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Self Sabotage: How I Learned to Break the Cycles of Bad Habits

Self sabotage showed up big in 2020 for many of us. Food and alcohol and all the other things we tend to “over” do are quick easy soothers for hard complex emotions and problems. We needed a way we could distract or numb or try to soothe ourselves. Social media and TV helped us cope and distract from the chaos our lives were in. But self sabotage didn’t start there and it certainly won’t end there. Sabotage doesn’t come from a bad place, in fact, it’s usually the opposite. We are just trying to feel good.

Self sabotage (or buffering) is when we engage in behaviors, responses, or habits that don’t serve us. These are things that temporarily seem to help, but in the long run don’t help or even cause more damage. Often even when we identify and recognize these bad habits or self sabotages, we only feel shame. What is wrong with me? Who do I think I am to want more? This leads to disgust which often only leads to more shame and creates a vicious cycle. You know when you keep doing things that “I know I shouldn’t but can’t help myself?” Do you know when you go to change a habit and find yourself back off the train over and over again? That’s our self sabotage cycle.

Often things we go to for quick self care or feel good in the moment; can long term create a life that doesn’t feel good or align to our values.

Our culture, brilliant marketing, and human biology has taught us, our brains and our bodies that we “deserve” things that don’t serve us. We have learned to drive to these quick and temporary fixes. But buffers and self sabotage are equal to trying to cover a bullet wound with a pretty bandaid. And here is WHY we do it…it works.

Think about your “sabotage” behaviors. There is a reason you go to it. It works. Maybe temporarily or maybe even for a season, but you get some sort of reward from it. In many cases it even protects you or keeps you safe in a time of trauma. Our brains and bodies are complex and incredible but also very simple. We avoid discomfort and danger and choose pleasure. Your body and brain are still living in a simple state: danger/discomfort = bad, pleasure/reward = good. But the world we live in isn’t as simple anymore.

You can never get enough of what you don’t need.

Dallin H. Oaks

Breaking the Cycle of Sabotage

To begin breaking free from sabotage, the first thing we need to do is break the shame of these behaviors and habits. Many of us are over identifying with our kyryptonite. We build an alter and identity out of the very things hurting us. This is not your identity or worth or value. You don’t go to these because you are bad or broken. You go to them because you are a human in need, habit or in pain.

These things or behaviors, whatever they are for you, help buffer the world we live in. Freeing yourself from the shame of this isn’t just a small part. Making the sabotaging behavior or thing morally neutral can often make it so much easier to break. Making the behavior or object morally neutral means changing it’s value. Make it grey- not “bad” or “good” but a tool. A hammer is morally neutral. But I can either build a house with it or smash some windows. Switch your self sabotaging behaviors to a curiousity of how they make you feel – both long term and short term. It’s just a tool. You will treat yourself how you deserve. If you start to choose to believe you deserve more, those things won’t be nearly as appealing.

What do you REALLY want? Often times these quick fixes and pleasure rewards are giving us what we want in the moment over what we want MOST. Identifying what you value will help you have a focus that is more about a life that feels good over quick, easy rewards. Find what you deeply want and need so that you can create and find it. Often times the things we use to buffer or self sabotage aren’t inherently bad in themselves or in certain times. Figuring out what you want may require sitting in the uncomfortable place of not knowing when you remove the buffers and stop numbing and avoiding and listen to your longings. But when we cope and numb in the same ways we celebrate, they lose their shine and our lives stop knowing the difference.

Creating Capacity and Coping Mechanisms

When I first noticed I was again using food, alcohol, and social media to buffer and self-sabotaging I had the impulse to fix it. This rush and this hurry to stop it. But as a coach and as someone who has been here before I knew first I had to get curious. I had to get curious and get some real awareness around what I was coping from.

What did I really want and need? Where was my capacity being drained and was I doing the things I know bring fulfillment? I wasn’t feeling and dealing with some hard feelings and boundaries. The discomfort in my life and body was telling me something. I was using these buffers as a way to not listen to myself and my life. I wasn’t ready for a while to stop them. And that was ok. But I slowed it down. Moving from rushing and quick fixes into deep awareness, curiousity, and compassion. I stayed there long enough in that emotional discomfort and recognized what I needed. Then, I got to work solving and meeting the REAL need and craving in my life. I did this first by getting support. Telling the truth to people who could help me.

Buffers and self sabotages are like candy. Sometimes candy tastes good, but we need more than that. Sometimes we have to stop or slow eat the candy so that we can recognize what we are actually craving. Once you start getting what you need, you learn to tap into that higher brain that recognizes what you really want. What we really want is often on the other side of uncomfortable emotions, circumstances, or growth.

So much of breaking the self sabotage cycle is learning about your emotions and mind. Learning how to reactivate the part of your brain that uses critical thinking and using our human design for our good instead of our demise. Learning how to feel and process your wide and diverse range of normal human emotions and reactions.

Often when we are in a rush to stop our bad habits we create this cycle where we end up right back where we started (even if we are able to white knuckle it for a while). It’s like playing a game of whack-a-mole, until we finally just unplug the game. If you are in this visious cycle slow it down. Have compassion for yourself and get curious about the deeper things that your body and life are trying to tell you. Treat yourself like someone you love. You will need equal parts grace and accountability as you re-learn how to care for, love, and celebrate in ways that don’t just feel good now. And you also get to create a life you love that aligns with who you want to become.

Use Your Human Biology and Design in Your Favor. One of my favorite books on this topic is Atomic Habits by James Clear. Really, almost everything including your thinking and emotions and even your identity can come back to habits and your psychology. Learning and understanding how this works in YOUR life can drastically help you change it without such intense grasping and trying to fix it. I did an Instagram live the other day where my friend and I go into some of this biology that I think could be really helpful for you. You can watch that here: Self Care vs Self-sabotage IG video. This blog by fellow writer Emily encapture this struggle- buried from our “something” and running from sobriety:

You deserve a life that feels good. Not just in brief moments of numbing, avoiding, or surviving. But the kind of life that aligns with your values and passions and creativity. A life where you can look yourself in the mirror with compassion and understanding, but also pride. It’s not always comfortable or easy to stop the cycles of self sabotage. But you deserve it. You are worth fighting for. And you can learn ways to cope, soothe, and live this life without these things we’ve come to accept as good enough.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of The We Spot, its employees, sponsors, or affiliates.

Rebecca Dollard

Rebecca is passionate about being a momma, wife, mentor, and friend. She believes in the power of vulnerability, community, and changing our mindset. Rebecca loves to see women break free from their rulebooks that are keeping them stuck and empowering them to grow without guilt and live with grace and grit. Rebecca and her husband Jay have been married over 10 years and have two awesome kiddos Riley 8, and Jake 5, and recently welcomed in Abby (17) who now has become part of the family. The Dollard’s enjoy living in their native state Colorado and being close enough to spend lots of time with their families who are (mostly) still local. Rebecca loves the work she does as a mentor helping moms to grow without guilt using personal growth tools partnered with empathy and connection. As a mentor she runs a monthly membership community, hosts workshops, and mentors women 1-1. Becca is a personality and personal growth junky and spends her free time reading, working out, and spending time with her people. She loves memes and humor as much as a good Brene Brown quote and believes that growth should be as fun as it is effective.

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