueled by fabricated desires and needs.


We are afraid of missing out and that we won’t be able to keep up with the Joneses.


This is the tyranny of the urgent.


Expectations and tasks that come from outside and seem so urgent and threatening to our mode of being, but they just increase our anxiety and distress.


The key to escaping this predicament is to slow down, reframe our perspective, and constantly evaluate the things that matter in our lives.


A good rule of thumb I follow when it comes to this evaluation is:


  1. To focus on processes vs results, meaning that I disengage myself from the outcome and focus on the activity itself. I also try to make myself competent with regards to certain activities, so I can enjoy them more.
  2. To pursue quality rather than quantity. That’s true for tasks, meaning that it is more rewarding to dive into tasks that are more challenging, but also for consuming content or any other product or service that we decide to invest our money into.
  3. To focus on new experiences and skills, because every new area that we discover requires patience in order to be construed.

All those things remove the sense of urgency from our lives, for we learn to take our time and use it a way that feels quite rewarding and purposeful.


Tyranny of the Should


From the moment you are born, till your last day, you are bombarded with messages and dogmas from family, culture, and media that create obligations by making you think that you have to behave in a certain way in order to get your needs met.


You constantly feel like you have to live up to certain expectations that are beyond who you are and what you represent. And, most of the time, these expectations put a lot of pressure on you and reinforce some sense of inadequacy.


This is the tyranny of the should.


We can’t avoid shoulds, but we can definitely avoid misinterpreting them.


There are shoulds that exist merely because we need them as a society in order to strengthen intersocial bonds and maintain a degree of meritocracy and peaceful co-existence.


But there are also shoulds that are outdated and most of the time manipulate relationships instead of helping them grow.


Recognizing those toxic shoulds is not an easy task.


You need to understand yourself, your needs, and also different dynamics at play within society.


That’s why the perennial pursuit of knowledge and self-awareness becomes imperative.


It is the only sure antidote against the tyranny of the should.


A mature and self-actualized person is oriented by a very well-calibrated mental compass and understands what should and shouldn’t be done.


There are a lot of grey areas in our moral landscape, but evolution and constant introspection and re-evaluation of our human experience makes those areas less vague and abstract.


Tyranny of the Self-Limiting Beliefs


Sometimes, internal boundaries, or modes of behavior that were meant to keep you safe when you were a child, keep you from seeing life as an abundant event that can potentially reward you instead of punishing you for the risks that you take.


Eventually, these internal boundaries can morph into self-limiting beliefs that impede your progress as an individual and present to you a distorted version of reality.


This is the tyranny of the self-limiting beliefs.


It is a tyranny so potent that can keep holding people back and most of the time reinforce the shadow element within their psyche.


Self-limiting beliefs can’t be overcome overnight and, in my opinion, they require more than understanding their existence.


One needs to employ a certain strategy in order to alleviate their impact on one’s behavior.


First off you need to expose yourself to environments that limit you. Fear is the fuel of limitation and if one doesn’t realize that fear can oftentimes be just an illusion, then this creates insecurities and anxiety disorders.


Second, you need to understand the notion of risk. Risk is an essential element of growth and what gives gravity to the idea of tradeoffs. Life is a give and take and if you don’t take calculated risks you may and up in a passive state where you don’t receive anything because you are not capable of giving anything.


Third, you need to internalize the notion of failure. Failure isn’t something bad. It is just a byproduct of success. It’s just that we are indoctrinated by different agents within society to feel ashamed when we fail and we develop this fear of ostracism that puts obstacles in our attempts to pursue our endeavors.


And finally, you need to convince yourself that you can handle anything that comes your way. Self-confidence is certainly related to external validation but, at the end of the day, we need to realize that only we are responsible for realizing our value and potential. This is what makes us confident. This is what helps us battle through limiting beliefs.


Tyranny of the Worst-Case & What-If Scenarios tyrannies

Our brains are wired to imagine the worst-case scenarios to prepare us to handle them. It’s useful for us to take the necessary actions to prepare, but it’s counter-productive when we just ruminate.


This constant rumination or over-thinking is the tyranny of the worst-case what-if scenarios.


The ruminating mind was a very useful tool for our ancestors to overcome their ever-challenging and ever-changing environments. This ability to process experiences and project them to future events allows us to learn quickly and adapt to new environments.


But constant worrying is not the most optimal state of mind.


Our mind needs rest and to use its finite resources in a strategic way.


That’s why practices, like meditation, that allow our brain to switch off on demand, become imperative nowadays.


When you allow your mind to constantly wander aimlessly, just because you can’t control the way it operates, you end up in a state of mental fatigue.


And that’s very tiring.


Since our capabilities are constantly growing, what we perceive as dangerous and challenging must also evolve. Our memories serve us best when we are able to create new ones. Our projections serve us best when we put them to the test.


The more we remember and imagine, the more off-base we can become. Being able to come back to reality and take the right actions to test our concepts determines how healthy our minds are.


Although all this seems daunting, the simple answer to keep the mind fresh and sharp is to just be willing.


Be willing to meditate.


Be willing to put your memories and projections aside and attempt to create more functional paradigms wherein to operate.


Be willing to face the worst thing that could happen if it happens, and gradually extirpate pointless worries that just bolster the Sisyphean aspect of your experience.


Tyranny of the Outcome (specifically, the emotional attachment to a specific one)

Life tends to reward us in many different surprising ways. Yet we get brainwashed into thinking that only one way could truly satisfy us.


This attachment to a very specific outcome, aided by memory and fantasy, can only result in emotional pain. When we don’t get what we want, our inner child cries like someone took away our favorite toys.


This is the tyranny of the outcome.


The way to fight this tyranny is to recognize your own attachment patterns, including fantasies and thoughts that create specific outcomes.


As you consciously learn to detach yourself from outcomes throughout the day, you can become less outcome-dependent in general.


It’s all about the emotional management of the outcome.


There have been times in my life where I felt like a complete failure, and there have also been times where I tasted immense success.


The first time I tasted both ends of the spectrum, my emotional reaction was extreme.


Either extreme ecstasy for the case of success, or extreme sadness for the case of failure.


With time, I learned to recognize both as byproducts of my decision making.


And, eventually, I tamed both. I learned to view them as just normal events in my life and my emotional reactions became way milder and more manageable.


So, my advice is this: Seek success and seek failure. Taste both of them. Take them out of your system. It’s the only way to detach yourself emotionally from them.


Tyranny of Perfectionism


Living life while holding the conviction that whatever you do should aim for perfection is stressful and onerous, to say the least.


Especially if you don’t really know whether you will ever reach that perfect state. Especially if you never really know if your attempts will ever be appreciated.


This is the tyranny of perfectionism, and, let’s just face it, we are all victims of the tyranny of perfectionism.


We are constantly starstruck by all the attractive news titles and the superficial realities and we forget to take a step back, look at the bigger picture and properly evaluate what is good for us, what is interesting, what is actionable, what is snake oil and what is plain nonsense.


The virus of perfectionism digs its way into our core and instead of becoming the vessel that will propel us towards perfection, it evolves into a sickness that just makes anxious and depressed because we can’t reach the standards of society.


I say, forget about all that.


Aim for perfection but don’t let perfectionism overwhelm you.


Enjoy everyday victories, regardless of how small or big they are.


Aim to become better, but compare your today to what you were yesterday, not to what someone else is today.


Be your own judge, but be a reasonable, sagacious, and grateful judge.


Tyranny of Comparison Kangaroo

You compare yourself to others in an inappropriate way, with inconsistent standards.


You see others as having more than you.


You constantly compare your behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.


This is the tyranny of comparison.


Comparison is so destructive that instead of motivating you to take more risks, it makes you more dependent on external factors and blinds you from realizing your capabilities.


The only way to overcome this tyranny is to be grateful for everything you have.


A gratitude practice, which starts from the appreciation of even the smallest things in life, becomes a habit and then sinks deeper into our being and eventually morphs into a feeling of eternal gratitude just for partaking in the cosmic dance of consciousness.


Practicing gratitude also has the power to let you see through all the habitual ways we compare ourselves to others.


Since childhood, you were programmed to compare yourself to others, just to survive and ascend in the contrived hierarchy of society.


Don’t blame the people who raised you. They didn’t know any better. But you know. And with this knowledge comes great responsibility.


As I said before, compare your today to what you were yesterday, not to what something else is today.


Use comparison just as a tool to judge your actions and evaluate them.


And even if you are tired of doing that and you feel that you tried enough and you gave everything you could, just rest and simply be.


Enjoy the profound feeling of acceptance and gratefulness of simply being.


Tyranny of Procrastination


Whenever we are faced with tasks that require a lot of mental effort, we develop resistance.


This resistance is forcing our mind to come up with reasons to put off those tasks.


The manifestation of this resistance is called procrastination, and it is deemed as one of the most devastating modern-day tyrannies.


The way I see it is that most people think too much before they attempt a task.


They make it bigger than it is.


Their overthinking gets in their way.


Then, when the time comes to actually get it done, they put it off by finding reasons, no matter how specific or general, to avoid doing it.


Acting small cures all this.


A body in motion wants to stay in motion.


The key is either to do things that you love in a very small way or start to love doing the small things.


Create no expectation for outcome.


Allow your mind to be captivated by the activity itself so it can enter flow state.


Suddenly, creativity and motivation can emerge organically.


The mind cannot perceive where this process comes from since it doesn’t know that it was there all along, lying dormant in some undiscovered part of your consciousness.


All it takes is for you to get out of your own way.


So, when you find yourself in analysis paralysis, just do something small.


And you might find yourself becoming audaciously creative along the way.


Tyranny of Fairness tyrannies

Most of the time, the world feels like a very unfair place.


Not just because of our background or because of our social class, but also because of our very constitution.


The world out there can be hauntingly beautiful, but it can also be uninviting and full of dangers.


We oftentimes forget that we are just simple primates trying to survive on the precious home we call earth.


We take many things for granted and we end up questioning how fair the world is or isn’t.


This is the tyranny of fairness, and it is quite difficult to assess its impact on our lives.


We all had a basic understanding of fairness from within our household, where everything seems quite simple and straightforward.


This hurts when we go out to the world that has a more complex understanding of fairness.


We need to interact with so many different agents and the world can’t be fair to everyone.


We see that even the notion of equality of opportunity that people so dearly evangelize, is influenced by so many factors, and we start to lose hope.


There is no easy way to tackle this predicament.


At the end of the day, fairness should be chased by every single one of us.


We are the ones that need to speak out when we face injustice.


We are the ones that need to push back against anything that limits or manipulates our freedoms.


We are the ones that need to exercise fairness within our social circles.


We are the ones who should act consistently and respectfully with people around us regardless of their background or life situation.


This is the only way to make the world a more fair place.


Tyranny of the Unconditional Love tyrannies

When we transition from childhood to adulthood, we realize one crucial detail about human relationships: The unconditional love that we got from our parents can’t really be replicated.


However, when we enter a relationship, especially a romantic one, we try to experience the same feelings or behavioral motifs that we experienced with our family.


This is the tyranny of the unconditional love.


It is a very beautiful and romantic thing to fantasize about being loved unconditionally by others, but, in reality, it is almost impossible.


It’s not because we don’t want to, but more because we are idiosyncratic beings with different needs, and, most of the time, these needs collide with each other.


When we try to love someone unconditionally, something like a fight, or a thought, or another person might get in our way and suddenly the love becomes very conditional.


Especially if we don’t feel very comfortable in our own skin and we might feel that we deserve to be loved unconditionally, or that the other person needs to save us from our issues, things can get really ugly.


Unconditional love can only transpire between two people who feel perfectly aligned with who they are and what they want from life.


It is the manifestation of the ability of two people to see beyond their egos and attempt to create something very beautiful: to transcend the limitations of their individuality and achieve togetherness.


That can’t happen if these two people can’t look beyond their shadows and then make peace with the other person’s existence and accept them completely.


This is the only way to love unconditionally.


This is the only way to get rid of that tyranny.


Tyrannies are a byproduct of a lifestyle based on abstraction instead of coherence. “30 Challenges-30 Days-Zero Excuses” is a great handbook that can help you battle most tyrannies out there. I suggest you attempt most of the challenges. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. You can check out the book here.


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Below you can also find the video version of this essay:


Adrian Iliopoulos

I am the founder and main contributor at "The Quintessential Mind" - A unique personal blog that offers a holistic approach to self-development. I am striving to create high-quality content by investing in a reality-based form of self-help, informed by a deep understanding of psychology, philosophy and my own personal experiences and social adventures.
Adrian Iliopoulos