How do I sabotage myself?

Gain Awareness that there is a problem of low-self worth

Many of the beliefs you have about yourself were formed in childhood and are a result of the quality of your relationships, the messages you received, or the meaning you assigned to your experiences. If you were frequently criticized or shamed, had a sick, anxious or depressed parent who was often emotionally unavailable, or perhaps you were told in different ways that your feelings were unacceptable you may have low self-worth.
Your thoughts, and actions however, have a significant impact on your self- esteem, and even though events in your childhood were not within your control, what you think and how you behave in the present is totally within your control. Self-esteem fluctuates for everyone no matter how confident and self-assured you are because it is often influenced by circumstances, and it is natural to sometimes experience disappointments and set backs. If you have a belief, though, that you are a perfectly acceptable human being then your self-esteem will stay within a narrow range of fluctuation and not swing so extreme that you feel a complete loss of self-worth when you encounter a hardship or set back. A person who struggles with low self-worth believes they are “less than” what others are because there is something deficient and possibly even defective about them. They may find it uncomfortable to accept compliments and loving gestures. They fear failure and so will often freeze or not even try. They fear rejection, and so will often withdraw from social interactions in order to protect their vulnerable ego. Unfortunately, these fears create a self-fulfilling prophecy because if a person does not try, they are likely to fail. If they withdraw from interactions, they won’t learn the necessary skills of socializing and so are likely to be rejected. The failure and rejection will reinforce a feeling of inadequacy, and a feeling of inadequacy will often result in failure, and so a cycle perpetuating low self-esteem is created.

A healthy self-esteem is a person who accepts who they are despite their flaws and imperfections. They recognize their strengths, but also acknowledge their weaknesses, and accept their limitations without judgment.

If you were fortunate enough to internalize a feeling of positive self-worth in childhood then you already see yourself as capable and perfectly adequate. You most likely have satisfying relationships, and would not stay in an unhealthy one for long. You feel confident in your ability to succeed, and so don’t talk yourself out of pursuing opportunities. You are confident that you can master challenges and that you will prevail even in the face of adversity. Even though you may feel discouraged at times, you don’t feel easily defeated. You are realistic in your expectations and unlikely to be harshly critical of both yourself and others. You are resilient to the slings and arrows of life, and disappointments and set backs are not experienced as devastating failures. Most importantly, you do not feel what a person suffering with low self-worth often feels, and that is that they don’t matter because they have no value.

Gain insight into how your low self-esteem likely developed.

Erik Erickson, a developmental psychologist formulated a model of personality development. He proposed that in order for the esteem to develop successfully there are tasks that need to be mastered at each of the different stages of development, and with the successful mastery of these tasks the ego gains certain skills or strengths. If, however, a particular task is not mastered then the self-esteem fails to acquire these skills, which renders it vulnerable to challenges and disappointments. According to Erickson, these stages can be resolved successfully at a later time, and this is why I have included them so that you can evaluate which stage you did not successfully master, since this is the point at which your uncertainty and self-doubt originated.

The first stage is Trust vs. Mistrust (infancy-2 years)

An infant is helpless and totally dependent on their attachment object for care. If this care is reliable and consistent a feeling of trust develops, which is internalized and carried forward into other relationships. Since personality traits come in opposites, if trust is not acquired then mistrust and fearfulness develops. There is now a belief that the world is a threatening place and the people in it cannot be trusted.

The second stage is Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (2-3 years)

During this stage of development a child begins to become mobile. He wants to assert himself by making more choices, and exploring his surroundings. If a parent encourages their child to keep trying but also intervenes when they begin to become too frustrated, the child will experience pride. If a parent is anxious or fears abandonment she may feel threatened by her child’s budding independence, and punish him by not showing joy for being adventurous when he returns. Encouragement at this stage will result in a feeling of security and confidence to succeed in the world. If a child is discouraged, or overly controlled he will come to feel inadequate and ashamed.

The third stage is Initiative vs. Guilt (3-5 years old)

Around this time children begin to assert their power more frequently, and the empowering word “NO” is used more often. If the child’s will is very strong, a parent might see their child as being excessively defiant, and then there is a risk that inappropriate force will be used to curtail their child’s will. If this happens a child will develop a sense of guilt and begin to feel like a burden.

The fourth stage Industry vs. Inferiority (6-11 years old)

This is a very social stage of development, and school now becomes more important than family. Children need to cope not only with the academic demands of school but also with the social ones. A child needs to win approval and acceptance from her classmates, and if she fails, a feeling of inferiority sets in. If there have also been failures at the earlier stages of development then significant self esteem issues will occur and the child will become vulnerable to easily experiencing shame.

The fifth stage Identity vs. Role Confusion (12-18 years old)

According to Erickson, up until this stage, development mostly depends upon what is done to us. From this point forward, development depends mostly upon what we do. Adolescence is a complex stage, in which we grapple with issues of identity. We struggle with the emotional discomfort related to changes in our body. We struggle with social interactions, and wrestle with moral issues. The task during this stage is to discover who we are. This is a period of great turmoil and confusion, and if we come to this stage already feeling inadequate, and are unable to master the challenges of this stage then significant problems in living arise

There are other stages that take us into maturity but these are not relevant for the purpose of the program.

Once you acknowledge that you suffer from low self-worth then it becomes necessary to examine your thoughts so that you can identify your negative thinking habits that perpetuate this feeling.

  • The I can’t habit
  • Catastrophizing
  • Focusing on the negative
  • Overgeneralization
  • Discounting the positive
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Emotional reasoning
  • Using Should statements
  • Labeling
  • Personalization
  • Blaming
  • Magnification and minimization
  • The Control Conundrum
  • Fantasy of fairness
  • The fallacy of entitlement

Please study them so you can recognize the ones you use, and later on I will teach you how to practice challenging and replacing them with more reasonable and rational ones. Don’t just assume, for example, that because you feel something is true that it must be true. Be objective and examine the evidence.

The following are just a few suggestions: Instead of being unkind to yourself, use the same supportive voice you would use with your friend if he or she had the same problem.

Test the validity of your negative thoughts even if it causes you anxiety. If you fear, for example, that you will be teased if you ask a question in class, then the only way to really know is to test out your theory and ask a question in class.

Instead of thinking about your problems in extremes, such as success and failure, look to evaluate things on a scale when they don’t work out the way you had hoped. Recognize that there are no complete failures, but rather only partial successes because there is always something to learn from every experience.

Ask other people questions to find out if your thoughts are realistic, and your attitudes are reasonable.

When you label yourself a loser or failure, ask yourself to define these terms since a label is stated as if it is an objective truth. A definition, however, can be challenged.

Use language that is less emotionally charged. Don’t use should or must statements but rather use words such as I choose, I prefer, or I want.

Situations are always co-created by at least two people in a dynamic system, and so every action causes a reaction, which means both people are constantly acting and reacting to one another. It is therefore, better to use your energy to focus on problem solving rather than looking to assign blame.

If you strive for perfection, analyze what is so important about being perfect, and what is so awful about being imperfect? If a thought is upsetting then ask yourself if it were true then what would happen? Or if it where true then what would that mean about you?

Also review the section of Rational Responses that will be introduced in a later podcast because these exercises are necessary for you to learn to change your negative thinking, which keeps you feeling bad about yourself.

Identify your self-defeating behaviors

I will elaborate on these in a later podcast and discuss how to challenge them:

  • Over-dependence and reliance on others
  • Needing to be right
  • Needing to be needed
  • Making strong attachments quickly
  • Testing others
  • Searching for unconditional love
  • Making comparisons
  • Avoiding discomfort
  • Lack of assertiveness
  • Expressing anger in a passive-aggressive, or acting-out way
  • Establishing up/down relationships, in which you either grab power and control or put yourself in an obedient and submissive role
  • Unwillingness to think about and label your feelings
  • Lacking hobbies and interests
  • Isolating
  • Spending too much time on social media
  • Not exercising self-care

Select the ones you engage in and actively work to make changes. Do not allow your self to make excuses or use rationalizations to talk yourself out of addressing these problems. Act differently so you can begin to feel different. Fight the impulse to do what you normally do, and find the courage to take the opposite action. If your impulse is to reach out for help even before attempting something for yourself then fight that impulse. If your impulse is to seek out support and reassurance before making a decision then fight that impulse and make the decision. Your self-defeating behaviors are hurting you because these kinds of behaviors will always reinforce negative thoughts about yourself, which you will then believe are true.

Identify how your particular pattern of low self-esteem gets expressed.

What this means is that when our vulnerable ego is injured we act reflexively, in very specific defensive ways, in order to attempt to restore our self-esteem.

Unfortunately, what we do in the service of protecting ourselves unwittingly hurts our self-esteem. We don’t live in a vacuum. Our actions impact others and cause them to react, and so, if our actions are negative then their reactions are likely to be negative. We are often unaware that what we do is harmful because we all have a tendency to behave in an automatic, and very particular way when we feel insecure and vulnerable. This is our self-defeating pattern of relating, which unfortunately creates problems in our relationships, and perpetuates a feeling of inadequacy.

The following are just a few examples of the ways in which we create confusion and conflict in our relationships because of our self-defeating behaviors.

We often watch vigilantly for signs from others that we will be rejected. Since, it is human nature, to see what we expect to see, we are likely to see signs of imminent rejection even when none exists. Ironically, the purpose of this behavior is to feel reassurance that we are secure in our relationship but our actions unfortunately threaten the relationship.

Some people with low self-esteem become aggressive, and blaming when they feel insecure. They obviously want to feel that they are valued and wanted. Unfortunately, a more likely outcome is that the other person, who is unprepared for this attack will react with anger or withdraw.

Some people may withdraw and shut down when they feel threatened. Stonewalling, however, feels like a rejection, and so the other person is more likely to react negatively instead of with understanding.

Having insight into the causes and origin of low self-esteem is necessary but not sufficient for change. Study what you have learned in this program about negative patterns of thinking and self-defeating behaviors. Think about your thoughts, so that you know them, and understand your feelings well enough to name them. Look at the difficulties in your relationships and don’t automatically assign blame but rather look more closely and examine how you behave when you feel vulnerable, and how you may contribute to the confusion and conflict in the relationship. Instead of being sad or regretful about mistakes and misunderstandings focus on solutions and problem solving so that you can do things differently. It is worth the effort, and as your self-esteem improves you will feel less anxious and depressed, and you will come to see yourself as being perfectly adequate.

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