To some degree we all have habits that get in our way. However, learning to recognize your own self destructive tendencies will help you to re-evaluate your priorities and recenter your actions to match your goals. Chronic self sabotage can leave you feeling worthless.
TOMORROW AND TOMORROW AND TOMORROW
One almost universal way to sabotage yourself is procrastination. It is something almost all of us indulge in from time to time. However, if you tend to procrastinate habitually or to a point that leads to frustrated goals, you may want to spend some time figuring out what it is you’re truly avoiding. Are you putting off actions that trigger memories of trauma? This can be trauma with a small “t” or Trauma with a big “T”. Either way, avoiding situations that may force you re-live a painful episode can often lead to blocking forward movement. Sometimes the thing that holds you back from taking action is connected to fear of being in the spotlight. Perhaps you’re more comfortable “flying under the radar” because you lack confidence or you avoid action because you worry that your actions will make someone else angry or uncomfortable. Perhaps the most insidious reason for procrastination is that you hold negative beliefs you would rather not test. For example, someone who believes they are not smart may avoid studying for exams because not studying allows them to continue to have an explanation for their lackluster performance. The logic is faulty and self defeating but it goes something like this, “If I study and still don’t do well, then I prove that I am not smart. But if I don’t study, then my performance can be chalked up to lack of preparation and I don’t have to face not being smart.” At issue is the underlying belief that “I am not smart.”
I CAN’T BELIEVE I DID THAT
Dwelling on your mistakes is also a pattern of self destructive behavior. Being able to objectively identify your mistakes and plan to correct course in the future is healthy and adaptive. Focusing on and reliving mistakes so much that you are left paralyzed or totally discouraged is a form of self sabotage. It leads to giving up on dreams and feeling incapable. People who flagellate themselves for mistakes can sometimes become fearful of criticism from others. This is a pattern that can lead to other self destructive patterns such as diffuse boundaries with yourself and others. You may feel worthless and in order to avoid criticism or to earn love and approval, you may violate your own limits by allowing others to trespass against you. Or the reverse may be happening, where your boundaries are too rigid. Closing yourself off from support and help from others can lead to strained relationships and further feelings of worthlessness. You may be creating a self fulling prophecy by holding people at a distance, which leads to feeling unloved, thereby feeding your underlying belief about being unlovable.
AVOIDANCE AND NUMBNESS
Choosing comfort over health is another way people tend to sabotage themselves. Self medicating with drugs, alcohol or food to achieve numbness or escape is a common way to obstruct yourself. This is a negative pattern that shows up in communication as well. It is often uncomfortable to communicate our expectations to others, it can feel unsafe to ask for what we need. And yet, when we choose the safety of holding back over the fear of being vulnerable, we are ultimately harming our relationships and ourselves.
All of these negative patterns feed one another to create an overall habit of self sabotage. The first step in evolving out of this self destructive process is to start identifying it when it happens. Sometimes we can do this on our own and at other times we need help. Either way, we are all capable of transcending these maladaptive tendencies and learning to be our own best ally. Once you’ve done the work of recognizing these patterns, you can get to work unlearning them and replacing them with healthier habits. The last part of this series will discuss how to stop the self sabotage and move into a more self-loving state of mind.