Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How to end self-sabotage

Many times I notice that people become depressed over concerns of failure or just plain inertia. I am reading a good book about how to overcome those obstacles called, Get Off Your "But": How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself. The book is written by Sean Clinch Stephenson who is one of the leading authorities on the deconstruction of self-sabotage (what he calls getting people off their BUTS).

Stephenson was born with brittle bones disorder (Osteogenesis Imperfecta) that kept him wheelchair bound, so he understands what adversity is. He offers six lessons throughout the book beginning with simple ways to connect with others and make ourselves human. He also says to connect with oneself and has an interesting section called "words can heal, and words can kill." I was a bit skeptical of this approach as it seemed extreme but his reasoning made some sense. He makes the point that for some people, the inner voice gets so hurtful that they believe that the only way they can shut it off is by taking their own life.

After reading some of the comments on my PJM suicide and men column from yesterday, frankly, I believe Stephenson is correct--the way we talk to ourselves can harm or even kill us. The way one talks to oneself can be changed and with that change, life can improve.

Other wise advice, the book says, is to choose your friends wisely, own your life--the good and the bad, and become responsible for how you act in response to abusive or negative events in your life right now. It seems to be a decent book for those of you who may want to get some advice on how to end self-sabotage. And this is as true for men as it is for women.

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Blogger Donna said...

I might have to pick this up. It looks like some interesting reading.

Dr. Helen, I've been meaning to ask you something. A few months ago, you mentioned taking a Krav Maga class. Have you continued on with it? I just started taking them 6 weeks ago.

9:27 AM, April 28, 2009  
Blogger Bill said...

I friend of mine is in therapy, and talking badly to herself, thinking badly OF herself is her biggest problem.

It's something I don't understand. But if it's one thing I'm swimming in, it's self-confidence.


10:20 AM, April 28, 2009  
Blogger Helen said...


Thanks for asking. I took Kra Maga for about four months last summer and fall and let it go for a while. I hope to pick it back up soon though. I am so glad you started up--I think you'll get a lot of benefit from it. If you have any questions or want to chat, email me at:

drhelen at violentkids dot com

10:31 AM, April 28, 2009  
Blogger Sloan said...

Bill, speaking from personal experience with depression, I can tell you that this habit of thinking badly of oneself is just that...a habit that you get into. And like any bad habit, it can be very difficult to break.

I can't speak for your friend, but for me the development of this habit was a slow process, over the course of several years, in which one difficult situation after another gradually convinced me that the problems in my life were never going to get any better. I short-circuited my own natural resiliency; I started to put a negative spin on virtually every aspect of my existence. It took meds, a year of cognitive behavioral therapy, and a lot of support from my wonderful family to get me back to normal.

The words we tell ourselves, in the deepest corners of our own mind, can be the most hurtful of all. They can actually change the chemistry inside your head.

11:43 AM, April 28, 2009  
Blogger Cham said...

More stories from my therapy days of yesteryear:

What lurks deep within our subconscious can be very enlightening. I used to be a self-sabotager. I would tell myself that I wasn't ever going to be successful, I would never be personable and nobody would ever like me. For this reason I would avoid groups, avoid taking credit for my successes and would avoid intimacy. A wise therapist started delving into this with me at one point and as I was telling him what I was telling myself and he asked, "Um, who is telling you these things?"

After much thought, I realized the voice in my head was the voice of my mother. I had managed to internalize what she had been telling me for years and started to tell myself the same things. My therapist told me to tell this inner voice to shut up. He also told me that there are remarkable number of people out there that are ruled from the grave, manipulated and self-sabotaged long after their parents are dead and gone by words spoken to them repeatedly.

I had a friend who had been going through some stressful times a few years ago and I got the feeling that she was having some issues with mental stability and depression, but because we had known each other for 30 years I felt obligated to hang in and try to help her. She grew more and more belligerent, accusing me of wrongdoings and saying hurtful spiteful things, of which I was not at all guilty.

Then, I too, reached a point in my life where I was experiencing some stress. For a brief period I started to self-sabotage again, accusing myself of wrongdoings and saying hurtful things. It didn't take me long to realize that it was this friend's voice in my head causing the self-sabotage. I realized at that moment I had to sever ties with her immediately.

So to wrap up what I have to say, if you have someone in your life that is sabotaging your success it might do you well get some distance from that person and gain a new perspective.

3:44 PM, April 28, 2009  
Blogger Larry J said...

I've never battled depression but this thread reminds me of something similar. As a former paratrooper, I've experienced first hand how fear can build on itself. I've seen how anger can build on itself. It doesn't surprise me that depressed thoughts of oneself can also build upon itself. Left unchecked, that could well lead to suicidal thoughts.

5:25 PM, April 28, 2009  
Blogger br549 said...

Hi five, cham.

6:04 PM, April 28, 2009  
Blogger TMink said...

Cham, a wonderful story with a happy ending. Congratulations and thanks for sharing it.


10:14 PM, April 28, 2009  
Blogger uncle ken said...

@ Dr. Helen "The way one talks to oneself can be changed and with that change, life can improve. "

Absolutely. The mind can only hold one conscious thought at a time. Our thoughts guide our actions. Our actions shape our lives.

6:44 AM, April 29, 2009  
Blogger Bill said...

Sloan -
I'm sure you're right. My friend has been in intermittent therapy for a few years, and, while they're not sure where it came from, she definitely talks herself into, if not failure, depression.


9:31 AM, April 29, 2009  
Blogger Locomotive Breath said...

OT: Interested in your commentary on this report.

Reaction To Women Abusing Men In Public

11:29 AM, April 29, 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

Cham --

Hard to do, but necessar. Congrats. Unfortunately, even necessary if the derisive individual is a spouse. Probably more so.

11:43 AM, April 29, 2009  
Blogger Cham said...

I wouldn't know what to say to someone who has a derisive spouse. My mother's big complaint is that she claims the only thing I ever say to her is, "I will not have this discussion with you." She's probably right, during a 15 minute phone call with her I will repeat that line no less than 10 times, as she hurls insult after insult at me. I can't see how people live with meanspirited spouses. Maybe this is why divorce was invented.

12:33 PM, April 29, 2009  
Blogger br549 said...

Yeah, cham. Sometimes all you can do is cut your losses if things continue to degrade. Parents are a horse of a different color though, eh? You can't divorce them, and there is no one to hand them back over to.

1:24 PM, April 29, 2009  
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