“We all have a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” – Jane Austen
When you begin to move towards a desired direction in your life, there is often an accompanying sense of excitement, anxiety, and hesitancy. Everything that is “new” is “unknown” in some way, even when the rational part of your mind knows this change is something positive. Often times, the mind gets in the way of progress towards reaching goals and valued life directions. When you try to fight against these self-sabotaging thoughts, the mind often rebels by sneaking in a snide, “You can’t do it anyway” or “You’re too tired right now.” Why would you choose to get in the way of your own progress?
Consider how self-sabotaging behaviors and self-defeating thoughts may be a form of passive aggression against the self. Maybe for you this is experienced as a sense of being paralyzed, unable to mobilize yourself to take those initial small steps towards reaching your goal(s). Perhaps you experience this passive aggression as nagging and persistent thoughts that creep up, telling you that you can’t or won’t succeed, so “why bother.” However your subconscious recruits you to act in passive aggressive ways towards yourself, the first step is to increase your conscious awareness of this process.
From a psychodynamic perspective, this form of passive aggression against the self is the result of messages received early on in life about your own competence, your right to have needs, and your fundamental worth. Whether we realize it consciously or not, we all have a tendency to internalize subtle and overt messages from important people in our lives about what we “can” and “can’t” do. Even when our conscious minds know that we are competent, capable, and effective, there is often a nagging sense of self-doubt in the shadow of that confidence.
Passive aggression towards the self is, in many ways, a form of self-punishment. If there was an early critical voice telling you (directly or indirectly) about what you were capable of and how you “are” in the eyes of others, it is difficult as an adult to extract this voice from the inner recesses of the mind. Perhaps you have compensated for a quiet deep sense of self-doubt through constructing an adult personality that is confident, self-assured, or gregarious. Begin to ask yourself what the purpose of this social mask is, and what feelings may be underneath that mask that are too difficult to consciously acknowledge.
When you are stuck in a pattern of engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors or self-defeating thinking, it is quite likely that you are painfully aware of this process. In contrast, it may be particularly painful to acknowledge if those inner doubts have been shielded through multiple layers of social masks and self-protection. Begin to identify what is at the root of those fears that keep you immobilized or stuck in a repetitive pattern of inaction or self-defeat.
Getting at the root of your persistent and repetitive pattern of inaction or self-directed passive aggression isn’t an easy process or a quick fix. Consider how many years of your life you have been the way that you are. You cannot realistically expect all of your hardwired patterns of thinking and feeling to magically change overnight. True change in this sense requires honest self-reflection, being willing to sit with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and honestly asking yourself what you are gaining from your self-sabotaging behavior.
As humans, we tend to do very little in life that doesn’t receive some form of reward. Sometimes it is hard to tell what this reward might be, especially when on the surface it appears that we are suffering. Ask yourself what benefits you are getting from procrastination, self-defeating thoughts, and self-sabotage. Does your pattern allow you to avoid possible failure? Does it keep you in a place that is familiar, yet somehow unsatisfying? Begin to embrace the fear that accompanies all change. Recognize that it requires courage to take those first steps toward change and out of stagnation.
Overcome Self-Defeating Thoughts:
- Notice thoughts that begin with “I should… I need to… I have to…”
- Replace these thoughts with “I want to…”
- Deep down, if you don’t truly want to make that change for yourself, ask yourself what your genuine motivation is
- Utilize self-affirmations about what you know to be true about yourself and what you want to be true… “I am…”
- Allow yourself space to have negative thoughts and feelings – invalidating your own experience will not relieve suffering
Access the inner wisdom that resides within each of us to determine whether or not your self-defeating thoughts and self-sabotaging behavior is dispositional or situational. For example, if it is dispositional, you may notice that this is a lifelong pattern for you that requires you to examine more deeply what those unmet needs, core beliefs, and self-doubts truly are. If it is situational, it is more likely that you usually are able to mobilize yourself into action, but you may be experiencing temporary stress or a sudden life-changing decision/choice.
Until you honestly examine and accept the source of your self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, they will persist. It does you no good to complain or make excuses about the negative impact they have on your life. If they are causing you enough discomfort, you will start to do something differently. As long as we choose to repeat mistakes or remain paralyzed by fear, the true lesson will be not learned.
We all struggle with fears of the unknown and doubts about our own abilities. You are free to break out of this self-imposed prison at any moment. How much longer are you willing to submit yourself to self-punishment? How will you know when you no longer deserve to treat yourself in this way? If you sense a deeper inner sense of unworthiness or pain, slowly begin to give yourself the love and support that your self-sabotaging behaviors are crying out to receive. It is not easy, but most things that are worth it are difficult.
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Seltzer, L. F. (2011, February 2). Self-sabotage as passive aggression toward the self (pt 5 of the “logical illogic” of the psycho-logical) [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201102/self-sabotage-passive-aggression-toward-the-self-pt-5-the-logical-ill
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