Why is it that we can have our goals all in place, we know where we want to be and on our way to reaching it, we put an end to it? Why do we procrastinate on projects? How many of us have worked very hard on healthy eating, almost reaching our goal, then we decide at the last minute it’s not really important? Your relationship is going great then you say or do something very hurtful. Does any of this sound familiar? These types of behaviors and thoughts are driven by our inner critic, which we all have.
Our inner critics aren’t nice. They create doubt, tell us we aren’t worthy, are far from positive, undermine our goals and desires and create suspicions of those we love the most.
Where do these behaviors come from?
What happens to create this inner critic? Some people have no problems. They had very supportive parents and their inner critics are minimal at best. Life goes on for them. But for some, if they look back at their early childhood they would probably see patterns from their parents or important caregivers, which lacked support. Without realizing, they tend to internalize attitudes, which were directed toward them by their parents or people important to them at the time. If their parents saw them as lazy and frequently shared that opinion of them, they may grow up feeling worthless. They then begin to tell themselves, “why try, I will never be successful at it.” This is self-sabotaging behavior.
If we grew up with a self-hating parent, who often viewed themselves as weak or a failure, we may grow up with similar self-sabotaging attitudes toward ourselves. For instance, if our parent felt critical of their appearance, we may take on similar insecurities without realizing it. We may feel easily self-conscious and less sure of ourselves in social or public situations.
As we go through life we begin to internalize these attitudes and remain stuck with our thinking that we aren’t capable of any type of success.
We can’t change the past but once we review our past and realize what has damaged us we can consciously choose to act against them. We can prove our thoughts as wrong. But when we listen to our inner critic and remain there we will continue to cast doubt on ourselves and struggle with success.
How to Stop Engaging in Self-Sabotaging Behavior
Once we recognize our inner critic and see how it was created we can work on ignoring it and pushing against it. It will be an uncomfortable process because it’s been ingrained in us for a long time. But we must push through it. If we are uncomfortable in public, because in the past we’ve been told we don’t matter, we need to begin pushing ourselves to be more open to participate with others.
In the book The Self under Siege: A Therapeutic Model for Differentiation, co-authored by Dr. Robert Firestone, Dr. Lisa Firestone and Joyce Catlett, four steps involved in separating (differentiation) is described.
1. Step one involves separating from the destructive attitudes (critical inner voices) we internalized based on painful early life experiences.
2. The second step requires us to separate from the negative traits in our parents or influential caretakers that we’ve taken on as our own.
3. The third step involves challenging the destructive defenses or adaptations we made to the pain we experienced growing up. These adaptations may have helped us in childhood but, very often, hurt us as adults. For instance, if we were used to being let down or rejected as children, we may have formed a defense that shuts us off from wanting or expecting much from others. Though this lowering our expectations may seemed to help cushion us from getting hurt as kids, this same defense can keep us from trusting or getting close to someone as adults.
4. The fourth and final step of differentiation asks us to develop our very own sense of our unique values, ideals and beliefs. Once we have separated from the negative overlays from our past, we can uncover who we really are. We can stop self-sabotaging behaviors and choose the person we want to be.
Ending self-sabotaging behavior can be a difficult process. If you need assistance and are looking for support during this process you should work with a licensed therapist.
Liz Birch is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who provides services in her office in Tustin, CA. Her areas of expertise are in communications, relationships, marriage strengthening, stress reduction, depression, trauma, personal growth, ptsd and provides support to the military population and their families. She can be reached via LizBirchTherapist.com, email at LizBirchMFT@gmail.com, or by calling 714-614-0612.
I'm a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who works with individuals, couples and families. I hope I inspire you to take risks and step out of your comfort zone. You might be surprised what you discover.