The cartoon character Pogo is famous for saying, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Too bad this is not really funny since so many people have trouble getting out of their own way. They self-sabotage. They engage in behavior that is detrimental to their own self-interest.
Most of us are familiar with some of this behavior. You know, when you break up with your partner and binge-eat chocolate ice cream right out of the carton. Or your boss puts the pressure on at work and you try to ease it with so much wine you make yourself sick. Or you put off doing that project until it becomes impossible to do it well and still make the deadline.
We undermine ourselves, and when we do it repeatedly, we are sabotaging our success in life. What causes us to act against our own best interests?
Childhood Survival. If your parents or caregivers abused or neglected you, you found ways to cope. You had to, because you depended on them for your food, shelter—survival. If, for example, you tried to connect with your caregiver in a loving relationship but you were constantly rejected, you learned to alter your behavior. You simply couldn’t continue to be hurt every time you showed emotion. So you shut down your emotions. Indeed, you learned to hide them so deep within you that as an adult, you aren’t even aware that you have an emotional side to you. So while you coped as a child, in the long term, you are emotionally limited.
Trauma. Many people with PTSD find it difficult to navigate in the world, and can benefit from trained counseling. But even people with less severe trauma may still find themselves undermining their best interests. For example, if you went to the dentist and suffered discomfort and pain, you would be less likely to schedule a return appointment. When you’re sitting in the dentist chair and the hygienist is scraping your gums, it’s not fun. You resolve then and there to floss more and never miss an appointment so it doesn’t get out of hand. You know that will keep you healthier and you’ll suffer less if you go more often. But you put it off, and put it off, a self-sabotaging behavior.
Anxiety. Substance abuse often begins with the need to mitigate stress or anxiety. If one vodka tonic can take the edge off a stressful day, two can make you downright relaxed, and three can make you not care altogether. Maybe alcohol isn’t your stress reliever of choice—maybe it’s gambling or shopping or having sex or doing drugs. The point is, if you overdo, and depend on external things to calm your nerves, you are actually adding stress to your life. Sooner or later too much alcohol—or whatever your vice—will catch up to you and cause you even more problems. You are operating against your own best interests.
In order to live your fullest, best life, you need to get to the bottom of why you are sabotaging yourself. You need to understand the reasons behind your behavior so you can begin to change. This is often an arduous task, but you can reclaim your true self—your best self—with some work and persistence. Next week we’ll talk about how.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: http://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.