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Moving Mountains/Magical Choices For Empowering Your Life's Journey
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Chapter 5
By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

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Universal Obstacles To
To Personal Empowerment-

You gain strength, courage
and confidence by every
experience in which you really
stop to look fear in the face.
You are able to say to yourself,
“I lived through this horror.
I can take the next thing that
comes along.”
You must do the thing you
think you cannot do

-Eleanor Roosevelt

There is a story often told in every bar in Texas about a blacksmith who worked in a small frontier town during the early days of the West. He was known for being the best smith for hundreds of miles around. People for fifteen counties relied on him to do the work they needed done. 

As the story goes, the anvil he used stood on three thick wooden legs and weighed almost a thousand pounds. Over time, one of the legs became weak with use and one day it broke. The anvil tumbled sideways and crushed the foot of the blacksmith, forever crippling the man.

One day while he was recovering, the smith was asked if he was bitter that the career he had chosen had destroyed his foot? To which he replied, “My choices don’t bring me problems, my problems bring me new choices.”

According to legend, he went on to make the best stage-carriages in the West soon after he recovered. Think about it, much of living life is really about dealing with the obstacles in our path. By my way of thinking, there really are only two kinds of obstacles. I refer to them as man-made obstacles and universal obstacles.

How we confront the obstacles in our path influences how effective we are in creating the life we want for ourselves. For years, I have watched so many people peel back the onion of their lives to discover their individual obstacles to growth. And the voyage for everybody was painful.

I don’t think anybody ever said it better than Sylvia, a sixty-five year old bartender who chain-smoked her way through life.

When she laughed, she had a habit of slapping her hand on the table in front of her. Sylvia laughed often. She was a joy to be around.

“Steve, honey,” she rasped, “I don’t think these poor mopes get it.”

“Who doesn’t get what?” I asked.

“Everybody, she said. You see, I was watching All My Children last week on TV and it occurred to me why most everybody is unhappy all of the time.”

“OK. Why?” I said.

“Everybody expects the world to go good for them. And that’s just wrong. Life isn’t about smooth sailing.” She paused to take a drag on her cigarette.

“You see Sweetie, life is supposed to be filled with tough stuff. Most of the people I know who are bent out of shape all of the time are the poor saps that believe that jingle, YOU DESERVE A BREAK TODAY, who said that, Coke?”

"That’s McDonalds,” I corrected.

“Whatever, Doll. I just want you to get my drift. I think we all have the fantasy that life is supposed to be easy, that there shouldn’t be any problems, no struggles. When a problem comes into our life, there are those who feel singled-out, trapped into the delusion they are the only one’s who got a problem. All the time asking themselves, ‘Why me?’  It’s sad, really, Steve.”

She took another puff, “Everybody ought to realize that we all got problems. Nobody can win thinking they are being picked on.

“Like my Aunt Marge. She went in for a gallbladder operation two weeks ago. She said that God was punishing her for something she had done. I said, ‘That’s crazy. You just ate too many fatty foods Aunt Marge, no one’s punishing you.’”

And you know, Sylvia was right about the punishment. So many times we believe we are the only ones with adversity in life. We secretly think life should be smooth sailing.

It’s not nor should it be. It’s about dealing with life on life’s terms.
Life is really about dealing with the obstacles  in our path on our journey.

Now, as I said earlier, there are two types of obstacles to personal empowerment. They are universal and man-made obstacles. First, let’s focus on the universal obstacles. Universal obstacles are  experienced by each and every one of us on our journey.

What I am about to tell you is important. Please take your time as you read along. As you read, think about how this may be true for you.
The benefit of recognizing the presence of any  universal obstacles in your life is profound. Recognition is the first step in avoiding your self-sabotage cycles.

You see, our self-sabotage cycles are linked directly to the presence of these universal obstacles. The correlation is a very simple one. The universal obstacles, when present in our lives, create an underlying emotional turmoil.

These obstacles provoke a pervasive fear in all of us. Our fear moves us to implement different means in order for us to cope with our fears.

The rub to all of this is the ways we have managed to cope with our fear. More times than not, our means of coping creates short-term solutions whose long-term consequences are usually harmful to us.

We all wrestle with these obstacles. These obstacles are reflective of the human condition, rather than indicators of our deficiency as human beings.    

So you see, the presence of these universal obstacles spawns the creation of our own man-made obstacles. We create man-made obstacles as a means of coping with the fear the universal obstacles stir-up within us.

What I mean is that man-made obstacles are of our own making. These obstacles are a reaction to the presence of a universal obstacle in our path. They exist as a means of coping with our fears activated by the presence of a universal obstacle.

There is an infinite number of man-made obstacles unique to each of us. But let me make a list, not at all exhaustive, of a few you may recognize in yourself or your friends. After each scenario I will provide a short explanation showing how the presence of a specific universal fear activates our creation of a man-made obstacle.

When confronted with an opportunity to have an emotionally intimate relationship, we may sabotage the relationship by starting an argument, going out and getting drunk, or having an affair.

Fear of losing ourselves in an intimate relationship is a universal obstacle to emotional intimacy. When confronted with emotional intimacy, our fear of losing ourselves may overwhelm us. We may create a man-made obstacle, such as one of the scenarios described above, as a diversion to cover the presence of the universal obstacle, fear of losing ourselves.

We may be provided with an opportunity to better ourselves in our career by going to school, but we never get around to filling out the application.
We may feel safe with the familiar, no matter how much that holds us back. Being a secretary may feel safe because you’re familiar with the routine, and because you’re more comfortable thinking about yourself as a secretary than getting an MBA and changing your life. The process of considering change may activate your fear of loss of safety, which is a universal obstacle. In coping with this universal obstacle you may create a man-made obstacle such as procrastination, which allows you to avoid the universal fear. You suffer no loss of safety, because you do not change the familiar.

We may be able to receive a promotion at work if we fill out the necessary paperwork for the promotion, but leave the application in our desk for months.

We may believe our place in this world is being a failure, a victim, someone who never measures up, or as someone who needs to be taken care of. For those of us who believe those things, we may view a promotion as a threat to our place in the world as we believe it must be. Loss of our place in this world is a universal obstacle. We may create the man-made obstacle of sabotaging our efforts by not filling out the appropriate paperwork.

We may find ways to undermine our success in our business by repeatedly doing things that undermine us through forgetfulness, procrastination, or not getting along with the necessary people.             

This is a scenario where the universal fear of losing our identity may activate man-made scenarios to prevent the circumstances of our lives from changing. If our circumstances change, how we think about ourselves must change as well. So we create man-made obstacles to prevent our needing to change our identity. If we think of ourselves as a struggler, as someone who overcomes, we will always need things in our life to struggle with and overcome.

The importance in making a differentiation between universal and man-made obstacles is profound. Knowledge is power. You will better be able to transform your personal man-made patterns of self-sabotage into personal empowerment by recognizing how these obstacles exist in your life and discovering new choices.
The universal obstacles evolve from the most fundamental fears we all have. These fears are:

Fear of  loss of our identity.
Fear of  emotional and physical abandonment.
Fear of losing our place in the world.
Fear of losing our feeling of safety.
Fear of losing ourselves in our relationships.
Fear of losing our faith that our world is manageable and we are in control.

Please read the next paragraph carefully. Don’t be afraid to read it several times. It is important that you see the link between the presence of these universal obstacles in your life and how you choose to create man-made obstacles that undermine your well-being.

By recognizing these fears and the universal obstacles they create, by recognizing how these universal obstacles present themselves in your life, by recognizing how your man-made obstacles are given birth by the presence of the universal obstacles, you will better be able to navigate the universal obstacles.

Once you learn to navigate through universal obstacles, you will stop creating your own man-made obstacles to personal empowerment.

Sylvia, the bartender I talked about earlier in this chapter, once told me a great story. You will remember that she had a habit of smoking while she talked. And she loved to tell stories.
“Sweetie, you gotta know where you’re going or I guarantee that you’re in trouble, cause if you aim for nothing, then that’s what you’ll hit.
"For example, I wanted to lose weight one time and I told my ex-husband Burt my secret, but he never did understand. He died right after that. Hit by a truck.”  Sylvia wandered around the point to her story alot.

"Anyway, where was I? I told Burt that you have to have a plan. And you need to stick to it. Ya know, move forward with it.

"Burt never understood. He thought I meant only a piece of paper with a drawing or words for a plan. But that ain’t it. I think big, I mean a plan like a vision, a dream.”

As Sylvia looked listfully at the ceiling and took a puff on the cigarette, she continued, “Jeeez a girl’s gotta dream, doesn’t she? And my plan is my dream for me. For losing weight, I kind of start my plan by pretending I look like Vanna White, you know the glamorous supermodel who buys so many vowel’s on Wheel of Fortune, the TV show.”

She leaned back and put down her cigarette. “But in reality, I know that I can’t look like her, it ain’t physically going to happen. But I can look better, so I call my girlfriend May and ask her to go with me to the store. May is a full-figured gal and we headed to the store so we could buy that Lean Cuisine stuff together, in bulk. Sometimes it just takes two to push a shopping cart, Sweetie.

“So anyway,” she said,  “after that, May and I call each other every day to check on how much of the food we ate. Before you know it, we both lost twelve pounds. It was tough, but I really wanted to lose the weight, my hips are start’n to go.

“That magic formula works for anything. As long as you’re willing. Sometimes you gotta let go of what you need to let go of, and you’ll hit a home run every time.”


I have always found it helpful to be able to fight the enemy I could see. Therefore, it has always been helpful to me to be able to identify, in very specific terms, what universal obstacles I am wrestling with, the way those obstacles appear in my life, and the man-made obstacles that are created as a result of their presence.

Try this exercise as a way of learning more about your fears and the obstacles they spawn.

Week 1: Make a list of the ways the fundamental fears on pages 61 and 62 appear in your life.

Week 1: Make a list of the ways these fundamental fears paralyze you in your day-to-day life.

Week 2: Make a list of the man-made obstacles you create as a way of coping with these fears.

Week 2: Make a list of different choices you can make
To rid yourself of your man-made obstacles.

Week 3: Make a plan of the way you will implement your new choices.

Week 3: Share this plan with a friend who will only encourage you. Implement your plan in tiny manageable pieces and let your friend know how you are doing.



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


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