Manager's Tips and Tools

by Manager Development Services

Identifying “Self-defeating” Behaviors (part 1 of 12)


Ever feel like you’ve just “shot yourself in the foot?”  Self-defeating behaviors are beliefs and behaviors that cause us to sabotage the one thing we want the most because we believe we do not deserve it. Believe it or not, most people are their own worst enemies.  We will behave in a way that will validate whatever it is we believe.

If you have read “Managing from the Heart – A Way of Life” or “Working from the Heart – A Way of Life,” you will already have been introduced to the power “core beliefs” and self-defeating behaviors have over the quality of our lives.  This is a more in-depth look at these behaviors, how they affect our lives, and what we can do to change them.

How Do Self-defeating Behaviors Develop?

1)     We come into this world with a need to be validated that we are lovable.  We are looking for someone, primarily our parents, to tell us that we are important, that we are loved and cherished, that we do have worth, and that we do matter free of any conditions.  We are looking to be validated through out all our infancy, childhood, and teen years as we grow and develop.  As children, we are essentially powerless to affect, or change, our environment.  In essence, we are at the mercy of others for our wellbeing.  If we were not given validation or if our environment caused us to feel threatened or unsafe when we were little, then we are still look for that message “that we are lovable” as we become adults.   We become stuck in co-dependency, looking for love and validation from outside sources—from others.

Unfortunately, I can give you fifty compliments and one criticism and it is only the criticism that you will remember and identify with.  Children take in information from their caregivers and draw conclusions from that information (i.e.: I’m fat.  I’m lazy.  I’m stupid.  I’ll never amount to anything.).  From these conclusions, they look for more evidence to support the conclusion.  The conclusions and supportive evidence then foster self-talk (by the time a person is twenty years old, he will have thirty-five thousand hours of “self-talk tape” running through his head, eighty percent of which is negative –I’m fat, lazy, stupid, etc.).  Our self-talk then has us on the lookout for more information to support this developing belief and we become adept at filtering out any information that contradicts our self-talk.  In other words:  we take in information, from which we draw conclusions, from which we search for evidence, from which we develop self-talk, from which we filter information to support our conclusions, and so on and so on until we develop a false belief.

We will then develop patterns of behavior that allow us to cope with these beliefs.  These behavior patterns will give us more attention, recognition, or affection – a sense of being validated.  These patterns become defense mechanisms or “survival skills.”

As adults, we may subconsciously still believe that we need these patterns in order to be loveable.  These beliefs become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

2)        As human beings, we will experience emotional pain in our lives.   To protect ourselves from further pain, we subconsciously develop attitudes and choose behaviors that will allow us to cope with similar experiences.   For instance, if you gave all of yourself to a relationship and the other person betrayed you, you may subconsciously build walls around yourself which would prevent anyone from getting too close again.  This would prevent you from running the risk of experiencing that pain again.   Without realizing it, you would probably retreat from the world you mistrust.  Then, by blocking intimacy, you will separate yourself from others and your relationships would become only superficial.  And because your relationships are superficial, the people in your life would eventually drift away, validating your mistrust.

What are Self-defeating Behaviors?

Self-defeating behaviors are a series of choices we initially make to protect ourselves from emotional pain.  Over time, these choices become ingrained behaviors (habitual), which means they become innate, second nature – we don’t even realize we’re performing them (ever drive home from work, pull up in your driveway, and not remember the drive home?  You were on “auto pilot.”).   You don’t think about behaviors; you just do them.

In the long-run, though they were originally adopted to protect us from emotional pain, these behaviors only mask it, therefore compounding the problem and creating even more emotional pain.  We may feel like we are “coping” at the time, but this “coping” is only an illusion.  In reality, these behaviors actually separate us from healthy values, attitudes, beliefs, and emotions needed to actually deal with a painful experience.  Instead, we subconsciously create new beliefs that then drive these behaviors.  These behaviors will eventually create the same effects and consequences they were originally adopted to avoid.

– excerpt from “Becoming Master of Your Own Destiny”

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July 7, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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