Stop Yourself from Stopping Yourself
After spending some time doing psychotherapy, many of my clients have identified changes they would like to make in themselves and their lives, and we have worked together to map out goals, objectives, and even detailed plans and schedules. Often, I have become a kind of life coach at this point, helping clients create action plans and breaking their changes down into manageable steps. However, some of the most well-intentioned and highly motivated clients often run across seemingly unconnected events and circumstances that prevent them from carrying out their plans. After encountering a certain number of puzzling obstacles, we are forced to consider the possibility of self-sabotage. Are these clients either consciously or unconsciously preventing their own growth and change?
Some of the more obvious self-sabotaging behaviors include excessive drinking and drug use, binge eating, self-injury such as cutting, or even simple procrastination. These are all ways that we can prevent ourselves from acting in our best interest. In addition, there are self-sabotaging, subconscious beliefs, which are perhaps even more profound and far-reaching, underlying scripts that play out with messages such as, “I don’t deserve to be/do/have…,” “ I’m not worthy of him/her/it …,” “I have no control over …,” “it’s my fault that …,” “ I’m too fat/thin/dumb/smart/ugly/beautiful to ….” The variety and the effects of these statements are endless. Now we must return to psychodynamic inquiry to look for clues as to why we would subconsciously act against our own best interests?
Creative types such as actors, musicians, writers, and artists often face creative blocks, a stubborn form of self-sabotage that can feel entirely beyond their control. And is it any wonder? For people who daily must display their innermost thoughts and feelings and vulnerabilities and strengths to others, the ever-present threat of personal rejection can be paralyzing or crippling. Having to face that every day can create a kind of trauma.
Freud and Resistance
Freud would call self-sabotage a form of resistance—avoidance of subjects and behaviors that are too painful or uncomfortable to accept. In fact, many of us resist improving our behaviors or attitudes or changing our lives because we are not sure of (or perhaps even afraid of) what life will be like once we’ve made that change. We get comfortable in our discomfort, and the misery we know is safer than the unknown life we cannot yet even picture. We have spent years, possibly decades, developing coping mechanisms, using avoidance techniques, even creating outside people and circumstances that will make it impossible for us to make the needed change, or make it necessary for us to stay the same.
It is important to remember that despite it having a destructive effect on life now, self-sabotage was originally developed as a defense, a way to save pain and suffering. It is the work of therapy to uncover and even honor that pain and suffering, for until we understand the very personal reason for self-sabotage, we will continue to remain at its mercy.
If you are ready to explore these or any other issues with a caring, experienced therapist, please call or email David Bowman to arrange for a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Your mental health is worth it. Call (323) 561-2361.
Photo credit: Alice Achterhof UNSPLASH