I had a bit of an epiphany recently. I was thinking about a conversation I had not long ago with a friend who had been really beating herself up (verbally). As I thought about her tendency to engage in this kind of self-talk, an unexpected question popped into my mind: “What’s she getting out of doing that?”
Because I have the same tendency myself, this immediately became a mirror to ask myself, “What am I getting (or hoping to get) out of doing that?” Ouch.
After my initial surprise at such a seemingly harsh question appearing out of nowhere had subsided somewhat, I found myself pondering the question a little more deeply. I am becoming increasingly convinced that all of our choices are made (consciously or unconsciously) in terms of what we believe will bring us the greatest benefit, so even my friend’s choice to bad-mouth herself was a choice made in terms of what she believed (unconsciously in this case, I think) would bring her the most positive result.
On the surface that seems crazy! But it really does make sense if you think about it a little bit …
As I’ve moved through this journey of transformation over the last couple of years, I have spent a good deal of time digging in my subconscious to investigate many of my patterns and the beliefs that animate them. If I really think about what motivates me to beat myself up, I find that I do have a belief that if I beat myself up first, it will keep me safe from criticism or rejection from others by beating them to the punch. In addition, I remember being warned as a child about how inappropriate it is for a woman to display self-confidence. Women like that were seen as uppity and unlikable. Therefore, if I spend my energy bad-mouthing myself, I can keep myself safe from criticism and I will be more liked (or so the belief in my head told me).
That’s pretty strong motivation to keep the self-abuse going at high pitch.
Of course, over time that became an ingrained pattern that functioned independently of the belief that conceived it, but the belief is still there. Even as I’ve worked on this, I find that saying something positive about myself out loud to another person still nearly provokes panic attack symptoms as the fear inherent in my belief system rears its ugly head. My inner gremlins throw a fit: “No one will like you if you say something that nice about yourself! You’ll seem arrogant, and then people will attack you and drag you down!”
I’ve also noticed as I really dig deep within that there is sometimes a bit of motivation in me to bad-mouth myself to other people in the hopes that this will cause them to argue with what I’ve said and thus wind up offering me praise that I desperately need to hear. (Oh, how I hate to even admit that this bit of motivation is in the mix, but it’s true.) I think I tend to come across so self-contained sometimes that people don’t realize how much I may need to hear a little bit of encouragement, and this is one method that I apparently learned somewhere along the way to get what I needed. (But at what cost!!)
The thing that has really struck me is that even though we make self-sabotaging choices like these in the belief that they will somehow benefit us, the truth is that most of the time we don’t gain the benefit we were after. Beating myself up doesn’t really keep me safe from the criticism of others. (Trust me, I have the scars to prove it!) I’m pretty sure that in the circles I run in now, it isn’t making me any more liked. And it generally doesn’t prompt others to want to encourage me. And even if it does occasionally earn me a spot of encouragement as someone tries to set me straight, it’s not worth all the downsides of what I put myself through by choosing to believe the worst about myself in most situations.
So I’m choosing based on a false belief and in the process causing myself greater harm in the pursuit of trying to bring myself greater benefit. (How’s that for convoluted?)
And you know what? That’s just not working so well for me anymore.
So I think my new mantra every time I catch myself choosing self-defeating behaviors is to ask myself, “So how’s that working for ya?” I need to not only dig down to find the beliefs that are motivating my poor choices, I need to measure the belief against the result and chuck all of those that aren’t working out the way I want them to. Life is too short to keep making self-defeating choices based on outmoded false beliefs. I’m ready to take my life back and reclaim control over my choices in order to create the life I want to live.
And the real question at the end of the day is literally “how’s that working for ya?” If whatever choice I’m making is working for me in the real world, it stays. If it’s not, it needs to change. It’s really as simple as that. I think this is going to work for me really well.
What self-sabotaging behavior do you have in your life? How’s that working for ya?