We have all done it from time to time. We step into that hole in life and then do it again the next time! It seems as if we have learned nothing from our past experience. Perhaps we do it because it is easier or we are expecting a different outcome this time. This is called “shooting yourself in the foot.”
So what if the main obstacle to your success is you? Self-defeating behavior is defined as a repetitive pattern of behavior and beliefs that prevents you from meeting your goals and often gets you into some kind of trouble. Even though it seems irrational to create obstacles for yourself you may be doing it every day. You may not even recognize that your behaviors are blocking the path to your success. Your behavior is incompatible with the goals.
It may make more sense if you think of it as a maladaptive coping style that serves some short term purpose of increasing pleasure or avoiding discomfort. But these behaviors usually result in negative long term consequences. Sometimes the consequences may be obvious but seem too remote at the time. You find it easier to face them later or hope that they won’t happen. It seems you have learned how to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” Everyone has the potential to be successful at some level but some people habitually seek immediate benefits over long term solutions. Sometimes you can’t overcome your circumstances but if you always blame fate, bad luck, or other people when things don’t go well for you it is possible that you are practicing self-defeating behavior.
The consequences of self-defeating behavior are many. It can mean losing a job or a relationship. It can result in debt, legal problems, and poor health. Once negative behavior patterns start problems are likely to cascade into even more problems such as losing your home, having difficulty getting another job, filing bankruptcy, or even getting a divorce.
It may be difficult to accept that many of the things that happen to you are the result of the choices you are making either consciously or unconsciously. If you are frequently late, underperforming or absent from a job you will lose it. If you are always angry or undependable in a relationship people will not want to be with you. When you fail to manage your finances you will risk great debt and possibly losing your home or car. If you aspire to good health but eat high calorie foods and do not exercise you will gain weight and increase the risks to your health. Abusing alcohol or other drugs can lead to temporary good feelings but this will likely result in adverse consequences with relationships, the law, work, and other life areas. If you make mistakes and always blame something or someone else you will probably continue to repeat the same mistakes.
Some typical self-defeating behaviors are:
Procrastinating. Avoiding decisions. Consistently choosing to associate with people that lead you to failure. Avoiding any change or risk. Inertia. Rejecting people who treat you well. Blaming others for your decisions instead of taking responsibility and learning from your mistakes. Making minimal effort. Always comparing yourself unfavorably to others. Abusing substances or unhealthy eating. Perfectionism. Self centeredness.
Many people do not change self-defeating behaviors because they don’t recognize them or assume they are just a part of their personality. Or they think it won’t matter what they do, the outcome will be the same. This kind of thinking leads to even more of the same. Not surprisingly self-defeating behavior often leads to unhappiness, depression, or anxiety.
The solution to self-defeating behavior comes first from acceptance. You must accept that you are contributing to your problems and become aware of the main ways that you sabotage yourself. It may be helpful to ask a trusted friend or family member what they notice in your behavior that keeps you from reaching your goals. Choose a few behaviors at a time to work on. Then consider what an alternative but more effective action might be. Begin practicing a few of these new behaviors. You probably have practiced the old behaviors for a long time so be patient with yourself. Changing is a process. You will begin to feel happier almost immediately because you have decided to “get out of your own way” and take charge of your life.
David Gannon, Ph.D., Psychological and Family Consultants, Canton, Ohio.