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Overcoming Self-Defeating Behaviors

I have learned a great deal about cognitive therapy techniques as a way to make changes in my own life.

Self Defeating Behaviors hold you back.

Self Defeating Behaviors hold you back.

In a previous article “Do you Struggle with Self-Defeating Behavior?” I presented some behaviors and habits that attribute to self-sabotage in the areas of personal, relationship, career, and other life areas. Ironically, many of these negative behaviors were created as a way to emotionally protect ourselves and less vulnerable. At one time these behaviors may have greatly served this purpose. But, in the long run, these habits may result in a cycle of anxiety, depression, worthlessness, helplessness, control & manipulation tactics and of course, self-defeat. In this article, I would like to present some processes of awareness that may be beneficial in creating more positive outcomes for you.

Take Personal Responsibility

To overcome self-defeat we must first take responsibility for our current position, our own thoughts, our feelings, our choices and the actions that may have lead to our outcomes to date. We must be willing to let go of blaming other people, the circumstances, fate, or even luck for our problems. We must also understand that there is a difference between what we are feeling and how we choose to respond to those feelings. When we believe that something or someone makes us feel something, we need to understand that nothing and no one makes us feel anything. Feelings are a natural part of being human. But, we can evaluate where our emotions come from and how we choose to respond to our situation.

The first step in any improvement process is to admit our own contribution to our situation even if we don’t yet understand what our contribution may be. No matter what goes on in our lives, what others do around us, or what others advise or influence us to do, in the end, whatever direction we take is a result of the actions and choices that we have made.

When we don’t take responsibility for our choices in a situation, it keeps us stuck in a mindset of being a victim in life, and that your hardships are to be blamed on the world and everyone else around you. It is up to each of us to develop the necessary skills and to make the effort to improve ourselves and our lives. If what we’ve been doing so far continually results in outcomes that we don’t like, then it might be time to learn a few new ways to perceive and respond to your situations.

Let Go of Harsh Judgments

This includes judgments and unrealistic expectations that you hold for yourself as well as towards others. Through our lives, we are provided with list after list of someone else’s expectations. Therefore, embedding all kinds of “you can’t do,” “you shouldn’t do,” “you’re supposed to do,” and “you need to do” items in our minds.

We often learn from the paths of others, but we can’t be expected to live their path. Our lives are meant to be a path of our own. Break free from the expectations and limits of others and follow what brings you success. Don’t mistake that as rebelliousness as a means to stubbornly defy others. Being rebellious often brings on its own set of limitations and expectations.

Learn to let go of the fear of what others will think of your choices and focus more on what you feel is best for you. No one other than you can know what’s best for you. Let your intuition or inner source guide you. Even if it doesn’t work out well in the end, realize it was what was best for you at that time. Learn the lessons from each experience, grow from it, and continue on to the next chapter in your life. You are the one who will have to live with whatever choices you go with. So, be sure that they are what serves your life best.

In the words of Henry Ford:

"Whether You Think You Can or think you Can't, You are Right"

Let go of "I can't"

Understand the difference between the idea of “I can’t do that” and “I choose not to do that because I am afraid that I will fail or fear change.” If you believe that you can’t do something, then you believe that you are a victim of whatever happens to you. That, no matter what possibilities arise, you will have excuses prepared that will hold you back you from pursuing what you want. The thing is, if you say you can’t do something, it will be your reality.

When you find yourself saying “I can’t do that because….” Take a look at your reasons and decide how much of a set back that creates for you. Are there options available to move past or work through that obstacle? How realistic are your fears? What is really the worst that can happen? If that worst case does happen, will it really be the end for you? What can you do to work through that?

Obstacles are not intended to stop us; they are intended to help us find another way to keep moving forward. Don’t wait for some great event or for someone else to make things happen for you. Pursuing your goals is up to you and no one else. There is no better time to begin than now.

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”


Your Power is Your Own

Maintain your own power rather than give it away to anyone or anything outside of you. If you value other peoples’ opinions or actions over what you feel is right for you, you are giving away power over yourself and your choices. When you give your power away, you end up being a victim of manipulation and control. This will lead to other negative results such as resentment, misery, and self-defeat.

Self-sabotage stems from not believing in ourselves. If we don’t love, value or respect ourselves then how can we expect anyone else to see us as worthy of such?

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Learn how to quiet the self-defeating chatter that goes on in your mind and seek out the quiet guidance within. Deep within, we all already know what’s best for us at any given moment. But, we have become so conditioned to follow the expectations of others, that it tends to override our intuition. Find a way to quiet the mind, get beyond the conditioned noise and get in touch with yourself, your needs, your passions, your joy and your worth. Being in touch with your true self is the best way to overcome self-defeating behaviors. You’ll know when an idea is best for you if it brings you peace and joy. But be careful not to let the chatter of fear, doubt, “should do’s and “can’t do’s” talk you out of going for it.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

Anyone can talk a great talk. But how much of your actions back up what you have said? If you talk up plans, promises, how you feel, what you’re good at, etc., are they followed up by action to bring them into fruition or do your actions produce something else? I understand that it can be easy to impress others with words, and honestly, it will work for a while. But eventually, people catch on and begin to see when you lack in follow through.

It is important to be good for your word, not just with others, but with yourself. If you do not have actions that back up your words, how can you or others have faith in you? Be sure that if you present the words that you have the actions to back it up.

Constructive Criticism is for Construction not Destruction

Understand that constructive criticism can be a tool to help you expand your knowledge and your skills. Learn to see it as beneficial to you rather than responding defensively, in anger or in defeat. No matter how much we know or how skilled we are, there can always be something we can do to improve. Do not give in to the self-defeating behavior of restricting your potential and personal growth.

If someone provides suggestions on our behavior or a task, ask them to provide further information about it. We often have a tendency to view ourselves differently than how we are seen by others. Be willing to see yourself from a different perspective rather than selecting to deny it and shut them out. Have an open mind to develop problem-solving skills and a positive attitude by seeking suggestions and accepting advice.

Be aware of course, that there are those who are prone to criticize in a non-constructive manner. In these situations, it can be beneficial to understand how to respond in order to create a more positive outcome.

Anthony Bourdain made a great statement:

“That without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, moribund.”

Expand your skills.

Many people create self-defeat by denying the existence of a problem. Therefore, they remain stuck and do not take appropriate action to move beyond it. Denial is usually a defensive maneuver against a painful reality that they don’t want to face or may not understand how to overcome. Develop skills by listening to advice and constructive criticism with an open mind in order to seek out possible solutions to the problem.

Ask for feedback from other people who you trust will provide you with a constructive insight of your setbacks and possible options on how you can overcome them. Interact with a wide range of people, such as peers, superiors, friends, and family.

Once you recognize what your setbacks are, there are many helpful books, online information, life skill coaches, and therapists that can help you develop skills to overcome the personal obstacles that hold you back.

If a task has once begun.

Never leave it till it's done.
Be the labor great or small.
Do it well or not at all.


Be Sure to Finish What You Start

Leaving tasks, projects, and goals unfinished, or even electing to not start them is the foundation of all self-defeating behaviors. Have you noticed that all these negative behaviors have a common theme? They all state that your actions are an expression of your self-worth which is expressed in your actions. When you don’t complete a task it tends to wreck the way you feel about yourself. It’s difficult to feel good about your abilities, or to even fully understand what you're capabilities are when you haven’t experienced the feeling of success that comes from accomplishing a task or project. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to lead to something more difficult in your life. But nothing beats the feeling of being able to step back and say “Wow, I did that!” Accomplishment, no matter how small it may seem, is the greatest way to develop a positive perspective, strong self-esteem and to overcome self-defeat.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Mary Roark


Tolovaj on April 13, 2014:

Our brains are the most interesting part of the Universe, at least for us. They have so much potential and yet majority of it is aimed at - comfort, seeking for pleasure, doing nothing, ... Your point is totally clear: behaviors, developed to protect and serve can easily become our worst enemies. We need a lot of discipline to overcome that simple fact

Mary Roark (author) from Boise area, Idaho on July 06, 2013:

Thank you so much Kate. I really appreciate your stopping by to read and leaving your kind comment.

Kate McBride from Donegal Ireland on July 04, 2013:

This hub challenges us to look at ourselves differently and thus have a more positive impact on our environment and other people. There is a lot of positive food for thought here and I voted up and useful. I enjoyed reading it and thanks for sharing your thoughts,ideas and insights.

Mary Roark (author) from Boise area, Idaho on January 14, 2013:

Thank you very much Billy. Your support is a very positive message for me! :o)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 13, 2013:

Powerful, positive messages, Mary! This should be read by half of America.....maybe more than half. :)

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