Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself. —Ludwig Wittgenstein
How many times have you been close to reaching a goal only to throw in the towel at the last minute? You’re nearly at your goal weight and you have a huge blow out. You’re about to become fit enough to run that half marathon and you just stop training. You’re close to getting a promotion in work and you start missing important deadlines.
How many times have you repeated a behaviour that you had sworn to yourself you would never do again? You pick up the phone and call that ex who always makes you feel bad. You have that extra glass of wine on a work night and wake up hungover before an important meeting. You trust the word of a friend who has repeatedly let you down.
I have many clients who say that they self sabotage. That something comes over them and they behave in a way that is not in-line with the person that they know they are.
"Self-sabotage is when we say we want something and then go about making sure it doesn't happen." ~ Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby
Our brains are hardwired for survival. Our unconscious mind aims to protect us, which often means finding the route with the least amount of pain involved. As children, we all interpreted certain events as ‘unsafe’, due to the resultant emotions we felt. We learned from this and incorporated the lessons into our belief systems.The result being that these belief systems intervene throughout our lives by triggering unconscious behaviours which serve to steer us away from situations where the same emotional outcomes might be repeated. As adults, we may rationally know that these experience are not dangerous but our unconscious belief system governs the way the behave when exposed to them. This explains my clients feeling of’something taking over’.
What we see as a negative is actually a beautiful defence mechanism which has worked successfully in many situations in the past. Self sabotage is a misguided effort to protect ourselves from feeling emotions that we have previously decided that we want to avoid. Emotions like feeling out of control, embarrassment, or failure. Or we might want to avoid hurting others or being hurt ourselves.
How to change your unconscious behaviour
· Acceptance The first step to changing is to understand and accept that on some level, your actions were in self interest. So instead of viewing these behaviours as negative or unwanted, look at them for the charming quirks that they are - in the same way you'd easily forgive the eccentricities of a child.that you love.
· Become aware of your triggers. Begin to notice the areas in which self sabotaging behaviours usually occur? Relationships? Career? Weight Goals? Things that have happened in the past in these areas of your life are most likely hindering your belief that your future may be different. If the mechanism is linked to a particularly traumatic behaviour, it might be of benefit to seek the help of a professional. Being aware of your triggers can be enough to make a change.
· Don’t act When you feel like your behaviour is being influenced by a negative belief system, remain mindful and aware. ‘Watch’ the thought processes going through your head, listen to the reasons and excuses but do not act on them. Sit through the urge to follow the usual patterns.
· Inner Child Work Speak to yourself with compassion. Speak to the vulnerable child trapped within you and remind it that it is safe and does not need to defend itself, that it is safe to expand and to take risks. Become the adult that this child can depend on.
· Meditate Learn how to observe your thoughts. This makes identifying old patterns of thought much easier.