This week I wish to discuss self-sabotage. Most people are totally unaware that they are sometimes controlled by internal mechanisms that are designed to protect, but that actually function to sabotage certain goals in their lives. The fact is, all of us possess self-destructive elements that can manifest at any time and in a variety of ways. This not-so-silent enemy within usually remains in stealth mode despite its repeated pattern of interference with our own self-declared desires.
Psychologists define self-destructive patterns this way. “Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems and interferes with long-standing goals. The most common self-sabotaging behaviors are procrastination, self-medication with drugs or alcohol, comfort eating in the face of weight concerns, and self-injury such as cutting. These acts may seem helpful in the moment, but ultimately undermine us, especially when we engage in them repeatedly.”
Why would we all have these ‘click-whir’ internal self-destructive mechanisms that betray our best intentions? Technically, most of them arise as a result of a defense strategy. They can be as simple as something we do in order to avoid rejection that is the result of an embarrassing childhood episode. For example, take the fellow who simply couldn’t laugh, we’ll call him John. Indeed, John was unable to even fully smile. His wife and friends thought of him as stoic and that was fine with John until he discovered that he was often not invited to events because of his lack of humor. When he made enquiries regarding this, he discovered that others found him to be a bore who could wilt the humor in any party. This saddened John so he set about discovering why he behaved this way. What John learned was that a childhood event led to his inability to relax and laugh. He actually found many things humorous but he withheld his expression of the same because when he was young other children had mocked him for the way he laughed, and for his “twisted” smile.
Now John did not consciously say to himself something like, “build a defense mechanism that prevents me from being ridiculed in the future because of my laugh,” albeit, that’s exactly what his ego managed for him. It is, after all, the job of a healthy ego to protect us. So John’s automatic mechanism, with click-whir precision, simply arrested his expression of humor to protect him from ridicule. And this unconscious automatic mechanism remained in place until John made his uncovering, and set about to consciously change this behavior.
Okay, this is a simple example of how a mechanism can work to destroy our lives, but there are also some very compound and complicated mechanisms that can arise for many reasons including compensation. It is our nature, as the herd animals that we are, to seek acceptance and avoid rejection. It is also our nature to compete for attention or in the alternative, to adopt low to non-competitive strategies as a pattern of avoidance. For some, both of these patterns can actually be operational and activated at different times under differing circumstances.
The bottom line is this, we all have self-sabotaging mechanisms of some sort that raise their ugly heads from time to time, and that is why certain goals can remain unattainable despite our very best effort.
Eliminating self-sabotage then becomes a primary step in getting our own houses in order. In at least one sense, ending self-destructive patterns is the weeding out of ideas and behaviors that prevent us from achieving all that we are otherwise capable of enjoying. As such, the path to success requires the elimination of self-destructive behavior patterns.
The objective of ending self-sabotage begins then by recognizing that we all possess this potential. Pursuing its possibilities, we begin to recognize patterns of behavior that have common antecedents. Diligently attending to your thoughts often reveals inner beliefs, biases, and the like that you really do not wish to continue to own. Strengthening your resolve for deliberation you gain more control over self-regulation. Each time you are successful at halting an automatic mechanism, you begin to break the pattern and thereby end the habit.
It’s that time of year when most of us make resolutions, and those who don’t typically have made so many failed ones in the past that they gave up on the idea. If you’re going to be successful changing your life, then remember this: in order to fulfill your dreams and ambitions, you must take the time to retrain your mind. If it was properly supporting you today, your life would be full of what most call magic!
My thoughts anyway—what are yours?
As always, thanks for the read and I appreciate your feedback.
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions