Isadora Dahlen
Isadora Dahlen

Are you imprisoned in your mind? Do you judge yourself based on how you look, who you are, or what you do or don’t do? Many women are stuck in their own private prisons, as they cling to the limiting beliefs they were taught as children. These beliefs leave women feeling hopeless and unloved – as if they don’t matter.

I teach creative writing in a women’s prison. Most of my students are tentative writers, scared to record their thoughts and feelings on paper – especially in the beginning. I’m constantly encouraging them to connect with their emotions, their memories and especially their pain. Some can dig deep, while others find writing about their feelings just too overwhelming.  Over the years, I’ve read some amazing stories – stories that shocked me, moved me and made me cry with sadness and anger.

I can understand how many of these inmates ended up in the prison system. I’ve seen the effects of self-abuse through drugs and alcohol, childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, rape and a lack of having values.  Often the abuse starts at a very early age, when little girls should be doing nothing more than playing and laughing with their friends. It destroys their self esteem when they’re constantly told and modeled that they are nothing and no one will ever love them.

low self-esteemA great number of my students are also imprisoned in their minds, as they continue to hold onto the negative or limited beliefs they were taught.  Being abused for years affects any young girls’ sense of worthiness. Their feelings of low self esteem have often led to acts that landed these women in prison. I’m not making excuses for them, but their stories are more complicated than they appear to those who have never experienced horrific abuse.

Some women are in prison for committing a crime. And some women are in prison for believing people who judged them, abandoned them and told them lies such as: “You’ll never amount to anything, you’re ugly, you’re worthless, no one will ever love you and forget school – you’re too stupid.”  Many have acted out their lives based on what they were taught – thinking it was the truth.

If you are imprisoned in any way, it’s difficult to imagine a life filled with love and joy and success. Feeling trapped and unable to move forward in life can affect women from all different backgrounds.

It doesn’t take prison walls, to incarcerate yourself. It has everything to do with how you think about yourself and how much you love yourself. I often remind my students it’s never too late to change.  After years of practice, many women have woven a web of excuses why their lives can’t change, haven’t changed, won’t change.

Letting go of the past burningStaying the same means you don’t have to change. It can seem safe and familiar. But it can be a lonely and painful place to reside long term. I always encourage women to weigh the pros and the cons of changing as I ask them, “Can you imagine living your life like this, for the next ten years or longer?”

As I work with women both in and out of prison, I listen as they talk about their lives, their hopes, their dreams, their futures. I hear their limiting thoughts and doubts about themselves. They share the common feelings of being unlovable, unworthy and undeserving.

What thoughts and beliefs have kept you imprisoned in your mind? By consciously addressing them, you can give yourself an opportunity to be who you wish to be. I encourage you to shed any self-hindering beliefs and choose to believe in yourself.

You have the power. You have the choice. It’s up to you.

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Isadora Dahlen is a writer, educator, coach and champion for women’s empowerment. She resides in Scottsdale, AZ with her husband, Alan. You can follow her on her blog,, and on Twitter (@IsadoraDahlen).

2 Comments on Imprisoned

  1. That’s a great reminder, Isadora, that often times we hold ourselves prisoner, creating our own identity crisis – through self fulfilling prophecy. It’s easy to get down on ourselves and see the bad over the good. The mind is a powerful thing. We were made to be strong, courageous, inspired and loved. We just need to adjust the lens to gain new perspective.

  2. Excellent article! I wonder sometimes how much of our tendency to imprison ourselves is based on the cultural view of what a daughter “should be.” As a survivor of abuse, I know that the negative messages I received as a child absolutely prevented me from moving forward in my life for many years.
    It’s taken a lot of work for me to sort through the thoughts and beliefs that were handed down to me by my parents, but with every old message I can toss away, I’m more able to claim my power and create a life that works for me.
    Thanks for your wonderful, inspirational words!

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  1. I Am My Beliefs
  2. “Words that Imprison” « The United Families International Blog

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