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Overcoming Self-Defeating Behaviors

Updated on April 24, 2016
Self Defeating Behavior holds you back. Use these keys to open the door to personal freedom.
Self Defeating Behavior holds you back. Use these keys to open the door to personal freedom. | Source

In a previous article “Do you Struggle with Self-Defeating Behavior?” I presented some behaviors and habits that attribute to self sabotage in the areas of personal, relationship, career and other life desires. Ironically, many of these negative behaviors were created as a way to emotionally protect ourselves; to be more loved and less vulnerable (by being more defensive or closed off). At one time these behaviors may have greatly served this purpose. But, in the long run, we tend to create the same outcomes that our habits were intended to protect us from and end up creating a cycle of depression, worthlessness, helplessness, control & manipulation tactics and of course, self defeat. In this article, I would like to present some processes of awareness that if utilized may be beneficial in creating more positive outcomes for you.

Take Personal Responsibility

To overcome self defeat we must first take responsibility for our current position, our own thoughts, our feelings, our choices and the actions that may have lead to our outcomes to date. We must be willing to let go of blaming other people, circumstances, fate, or even luck for our problems, reoccurring results and for the choices we have gone along with. We must also understand that there is a difference between what we are feeling and how we choose to respond to those feelings. When we believe that something or someone makes us feel something, we need to understand that nothing and no one makes us feel anything. Feelings are a natural part of being human, but, we can determine why we truly are emotionally affected and how we choose to respond from our emotional state.

When we place blame outside of ourselves for the choices we make we neglect to take responsibility for your own thoughts, our behaviors and our contribution to our current position. The first step in any improvement process is to admit to our own contribution to our situation even if we don’t yet understand what our contribution may be. No matter what goes on in our lives, what others do around us, or what others advise us or influence us to do, in the end whatever direction we take is a result of the actions and choices that ultimately we have made.

When we don’t take responsibility for our choices in a situation, it keeps us stuck in a mindset of being a victim in life, and that your hardships are to be blamed on the world and everyone else around you. For good or bad, the world doesn’t work around any one of us or set out to deliberately target and destroy any individual. Each of us has to work with what the world provides to us and the choices we make from such is what is utilized to pave our path. It is up to each of us to develop the necessary skills and make the effort to improve ourselves and our lives. If what we’ve been doing so far continually results in outcomes that we don’t like, then it might be time to learn a few new ways to perceive and respond to your situations.

Let Go of Harsh Judgments

This includes judgments and unrealistic expectations of your self as well as towards others. Through our lives, we are provided with list after list of someone else’s expectations, therefore embedding all kinds of “you can’t do,” “you shouldn’t do,” “you’re supposed to do,” and “you need to do” items in our minds. These ideals of others best serve to create self defeating behaviors in the form of limitations and discontent upon us. We can learn from the paths of others, but we can’t be expected to live their path. Our lives are meant to be a path of our own. Break free from the expectations and limits of others and follow what brings you the greatest bliss. This genuinely means, what brings bliss into your life. Don’t mistake that as rebelliousness as a means to stubbornly defy others. Being rebellious often brings on its own set of limitations and expectations, which is a negative behavior that often brings on more hardships than bliss.

Learn to let go of the fear of what others will think of your choices and focus more on what you feel is best for you. When you worry about what others think over following your own bliss, you set yourself up for self defeat. No one other than you can know what’s best for you. Let your intuition or inner source guide you. Even if it doesn’t work out well in the end, realize it was what was best for you at that time. Learn from the lessons each experience will hold for you, grow from it and continue on to the next chapter in your life. You are the one who will have to live with the final choices you go along with, so be sure that they are choices that bring you joy, personal growth and fulfillment. Even if others are disappointed in your choices, it is you who will be living with the result of the choices, so make sure they are choices that you can ultimately live with.

In the words of Henry Ford:

"Whether You Think You Can or think you Can't, You are Right"

Let go of "I can't"

Understand the difference between the idea of “I can’t do that” and “I choose not to do that, because I am afraid that I will fail or fear change.” If you believe that you can’t do something, then you believe that you are a victim to whatever happens to you and that no matter what possibilities arise, you will have excuses prepared that will hold you back you from pursuing such. The thing is, if you say you can’t do something, it will be your reality.

When you find yourself saying “I can’t do that because….” Take a look at your reasons and decide how much of a set back that reason truly creates. Are there options available to move past or work through that obstacle? How realistic are your fears? What is really the worst that can happen and if it does, will it really be the end for you? If your fear does become a reality, what can you do to work through that? Obstacles are not intended to stop us; they are intended to help us find another way to keep moving forward. Take responsibility for your own life, your happiness and your dreams; don’t wait for some great event or for someone else to make it happen for you. Finding your bliss is up to you and no one else and there is no better time to begin than now.

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”


Your Power is Your Own

Maintain your own power rather than give it away to anyone or anything outside of you. If you value other peoples’ opinions over what you feel is right for you; if you follow/imitate what others are doing; let others make decisions for you; or believe that your value is based on possessions, you are giving away the power over yourself and your choices. When you give your power away, you end up being a victim of manipulation and control. This will lead to other negative behaviors such as resentment, misery and self defeat.

You will never find true happiness and fulfillment if you seek for it outside of yourself. You must be able to trust in yourself, your personal worth and your own abilities. The first person we should ever love and trust is ourselves. We train people how to treat us based on how we treat ourselves. Self sabotage stems from not believing in ourselves. If we don’t love, value or respect ourselves then how can we expect anyone else to see us as worthy of such?

Learn how to quiet the self defeating chatter that goes on in your mind and seek out the quiet guidance within. Deep within, we all already know what’s best for us in any given moment, but we have become so conditioned by others… by society, religion, schools, politics, etc, that the chatter of their expectations fills our minds and tends to override our intuition and often guides us to outcomes of self sabotage. Find a way to quiet the mind, get beyond the conditioned noise and get in touch with yourself, your needs, your passions, your joy and your worth. Being in touch with your true self is the best way to overcome self defeating behaviors. You’ll know when an idea is best for you if it brings you peace and joy. But be careful not to let the chatter instill fear, doubt, “should do’s and “can’t do’s” talk you out of going for it.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

Anyone can talk a great talk. But how much of your actions back up what you have said? If you talk up plans, promises, how you feel, what you’re good at, etc. are they followed up by action to bring them into fruition or do your actions bring about something else? I understand that it is easy to impress others with words, and honestly, it will work for a while. But eventually, people catch on and begin to see when you lack in back up or follow through. It is important to be good for your word, not just with others, but with yourself. If you do not have actions that back up your words, then how can you expect others to believe in you… even more so, how can you have faith in yourself? Talking the talk without walking the walk is a major negative behavior that will definitely lead to self sabotage. Be sure that if you present the words that you have the actions to back it up.

Sometimes, it’s better to not present words so much. Especially if those words are backed by self defeating behaviors such as speaking half truths (deliberately leaving out information or part of a story) to gain favoritism, presenting over exaggerated or distorted facts, lies, gloating & boasting, belittling, judgments or hypocrisy. When we focus on words in these manners, we may place unrealistic expectations on ourselves to attempt to back these up with. Not only that, but these words and actions tend to be quite misleading to others as well as to ourselves. The results from our actions will say everything that needs to be said. Words can be beneficial, but our actions will always express and expose the truth.

Constructive Criticism is for Construction not Destruction

Understand that constructive criticism can be a tool to help you expand your knowledge, your skills and to move forward. Learn to see it as beneficial to you rather than responding defensively, in anger or in defeat. No matter how much we know or how skilled we are, there can always be something we can do to improve. Do not give in to the self defeating behavior of restricting your potential and personal growth.

If someone makes you aware of a negative action that they see you do or if they provide suggestions on how to complete a task more efficiently, ask them to clarify and provide further information about it. We often have a tendency to view ourselves differently than how we present ourselves outwardly. Be willing to see yourself from a different perspective rather than selecting to deny it and shut them out. Have an open mind to develop problem solving skills and a positive attitude by seeking suggestions in overcoming any self defeating behaviors. Come to view this as a point of learning and self betterment.

Be aware of course, that you may come across some cases where others may be mistaking your original intent in a negative manner. There are also those who, no matter what you do, are prone to criticize in a non-constructive manner as one of their own self-defeating behaviors towards others. It can be beneficial to understand how to respond in these situations in order to attempt to create a more positive outcome.

Never Stop Growing

Many people create self defeat by denying the existence of a problem and therefore remain stuck and do not take appropriate action to move beyond it. Denial is usually a defensive maneuver against a painful reality that they don’t want to face or may not understand how to overcome. Many people will not move forward in their personal or professional lives because they may not realize that their current knowledge, perspective or skills are not what they need in order to acquire what they truly desire. Others may not be willing to expand themselves in order to gain the progress they seek and choose to live in the confines of how they’ve always done things. As previously mentioned, develop skills by listening to advice and constructive criticism with an open mind in order to seek out possible solutions to the problem.

Ask for feedback from other people who you trust will provide you with a constructive insight of your setbacks and possible options on how you can overcome them. Interact with a wide range of people, such as peers, superiors, friends and family. Let them know that you are trying to develop skills to overcome self defeating behaviors and ask if they can think of any negative behaviors that you may do or say that create setbacks or negative impressions that may lead to self defeat.

Once you recognize what your setbacks are, there are many helpful books, online information, life skill coaches and therapists that can help you develop skills to overcome the personal obstacles that hold you back.

Anthony Bourdain made a great statement:

“That without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, moribund.”

Be Willing to Try New Things

To hold yourself back from expanding your knowledge, skills and abilities, beyond the familiar and comfortable, you keep yourself from finding out what you’re truly capable of; what could make you happier and from potentially achieving what you truly want out of life. There is no guarantee that things will turn out exactly the way you wanted, but by developing greater skills and a more positive attitude about yourself you’ll be able to spread your wings and see just how far you can fly within each and every realm of your life. Strengthen your problem solving skills by checking out your options and deciding where you want to land. Sure you may end up grounded every now and then by circumstances beyond your control. But a positive attitude reminds you that those obstacles and set backs don’t need to last forever; that you can find methods to improve & expand yourself within any given situation, and that is something that is always in your control.

If a task has once begun.

Never leave it till it's done.
Be the labor great or small.
Do it well or not at all.


Be Sure to Finish What You Start

Leaving tasks, projects and goals unfinished, or even selecting to not start them is the basis of all self defeating behaviors. Have you noticed that all these negative behaviors have a common theme? They all state that your actions are an expression of your self worth and that your self worth in expressed in your actions. When you don’t complete a task it tends to wreck the way you feel about yourself and leads to self sabotage. It’s difficult to feel good about your abilities, or to even fully understand what your capable are, when you haven’t experienced the feeling of success that comes from doing your best and accomplishing a task or project. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to lead to something more difficult in your life. But nothing beats the feeling of being able to step back and say “Wow, I did that!” Accomplishment, no matter how small it may seem, is the greatest way to develop a positive perspective, strong self esteem and to overcome self defeat.


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    • Tolovaj profile image


      4 years ago

      Our brains are the most interesting part of the Universe, at least for us. They have so much potential and yet majority of it is aimed at - comfort, seeking for pleasure, doing nothing, ... Your point is totally clear: behaviors, developed to protect and serve can easily become our worst enemies. We need a lot of discipline to overcome that simple fact

    • Mary Merriment profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Merriment 

      5 years ago from Boise area, Idaho

      Thank you so much Kate. I really appreciate your stopping by to read and leaving your kind comment.

    • Kate Mc Bride profile image

      Kate McBride 

      5 years ago from Donegal Ireland

      This hub challenges us to look at ourselves differently and thus have a more positive impact on our environment and other people. There is a lot of positive food for thought here and I voted up and useful. I enjoyed reading it and thanks for sharing your thoughts,ideas and insights.

    • Mary Merriment profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Merriment 

      6 years ago from Boise area, Idaho

      Thank you very much Billy. Your support is a very positive message for me! :o)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Powerful, positive messages, Mary! This should be read by half of America.....maybe more than half. :)


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