When he was a boy, Stan vowed he’d never be a father like his own father—aloof, critical and emotionally unavailable. Yet, 30 years later, he catches himself treating his son harshly and constantly judging him for not measuring up.
Patricia loves her job and her boss. The only thorn is that her boss prizes punctuality and Patricia just can’t seem to be on time for anything, whether it’s a team meeting or that project that was due last week.
What Stan and Patricia have in common is the all-too-common disease called self-sabotage. It eats away inside, creating a cycle of self-destruction with the result that we aren’t really living the life we want for ourselves.
Self-sabotage “hides inside us and toils against our best interest. If we don’t succeed in identifying and owning this sinister part, we can never be free,” says Stanley Rosner, author of The Self-Sabotage Cycle: Why We Repeat Behaviors That Create Hardships and Ruin Relationships.
Numerous studies show that women are more prone to lower self-esteem and self-doubting thoughts. This leads to self-sabotaging behavior, according to author Nancy Good. In her book Slay Your Own Dragons: How Women Can Overcome Self-Sabotage in Love and Work, she lists several signs of self-defeating behavior that women (and men) can recognize:
- Being overly passive, fearful, listless or indecisive, so that chances pass us by.
- Having a chronically chaotic financial situation.
- Being controlled by depression and anxiety.
- Being controlled by compulsive behaviors to abuse alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, food, physical exercise, etc. Being compulsively late. Expressing anger inappropriately.
- Being mistreated by partners and spouses. Being stuck in an unhappy relationship but doing nothing to change the situation. Having a series of unsatisfying relationships.
Recognizing self-defeating thoughts and behavior is the first step to change. Many experts agree that to change the behavior, people must change their thinking. Therefore, the first step is to observe ourselves and our thoughts.
The next step is to take responsibility for our thoughts and behavior—so that we control them and they stop controlling us. If we accept that we are doing this to ourselves, we can also understand that we have the power to change.
Self-observation is a powerful tool against the behaviors that defeat us. For example, Stan could take his son fishing and be careful to be positive and to stay silent when he feels a criticism rising in his throat. To do this, he would first have to decide that a good relationship with his son was more important that being “right.”
Setting a goal is the next step. Without blame or shame, choose one behavior to change. For example, Patricia could decide not to be late anymore. To do this, she would have to decide that something was more important than being late—a job she loves, for example. One tactic might be to write a positive affirmation each night in a journal, or set her clock an hour early, or enlist a friend to call her for a week, reminding her to walk out the door. After a while, the rewards of being on time could become greater than the self-defeating cycle of being late.
It’s not easy to change patterns of self-sabotage, but with time and practice—and a good dose of self-love—it is possible to end a self-defeating cycle and live the life we truly want for ourselves.
Need help making progress on your own, then let me help. Call me at 866-846-9228 or send me an email at tj@dolifebetter; “Having a coach means never having to stay stuck.”