Joan is 10 pounds away from her goal weight, but recent family issues have knocked her out of her routine and the pounds are creeping back on.
Aaron sought out a coach to help him with some unexplain-able behaviours that were interfering with his work but quit booking follow up appointments when the coach suggested something he didn’t like.
Charles, Joan and Aaron are hard-working, goal-oriented, quite successful people. They do not flake out easily, so why are they letting themselves down?
There are many psychological explanations for self-sabotage, such as fear of success or poor self-esteem or lack of support, but in my experience, it goes deeper than these very common and valid reasons.
Remember, hard-wired into our brains is the need to feel safe. Anything that alerts our brain that there may be a vulnerability exposed causes it to send up distress signals. When we start to uncover the cause of our troublesome behaviours we automatically feel the need to protect ourselves. We developed these behaviour patterns for a reason. They are doing the job of keeping some vulnerable beliefs about ourselves covered up. Even our self-destructive behaviours make us feel like we are in control; the behaviours feel familiar, therefore, safe.
When Charles began to see that changes in his thought patterns and beliefs were causing changes around him, his brain picked up the ‘on-alert’ signal. When Joan’s brain registered that Joan’s weight loss made her feel vulnerable, it sounded the alarm. When Aaron’s brain got a message it didn’t immediately like, it registered it as a threat and caused him to avoid further ‘attack.’ All of these people are in flight mode behaviour.
So, what’s the solution? You’re probably not going to like it, but I haven’t found it to work for any one any other way. It is quite simply, allowing the discomfort. Prepare for it as best you can, but know that you will most likely feel terrible. Any change that brings up our vulnerability is going to be uncomfortable and our instinct is to naturally avoid anything that’s uncomfortable. That’s why Netflix and fast food places are so popular!
If you are going through any sort of vulnerable change time – and life is mostly about this, if you haven’t noticed – then STEP ONE: Be gentle with yourself. Find healthy things that feel kind and nurturing including words you say to yourself. Maybe some folks benefit from the army sergeant boot-camp style of motivation to change, but I don’t. I am more likely to follow through on my behaviour change once I feel safe and loved. Finding comfort and safety within yourself may take more than one attempt, so be patient with yourself. Enlist help if you need it – coach, therapist, your mom - transition can be rough, so reach out.
STEP TWO. Do it in small doses. Set a timer. Run into the comfortableness and practice being with it. Try not to numb out, distract yourself or pretend it’s not painful. When the timer goes off, go about your business and congratulate yourself for spending time with the pain.
Which leads to STEP THREE: Reward yourself! We are still small children inside. Having some sort of ‘pay off’ for hard work always satisfies that inner sense of needing things to be fair and worth it or what’s the point. Set up some sort of ‘non-harming’ pleasure immediately following your ‘work’ on yourself.
Charles signed up with another group. He dedicated himself to doing the homework in 10 minute allotments throughout the week. When he’s on a roll, he works on his assignments for longer than 10 minutes. On the days when it gets difficult he allows himself to stop after 10 minutes and then he goes for a swim.
Joan tuned into the times she felt vulnerable and realized that there were many things about her relationship with her family that needed to change in order for her to stop eating her feelings. Joan is working with a coach to assist her in finding ways to do that.
Aaron continues to engage in numbing behaviours.