Recognizing and Changing Self-Defeating Behavior

Changing self-defeating behavior plays a major role in recovery and improved mental health.

positive thinking

In life we find there are unavoidable difficulties we are bound grapple with.  It is absolutely normal to find yourself challenged in difficult situations, even making less-than-stellar decisions or find yourself in regret.  So what does self-defeating behavior mean? When we find ourselves repeating the same maladaptive behaviors over and over again we may describe the circumstance as being “stuck.” Any behavior you engage in that is self-sabotaging, that takes you away from what you want, or that distracts you from your goals is self-defeating behavior. These behaviors zap your vitality, leaving you exhausted and without access to the powerful energy you need to create your best life.

Common self-defeating behavioral patterns:

  • Stubbornness: needing to always be right
  • People pleasing: at the cost of your own happiness or health
  • Obsessing about perfection
  • Blaming: inability to accept responsibility for your own mistakes
  • Procrastination
  • Inability or refusing to ask for help
  • Fear of taking healthy risks
  • Negative self talk
  • Self guilt and feeling undeserving of good things in life

This list begs the question of why?  Why do we continue to find ourselves in unwanted repetitive cycles and behaviors? Often times these are learned behaviors, coping strategies that have become ways to deal with difficult situations.  Somewhere along the way in life, whether it be in early childhood or adulthood, you may have learned that doing these behaviors helped to relieve distress.  The goal now is to break unwanted cycles by replacing those maladaptive behaviors with positive coping strategies and tools.

You can start breaking the cycle by seeking help.  Therapy is an opportunity for you to begin examining the areas in your life you want to change.  Working with a therapist or psychologist allows for you to begin to examine yourself from a different perspective over time.  You may begin with identifying the behavior and recognizing patterns.  Later on in the process, you might move on to explore how those patterns and behaviors came to be and how you can begin to slowly make positive changes.

Here are 3 ways you can begin to change self-defeating behaviors:

1) Know your triggers:

It is important to be able to recognize a sensitive and vulnerable circumstance or relationship that triggers you to behave in self-defeating ways.  This begins with learning what situations or relationships trigger you, then learning that you control who and what you allow in your life. The last part of this is learning how to put that control to use.

2) Replace negative habits:

Your old ways may not just vanish into thin air (though we wish they would!). It is most helpful to begin rebuilding healthy coping strategies in life. Filling your experiences with positive people, interactions or environments becomes rewarding and begins to change the way we perceive things.  Through these experiences you begin to learn new skills that you can actively insert when you begin to feel old habits creeping up.

3) Continue to grow:

Practicing new skills and starting to change past behaviors takes time.  Patience is required.  We all make mistakes; it’s not going to be perfect.  Learn from situations where you could have done differently.  Practice being mindful and present in the moment so that you can make clearheaded decisions when faced with familiar situations.