Self-Defeating Behavior Can Be Defeated

Self Defeating Behavior

David J. Lieberman, PhD, Bottom Line Health

Self-defeating behavior inflicts physical and psychological harm. Yet we all persist in it. We may respond with inappropriate anger … feel excessively anxious … fail to be assertive … or succumb to hopelessness. The only question is why.

The answer is that, over time, self-defeating behavior becomes habitual. We lose our awareness of the feelings that drive it … and ignore the pain it causes.

Good news: Long-standing though it may be, self-defeating behavior can be changed almost in an instant.

‘That instant occurs when you become aware of the causes and consequences of your behavior.

Once you see what you’re doing-and why-it will feel too painful to continue. You’ll decide that you must do things differently.

What triggers awareness? A, friend’s insightful comment… a crisis at work … conflict with a family member. But awareness can also emerge from questions you ask yourself…

Why do I get so angry?
Anger is usually a mask for fear and vulnerability. You feel that no one listens to you unless you shout. You may also enjoy getting angry because it makes you feel powerful:

Getting angry is rarely a successful way to make yourself heard. It is a good way to raise your risk for heart disease. It also alienates you from the people whose support you truly value and need.

To change: Avoid inappropriate anger by identifying and acknowledging your feelings as they arise.

Example: If your assistant makes a mistake, don’t automatically yell at him/her. A moment’s reflection might reveal that your true emotion is the fear of being a poor communicator-someone unable to give clear instructions.

If you’ve been relying on anger to make you feel powerful, find more benign ways to get the same feeling.

Playing a challenging sport is a good option. So are adventure excursions such as white-water rafting or mountaineering.

Mastering a new subject- such as a foreign language or on-line investing-can also en- gender a feeling of power.

Why am I so anxious?
At the heart of persistent anxiety is the fear of being out of control.

Anxious people fear that catastrophe is always imminent. Being constantly on edge keeps the body mobilized in “fight or flight” mode and makes stress hormones surge. Unrelenting stress destroys relationships


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