You know that you’re meant to drink eight glasses of water a day, exercise 3-4 times a week, get eight solid hours of sleep, eat a healthy balanced diet, do 15 minutes of meditation a day… and so on. There is more advice and gurus than ever before on well-being, health, and personal development. So, why do you keep sabotaging yourself?
First of all, don’t feel guilty for screwing up or not doing the 101 things that you’re meant to do every day to live well. Self-shaming only makes us want to self-sabotage even more.
I’ll be the first to admit it: I self-sabotage myself, sometimes, whether it’s overeating, not going to bed at a sensible time, or working too many hours.
I believe the reason we self-sabotage is to self-soothe.
Let me talk about a person I know called “Robert”.
Robert comes home from a long day of work and watches some funny YouTube videos to unwind. Before he knows it, several hours have gone by, and it’s midnight. But rather than shut his computer down, and go to sleep, Robert compulsively watches videos into the night. Suddenly, it’s 3 AM, and he has to be up at 5 AM to go to work. Why does he do this to himself, even though he knows it’s damaging to him and he wants to stop?
Let’s look at what Robert gets from watching YouTube videos. He gets to escape from his problems, such as the job he hates, his money problems, his nagging girlfriend, as well as the fact that his mother is dying.
Robert wants to stop doing this destructive behaviour, but he can’t. What does this mean? It means he is addicted.
We could easily replace Robert’s YouTube habit with drinking alcohol, eating junk food, gambling, spending, using social media, using pornography, etc.
Too often we are really hard on ourselves. The self-help industry today doesn’t help. It tells us that we just need to take control of our lives, suck it up, get on with it, stop living in the past, or any number of vacuous platitudes that I’ve come across over and over again.
The problem is that addicts can’t stop, or at least, not by themselves. If they could, then addiction wouldn’t be such a widespread issue.
Another problem is that addicts tend to have a lot of childhood trauma. This often compounds the addiction because of their shame-based core they got from childhood, and thus acting out in the addiction creates even more shame to act out upon. As a recovering addict myself, I know what a vicious cycle this can be.
Here are some ways to stop self-sabotaging:
Join a support group (such as 12-step). There’s 12-step groups for most things these days!
Next time you feel a compulsion, call someone and talk about it. Talk to someone who understands. Heck, contact me if you want!
Consider cutting it out altogether, full stop, no exceptions. Especially if you’ve tried to control your usage and have failed to do so in the past. I quit Facebook for this reason. Now that I’m back on, I will hire someone to manage it for me. No joke. I can’t be trusted, as it’s very addictive for me.
Sit down and write out your top five biggest fears, resentments and things you’re ashamed of. This will show you why you self-sabotage and what you’re escaping.
Ask yourself, “what do I really need?” Perhaps what you need isn’t more junk food, more scrolling on Facebook or another drink, but maybe you just need a cuddle. Or a glass of water. Or to use the toilet. Check all of your physiological needs are being met. Too often addicts replace self-nurturing and self-care with the addiction.
Try cuddling a pillow. I’ve found there’s something very soothing about this when I don’t feel right emotionally (which is when I’m most likely to self-sabotage).
If all else fails, try praying about it. I’m not talking about religious prayer, but praying to something, anything, to the Universe, to the Buddha. Whoever. You might be pleasantly surprised how the Universe listens. I was desperate enough to try this and it has worked for me time and time again for me.
Whilst you are responsible for your actions, addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful. You don’t have to try to control it alone, and you are not alone. And as humans, we can become addicted to anything that gives us a high or escapism.
From my experience, being part of a network who are also recovering from the same things as me has been hugely helpful.