Tag Archives: criticism

The art of self sabotage

30 Jan

It’s 11:28 and I’m still 5 minutes away from my 11:00 dentist appointment (at the time I started writing).

I didn’t have an earlier meeting that went long. I wasn’t rushing to get something done before walking out the door. Traffic and public transit were running on time. It wasn’t fear or procrastination either.

I made myself late through my own acts of self-sabotage.

A special brand of manufactured obstacles, self-sabotage means taking deliberate but often subconscious measures to make an already pressing task unnecessarily more challenging. More than simple procrastination, acts of self-sabotage work directly in conflict with truly important priorities.

Among the crazy, self-sabotaging is a common behavioral pattern, and a frequent topic of conversation at my group therapy. Particularly when we’re in a rut, trying to pull out of one, or in the face of an imposing or unfamiliar situation, we sabotage our best interests through decisions and judgement we know to be self-defeating.  Memorable examples include…

…letting your phone ring through to voicemail because it’s someone you’re just not ready to talk to. Now you’ve got the burden of returning their call, probably anxieties about the call itself, and the shame of avoiding it in the first place.

…putting off a reply email for so long that the people expecting it have moved on.  If you do end up replying, you’ll feel it necessary to explain your absence, further complicating an already daunting task.  If you write it off completely, maybe you’ve burned a bridge in the process.

…having a drink or two before an important meeting to relieve anxieties and boost your self-esteem.  At best you’re oblivious to the fact that you smell like a brewery.  At worst you end offending the very people you were trying to impress.

…drinking or smoking to incapacitate yourself from facing an important phone call, meeting or task.  Escape and relief from short term pain lead to more in the long term; you’re going to have to get to it sometime, only now you’ll have less time and more stress to do it.

…taking on work you know you can’t complete because you don’t want to say no to someone.  At some point however, and the longer it goes unsaid the more difficult it is to say, you’re going to have to own up. You’re going let that person down far more than had you were honest from the get go.

…Waiting for your last pill to order prescription refills. This might involve an awkward (in your eyes) call to your doctor, and almost certainly means you’ll be going 2-3 days without your meds.  No big deal if we’re talking Zoloft.  Clonazepam can be a bitch though.

The pattern is obvious enough.  Each is a form of avoidance.  The cost of avoidance, a heavier workload and accompanying anxieties, was far worse than the work being avoided in the first place.  We worry so much about the inevitable that our actions make it impossible.  And yet we repeat the pattern over and over again.

Why?  What drives our acts of self-sabotage? What are we really avoiding? What are your favorite examples?  These and other exciting details to come.  Stay sane:)

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Bad start to the day wakes my inner critic…will I catch him in time?

28 Jan

Well today’s not off to a good start.  It’s just past noon and I’ve spent…

…45 minutes making the boy’s lunch and getting him off to school

…5 minutes tidying up the living room

…2 hours playing Call of Duty

…25 minutes fiddling with my WordPress profile

…15 minutes rolling and smoking a joint

…0 minutes on my top priority, submitting a single job application (my first in months).

Suffice to say, my inner critic is foaming at the mouth. The question is, by calling him out and writing this entry, did I catch him in time to save the day from failure?

Manufacturing Discontent: The slippery slope of familiar habits

28 Jan

I’m fresh out of church (code for my weekly group therapy) and my mind is racing with thoughts on the last week or so. Allow me to recap:

1) Last week I set an important goal for myself, to complete my first job application in months. It was an achievable goal and important more for completing the process than the actual job itself.

2) First I became distracted, then increasingly anxious as my focus drifted to what I call a manufactured obstacle, in this case the far less important task of updating my LinkedIn profile. Still, I think I caught this one early enough to keep it from derailing the job application.

3) Bolstered by my renewed focus (if not action) on the more important goal, I was caught by a surprise, but also manufactured crisis. For reasons I’ll get to another time, I am long overdue in reaching out and apologizing to a few old friends and colleagues (making amends, if you will). This week those apologies suddenly became urgent, in my mind so urgent that the job application might have to wait.

In the end what did me in was neither the job application nor the manufactured obstacles to its completion. It was a dance along the slippery slope of familiar, self-sabotaging habits: TV, Netflix, napping, Xbox, pot (marijuana) and an extra clonezepam for kicks, triggering harsh feelings of shame and self-loathing.

At first it was just one morning I took off to relax; no drugs, just some time to reflect and (ideally) reaffirm my priorities and plan for the day. The plan itself materialized…sort of, but carrying it out quickly moved to tomorrow’s plate.

Within three days, I was already dangerously close to mirroring the same (essentially stagnant) daily routine I lived right up to the end of 2014.

The lesson: Like a single cigarette to an ex-smoker, even a brief retreat to old, bad habits can quickly turn into a long term affair.

The other lesson: Again the ex-smoker knows the retreat is reversible, if you catch it in time. I sure hope I have, and I’ve already got one functioning day back under my belt (that’s today!).

Thank you therapy

16 Jan

In what seems to be a recurring theme, I’m starting today’s post with another tale of yesterday’s failures…and small victories.

It was about this time yesterday that I was tallying my accomplishments up against my expectations for the day. I had been more productive and kept myself busier than any day in weeks – almost no television, putting together a real, immediate plan for my job hunt, even daring to rough out a cover letter for the job I want to apply for by the end of the week – and yet I was dangerously close to chalking up the day as a failure.

Why? Because I didn’t think I’d get to my new daily blogging. I’d set manageable expectations for the day, and did far more than I set out to do, but one relatively minor task left undone threatened to ruin my entire day’s work (or at least my feelings towards it).

I’m often torn about the value of certain therapies – like my weekly group therapy or “going to church” as I sometimes call it – but this week its worth was obvious.

For starters, I was reminded yet again of how irrational and vicious my inner critic can be. With yesterday as a perfect example, I was *this* close to writing off the day of major accomplishments because of a single, minor missed expectation…one only I would ever notice at that.

After hearing the group’s reaction to my thinking, and seeing it now in writing, it’s obvious that my self-criticism was ridiculously harsh and shame inducing. As you’ll soon learn, this is a lesson that’s taking me some time to learn.

The other benefit the group provided was the reassurance that, while I’m crazy on many fronts, I’m certainly not alone. There’s always one person who’s having a day as shitty as mine, and that company feels good. I wonder how many of my church friends – all juggling substance, mental health and interpersonal issues – find the same solace in my misery.

Funny…that was a comfort I used to find at my favourite watering hole, when alcohol was my anxiety and depression medication of choice. Even as I drowned my sorrows and avoided my own demons, I was able to look at my drinking buddies with a sense of pity, empathizing with their pain while temporarily numb to my own.

Suffice to say, group therapy’s working a whole lot better than drinking ever did.

Today was another productive day, similar to yesterday in that I didn’t do everything on my to do list, but I did much more that wasn’t. With luck and yesterday’s therapy reminders, I’ll end this day a success.

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