Avoiding Emotions with Self- Sabotaging Behavior

In taking positive psychology this semester, life experience, and an overall desire to help others, I could not help but to write about an article I read in Psychology Today magazine written by Edward A. Selby. Selby notes that everyone partakes in self-sabotage at times and some people do it more often than others.

Obviously, not many of us go through life wanting to hurt or avoid happiness. So, what happens when we feel so overwhelmed by life? If we are stressed to the point we feel we are drowning? If we lose sight of our self-esteem and focus on the negative, with no possibility of the clouds passing along for the truth to reveal itself? What kinds of thoughts and behaviors do we engage in? Consciously or subconsciously, we more than likely have happened to engage in self-sabotaging behavior.  In an exercise for my positive psychology class we had to find our signature strengths; not just positive personality traits but values we possess with passion and do so effortlessly. It was amazing to see some of the signature strengths that I possess yet, could put more work into enhancing them. It is easier to think about the negative than to re-train your thought process; even when you know how beneficial the power of positive thinking is.

What is self-sabotage? Selby defines it as “behavior is self-sabotaging when in attempting to solve or cope with a problem, it instigates new problems, interferes with long term goals, and unsettles relationships” (Selby, 2011, p.57). So what are some types of self-sabotage? More commonly known would be alcohol and/or drug abuse, eating disorders, and cutting (a non-suicidal method of hurting oneself to relieve emotional pain). However, would you think that procrastination is also a form of self-sabotage? It indeed is!

If most individuals naturally seek happiness and pleasure in life then why would a person in emotional pain engage in behaviors that obviously will cause additional pain? One answer is temporary escape from the negative emotion. This is especially true of people who abuse substances, anything that they feel can help them escape the emotional pain, even if it is temporary, they will fall into habit with the substance and choose the negative outcomes as outweighing dealing with those emotions. Another reason is that the negative behavior may feel good at the time but lead to self-sabotage later on in the near future. Some people do not even know when they are engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors. People often seek instant gratification, and those people are more than likely to be vulnerable to self-sabotaging behavior.

How do you know if you are engaging in self-sabotaging behavior? Selby mentions to examine if the behavior is affecting your long term goals or desires and figure out if the behavior is contributing in a negative way to you achieving your goals and being happy.

How do you break free from this behavior? Selby recommends keeping a journal or how you handle stressful situations; write the cause of stress, your emotions, your behavior towards the situation and the consequences. Recognize a pattern; if there is one. Then replace the self-sabotaging behavior with a positive one. Selby recommends activities that distract you from getting caught in the vicious cycle of self-sabotaging thoughts. I would recommend meditation, nature walks, find beauty in things other people look over, practice gratitude, exercise, do yoga, and/or try something new. Most importantly, self-sabotaging is a learned behavior; you can’t fix it by trying once. Make a commitment to change and whenever you start to think those thoughts or feel like engaging in self-sabotaging behavior reach out to someone, or get out and do one of the activities that makes you happy and distracts you. Also know that you can count on our club officers and members for support and help with no judgments.

I hope this has helped at least one person. Life is too precious, and the fact that WE have control over our actions, disputing negative thoughts, and correcting negative learned behaviors to live a happy and fulfilling life is amazing. It is not easy work; but it is more than possible. I would love to hear feedback! Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed!

Anna Nichole Voelz

 

Reference:

Selby, E.A. (2011, September 6). Dodging Emotions: The Help That Harms.PsychologyToday. Retrieved at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201109/dodging-emotions-the-help-that-harms.

One thought on “Avoiding Emotions with Self- Sabotaging Behavior

  1. The journaling Selby discusses will surely discern a pattern which could potentially takes weeks or months to discover. This time spent will result in greater self awareness and a recognition of the pattern or patterns, but not in resolving them. Once discovered, then you have to decide what to do to replace those behaviors. All worthwhile activities for the dedicated, but as you can see highly time consuming and requiring determination, discipline, and a strong desire to change upon the subject…strengths not everyone possessses.

    There is another option to journaling negative behavior. Creating a journal to document, elaborate, and reflect on stories of when we’re at our best and trying to find ways every day to inject doses of our “best self” into our routines will slowly eradicate or at the least minimize the self-sabotaging behaviors. Our greatest gains in moving forward lie within expanding the things we’re already good at.

    Let me give you an example.

    I’m terrible at time managment. I have story after story around why I can’t get X, Y, or Z done in the day because I’m “so busy”. Truthfully, it’s a self-sabotaging behavior becasue I’m afraid of being under the microscope of others. Am I smart enough? Do I write well enough? Am I pretty enough? Do I know my stuff? Can I be successful at X, Y, or Z? Will I fail? You get the picture.

    Looking back at my life, the times when I was successful helps me. I journal about events when I spoke to a large group, wrote a story that others loved, took charge of a group to lead, and so forth. Combining those stories with my top VIA strengths of creativity, gratitude, honesty, and appreciation of beauty (things that naturally energize me) I’m able to create a “future best self” to live into today so that I can take immediate action.

    When I’m energized…I find the time to get things done. No more problems with time management.

    It’s important to recognize “bad” self-sabotaging behavior, but it’s more important to dissallow myself to think I’m “bad” for engaging in “bad” self-sabotaging behavior. That’s a recipie for a downward spiral. Tracking success, reminding myself that I can be successful, looking at my strengths in those successful times and looking at the context and situations at those times are critical to recreating new, successful stories for growth.

    I hope this gives you a new perspective on journaling for positive growth!

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