Five Signs You Are Living in a Mental Prison

Ron McIntyre
6 min readFeb 26, 2024

For many of us, one day is not much different from the day that preceded it, an exact replica of the day that went before that. It’s very easy to think that somehow, some way, you live in a world where you don’t have much of an impact.

Regardless of what you do, what you try, and how hard you try, at the end of the day, it feels like you’re living in a world that you did not create. You’re some passenger in this moving vehicle, which you cannot control, called your life.

Part of that is this idea that you’re stuck. You really can’t change things. Things are what happened to you instead of you making things happen.

Unfortunately, a lot of people live this kind of life and fail to realize that they’re in some sort of mental prison. This is a prison of their own making.

You have to understand that unlike a physical prison, where you are physically restrained by four walls and some iron bars, a mental prison is a place that you can easily walk out of. You often have the key to the prison door lock in your palms.

However, very few people bother to put the key in the lock and walk away a free person. Here are five signs that you’re living in a mental prison.

Sign #1: You feel trapped in your life

I hope you don’t need me to explain how ridiculous the concept of being trapped in your life is. I don’t want to sound harsh. I don’t mean to sound judgemental, but let’s face it.

How can you be trapped when you can always walk away? How can you be trapped in your life when you can decide today, right here, right now, to go away, to go someplace, to do something different, to try new patterns, to think a different way, to feel various emotions?

The problem with this mental prison is one of definition. The moment we think we define ourselves as trapped in our lives is when the prison walls get thicker and thicker until it becomes a reality.

The only person trapping you in your life is yourself. I know that sounds harsh. You’re probably thinking, “Well, look at these other situations that I’m in. Look at what happened in my past.”

Well, I’m telling you, you’re always in control of how you respond to the past and what is happening right now. The moment you change how you react and how you interpret that stimuli is the moment you start walking out of that mental prison. You are not trapped. Instead, you chose to be there.

Sign #2: You can’t help but react to certain situations

Has this ever happened to you? You’re having a great day, and then, for some weird reason, you start thinking about your ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. From that point on, your day is ruined.

You start thinking about how you were abused, how you were tricked, manipulated, lied to, or humiliated. Whatever the case may be, this rush of negative emotions comes in.

It’s not like something that you can see a mile away. You can’t choose to walk around it. It just washes over you like a sudden rainstorm. Now, it begins to hit you like a ton of bricks.

You become very negative. It’s tough for you to trust. It’s tough for you to reach out to people. It’s tough for you to open up. Sometimes, it even infuriates you.

Well, this is a classic sign of a mental prison because the way you react is a choice. No one is holding a gun to your head, saying, “If you start thinking these things, you must be miserable.”

Nobody’s putting you in that situation. You chose to be there. You chose to react in the most negative way possible because you get something out of it. You get a guilty pleasure.

Believe it or not, a lot of people who feel depressed have a reward when they feel depressed. I know that sounds perverse, but it’s true.

Otherwise, they won’t repeat that same process over and over again unless they’re suffering from a severe chemical imbalance. Outside of biochemical hardwired reasons, most people who feel depressed all the time get a reward.

Let go of that reward. Understand that there are other rewards out there. Also, understand that you can look at the past differently. You can look at it in a way that doesn’t hold you back and drag you down.

Sign #3: You constantly compare yourself to others

When you compare yourself to others, please understand that you always compare your worst to their best. If you’re not doing that, you’re also setting yourself up for disappointment.

You think you’re clever. You think you’re smart. You think you got it together, but guess what? There will be other people who have it better than you. Maybe your IQ is 110. Well, there are people with IQs of 120,130, or 150.

Maybe you think you’re rich. You have ten million dollars in the bank. Guess what? People with twenty million dollars, a hundred million, or a billion dollars are in the bank. Do you see where there is leading?

Trying to put yourself in some hierarchy is a losing game because, by definition, comparisons are problematic. You feel you can’t stay there because people existing today are better than you, or they will exist in the future.

Sure, maybe you’re at the top of your game right now, but given enough time, somebody will beat you at your game. Do you see how fruitless this is?

This is the mental prison of false pride and false identity. You cannot live solely based on how you compare to others.

Whatever advantage you think you have in the here and now will disappear given enough time. Look for a better standard. Walk away from that mental habit.

Sign #4: You think your best years are behind you

Many people choose to live defeated lives because they don’t see a point in doing their best in the here and now. So, what kind of excuse do they come up with?

You have to understand that most people would not own up to this. Most people would not honestly admit this. Instead, they would say that their best years are behind them. Maybe they’re too old, tired, busy, or beaten down by life.

Whatever the case may be, their best years are behind them. This is a mental prison. It is because what you’ve done is you have accepted an excuse. You know well that you can do better tomorrow but choose not to.

It is very comforting to think that your best years are behind you for whatever reason because it justifies you not trying. As long as you have breath, you can develop something better.

Maybe you’re physically weak and old; that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean that you’re mentally beaten as well. At the very least, you can choose to love better tomorrow. You can choose to be a more supportive person tomorrow.

Do you see how this works? But to think your best years are behind you is not doing an enormous service because you’re freezing yourself in time.

You’re holding yourself to a very toxic standard. Let’s face it. All of us are not getting any younger. We’re not as strong as before, but that does not in any way excuse us from trying to live up to our fullest potential.

Sign #5: You feel that your life will get better only with the help of the right people

People who suffer from this mental prison are giving themselves excuses for not taking responsibility for their lives right now. This is very common.

How often have you told yourself, “I will make a lot of money if I get the right job? I will fall in love if the right person comes along. I will get my act together if my parents do the right thing, and on and on it goes.”

You’re finding all sorts of justifications not to take action now. I’ve got some bad news for you. You are the sole owner of your life. You are responsible for your life.

You have to take action now. You can’t wait for other people to get their act together. That’s just not going to happen. We’re all imperfect. We’re all flawed. We have different timelines. So, instead of putting your life on hold while waiting for the right person to come around. Be that person.

Identify the five signs above so you can finally spring yourself out of your mental prison. I’ve got some bad news for you. You have to do it yourself. Nobody owes you any favors. Nobody can do it for you because this prison is inside.



Ron McIntyre

Ron McIntyre is a Leadership Anthropologist, Author, and Consultant, who, in semi-retirement, is looking to help people who really want to make a difference.