This week, as I finished off the last spoonful of the taco dip I’d been mindlessly eating all day, I reflected on self-sabotage. I knew as I put each chip in my mouth that this was an unhealthy choice, and yet I still continued to eat the dip until it was gone. As my stomach started to complain about this behavior, I reflected on how common it is and realized that so many people I see on a regular basis also struggle with self-sabotage in one form or another. Whether it happens by bingeing on taco dip, not showing up for an important appointment, avoiding the person that pushes you to reach your goals, procrastinating on a project, using drugs or alcohol, engaging in self-harm behaviors, or refusing to initiate contact with people you know could help you, I truly believe that we all have struggled with standing in our own way at one point or another.
In some respects, I see self-sabotage as part of the human experience. To be human is to be imperfect. Something I picked up on through a consistent yoga practice (credit to Yoga with Adriene) is that the little mistakes we make don’t have to derail us entirely. They can be dismissed as “human moments” taken in stride, so we can continue on our self-care journey without completely stumbling over ourselves. But, for some of us, self-sabotage goes a lot deeper than a little mistake.
So, what about those of us who engage in behaviors that truly do make it impossible to continue on the same path? What’s behind these seemingly endless roadblocks to achieving the goals we set for ourselves? According to this article by Sober Recovery, these self-sabotage behaviors are merely symptoms of a greater underlying belief system, developed as children to make sense of chaotic and often inconsistent home environments. What is the subliminal message we tell ourselves when we engage in self-sabotaging behaviors? You are not enough. You don’t deserve success, happiness, health, productivity, etc.
Ouch. Right? Well, maybe. But, for some of us this kind of abusive self-talk is second nature. This belief system mirrors the spoken and unspoken messages heard growing up in unhealthy environments. Many people who were raised in environments where their needs were rarely met as children may have internalized a deep-seated sense of shame and unworthiness. As adults, these people operate in the world from this place of shame, with every action and inaction stemming from the unhealthy belief system that tells them “My needs were not met as a child. Therefore, I don’t deserve to have my needs met as an adult. I am a flawed human being and I must punish myself for it.”
In a way, self-sabotage behaviors keep us stuck in this unhealthy belief system, allowing us to continue operating in a world where we believe that we are no good. If I get in my own way and ruin my chance for success, I will prove to myself that I truly don’t deserve it. On the other hand, if I allow myself to achieve success, I will be forced to change or let go of my entire belief system and the way in which I have been operating in the world for years! Whoa. That’s a lot of work.
So, how do we break free from this cycle? We need to change the way we think about ourselves. Take a step back and reflect on your current beliefs about yourself, others, and the world around you. Without judgment, just notice the tone of those thoughts. Do they make you feel good? If not, where did they come from? Are they necessary? Allow yourself the freedom to let go of the belief systems that do not serve you.
I know this is a lot easier said than done. It can be helpful to have an ally in this process who is also willing to challenge those unhelpful thoughts as they creep into your consciousness. As your therapist, I will walk with you on this journey and assist you in identifying and challenging those thoughts, in order to help you overcome the unhelpful belief systems that keep you from reaching your goals.
Addiction is the ultimate form of self-sabotage. If you have found yourself caught in a relapse cycle, I highly encourage you to check out this article by Sober Recovery for more information on how we develop these unhelpful belief systems and 8 tips to help stop self-sabotage.
Ready to start your recovery journey? Contact me to schedule a free phone consultation to see how I can help.