Self Sabotage Part 2: Why You Need To Stop Using This Term 

 November 11, 2019

By  Kristin Rivas

My last blog post introduced you to my reasons for not using the term “self sabotage” to refer to a person’s actions. It’s an example of how important it is to understand what potential physical factors could be causing a dysfunctional behavior in order to change it. The story I mentioned involved a woman who was binge eating candy. The second client case I’ll mention is a good illustration of the psychological factors that may be behind a case of harmful behaviors. This story also involves disordered eating (some identifying details have been changed for my client's privacy).

Brandy's Case

Almost a decade ago, a woman in her early 50’s whom I’ll call Brandy, came to see me. She did so despite a fear that working with me might actually cause her to get worse. Brandy wanted to lose at least 50 pounds of weight and develop a healthier lifestyle. But she warned me from the time we met that she’d noticed a destructive pattern in her life. In her 20’s she’d suffered from alcohol addiction, went to rehab, and got sober. Then in her 30’s she started to abuse painkillers and almost died from it. She went to rehab again and successfully quit. In her 40’s she began smoking cigarettes but quit on her 50th birthday. Almost immediately she started bingeing on food which lead her to gain 60 pounds in just two years. Basically, any time she tried to make improvements in her life and became successful, she ended up doing something else that was harmful.

Brandy told me that whenever she started a new vice, she felt out of control. She never wanted to do it in the first place. She said she was unable to stop the compulsive behavior on her own. This would happen despite the fact that she hated putting herself and her family through the consequences of what she knew was harmful behavior. Brandy had a happy marriage, loved her grown children, and adored her grand babies. She wanted to make sure she could be a healthy grandma that lived well into old age so she could be there for her family.

She referred to this cycle of behavior as “self sabotage” and was concerned the pattern would keep on repeating itself. She admitted a fear of overcoming binging and losing the weight because she was afraid of what might take its place. I thanked Brandy for her candor and assured her that hypnotherapy, at least the process we’d be using called Rapid Resolution Therapy, allows for the resolution of inner conflict. And that it’s much easier to stop this behavior when you heal the trauma that caused it or preserve the positive intention behind it.

We Are Built To Work In Our Best Interest, Not Self Destruct

The idea of healing trauma didn’t resonate with her since she believed the only traumas in her life had been brought on by her actions. She also found it hard to believe that the behavior could be trying to help her in any way. I explained to Brandy that all living things seem to share a few innate drives. This is a way of thinking that my mentor, Dr. Connelly, taught me when I was learning the fundamental concepts behind his approach of Rapid Resolution Therapy. Everything on earth that lives and breaths has the first two. That is as long as something abnormal, unhealthy, or dysfunctional isn’t occurring. But only humans and animals seem to have the special third drive as far as we know...

  • Continue - nurture and protect ourselves
  • Continue life on the planet further - mate to reproduce or contribute for the good of our species and other species
  • Play - enjoy life (which is not found among plants, viruses, bacteria, or insects) which incentivizes us to continue to live

It’s important to note that I’m using the word “continue” and not the word “survive.” The difference being that we’re not built to eek our way through life. We weren’t born to become mole people, digging dens in the ground to hide and never be found. It’s considered torture to keep someone in a straight jacket 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or lock them away in padded room for their entire life. We hold mental institutions and prisons accountable for higher standards of living. Parents aren’t allowed to do such things to their children. Not even from a pure motivation of protection. Parents who truly want to protect their kids would be the least likely culprits to bind, imprison, and hideaway their children. If such a thing happened to their child they would help them recover afterwards.

The point is that we are built to do what we need to to continue to live. That may mean doing something to survive or protect ourselves for a moment. It also means doing whatever else is appropriate for the moment beyond that one. If a survival or protection strategy is being chronically or unrightfully employed, it is a sign. A sign pointing to untreated trauma or some other dysfunction in one’s health. Remember, every part of you has evolved to support your health, safety, comfort, or pleasure. You are a magnificent creation! Think of a spaceship built to help a team of astronauts carry out their mission. Every feature, every compartment, every single bit of material has a purpose to ensure their life and their life's work. And to make that journey as safe, healthy, and comfortable as possible. The ship is not meant to self destruct. No member of the team is meant to sabotage the mission. If either of those things happen, something has gone very wrong.

If that makes sense to you, then you can understand why it’s so problematic for a person to believe they are their own "worst enemy". It makes more sense to find the inciting incident, belief, positive intent, or need driving the dysfunctional behavior. Because if self harm behavior is happening, there always is a valid cause, even if it seems non sensical at first glance. The cause makes sense to address so effective longterm progress can be made. I can promise you, name calling, shaming, and assigning negative intent to our behavior doesn’t work. It doesn't help us uncover or resolve the real cause behind the dysfunction. Instead it complicates the process by creating fear, resentment, and distrust. 

This is exactly what I told Brandy. I also told her “I would never blame you for being concerned and frustrated with feeling out of control and disturbed by a pattern of your own behavior. Especially if you’ve tried to change it for a while and haven’t had successful results so far. Those feelings make sense and that’s why I’m taking the time to a perspective I’ve seen been more helpful to creating solutions rather than stuckness. Think about it...which idea would you want to raise a child to believe? That there is a subversive part of them trying to betray them at any moment OR… That their feelings and behaviors point them to their needs or physical processes going on in their bodies? The latter viewpoint sets a person up for having self awareness, self compassion, and self management. The former sets a person up to only be divided. The more a person can understand how their body, emotions, and behaviors work, the more easily they can meet their needs and live a healthy life.” (That’s exactly why I created my Connection To Purpose program, to help you understand the purpose behind your feelings and behaviors and learn better ways you can get more control over them).

Brandy agreed this was a good way of thinking. She would simply report to me what she was noticing in her behavior after each session without judging it. Interestingly enough, she responded well for our first three sessions. She stopped binging, started exercising, made healthier choices, and was losing weight. After two months of that, she suddenly noticed a relapse into her old behavior. She was eating all kinds of junk food even when she wasn’t hungry. For no apparent reason, she was overeating to the point it hurt, and started gaining weight again.

Brandy's Transformation

When she came in for her fourth session, I stressed the fact that no one, not even a hypnotist, could force her to make any changes that her subconscious mind wasn’t on board with. Especially without a known reason for the behavior. I explained that the job of a hypnotherapist is to assist her subconscious by offering a safe, non judgmental, place to share any reason(s) why this was going on. That we could preserve the positive intention behind it, and discover together what could truly be done to work in her best interest from now on. I’d already suggested that her mind would allow this change with the understanding it was completely safe and beneficial for her. So if there was any conflict with getting healthier, I needed to know why to be able to help see her though at this point. Often I’m able to assure a person’s subconscious mind that making a change to improve behavior wouldn’t have a downside. In many cases we can move forward without any need to know the original cause of the old behavior. In Brandy’s case, an intervention to address the root cause needed to happen first. I had offered her mind this opportunity in every session we'd had so far but it hadn't responded to the invitation yet.

When I offered this time during her fourth session, an intense feeling of guilt surfaced that she’d repressed for quite some time. She hadn’t told another living sole before me, but she’d had a secret affair early in her marriage. She’d also gotten an abortion because of it. Brandy had been raised in a strict Catholic household. She had been operating out of a belief that was directly contributing to her current patterns. The idea was that she must atone for her actions through suffering or be damned for the rest of this life (and the next) to pay for her sins. 

After she shared her history as well as these very painful thoughts and feelings with me, I asked her a question. I asked if she believed that there truly was only one all powerful, wise, righteous, just God of the entire universe? She said yes. Then I asked her if she actually believed God would falsely claim to be merciful and forgiving? If God would lie about paying the price to atone for the sins of God’s very own beloved creation… Or make false claims about offering forgiveness, grace, compassion, and restoration from a place of perfect unconditional love? She thought about it for a moment and then said, “No, I guess not.” To that I said, “You guess? Or can you truly know this is the case if you pray to the creator you believe in, humbly confess, and ask for God’s grace and guidance in your life right now?” 

Brandy cried as she took her time to pray. Soon, a noticeable deep sense of peace and relief washed over her. I then checked with her subconscious mind to see if there was anything else needing to be done in order to let the self destructive behaviors stop. I wanted to make sure she was ready to fully embrace good health for the sake of honoring her body as a temple and the love she had for her family. She told me there was a concern about becoming attractive to other men...if she became fit and well, that maybe she’d cheat on her husband if other men showed interest. What was interesting was that this feeling was not coming from her current way of feeling or thinking. Brandy told me that she loved her husband, had a strong healthy marriage now, and was fully committed to him. That she knew how to protect herself from getting into another affair. And she had no temptation to ever have one again.

This meant that all she needed was for this knowledge to be integrated on a deeper level for her subconscious mind to get it. So Brandy’s entire being could have a sense of peace and certainty around this issue. A person’s mind can fear a trauma, or unwanted behavior, repeating itself. Especially if there isn’t a crystal clear amount of confidence and certainty felt around the issue. Sometimes it takes a specific process to have someone’s entire mind, body, and heart know and feel something. In this case, that meant showing Brandy's unconscious mind that she'd already learned all the lessons she'd needed to prevent anything similar from happening in the future. 

I gave her some time to imagine better ways of handling events that took place in her first years of marriage that would have prevented the affair. In her imagination she practiced making decisions and behaviors that reflected the maturity, self control, integrity, and communication skills she’d developed over the years. She did this with the knowledge that she couldn't have done it any differently originally. A scientific, cause and effect logic dictates that Brandy behaved based on the thoughts, feelings, impulses, and abilities she had at the moment. That means that whatever happened couldn't have happened any differently because whatever was going on, caused things to happen the way that they did. Science would tell us that a specific set of factors lead to a specific outcome. So the equation 1+1+1 = 3, even if after you've calculated it you wish it added up to 2 or 4. It doesn't matter. If someone has ingredients for banana bread and follows a recipe to make it but then wishes they were pulling cherry pie out of the oven when the timer goes off...guess what? You couldn't have made cherry pie no matter how much you'd prefer it.

The benefit of growth, hindsight, and imagination is the we can practice ways of handling things that wouldn’t have come to mind or been possible to follow through on originally. When we feel like we've made a mistake and wish things had been different, it can be helpful for our mind's to really play out what we'd do differently if we had a time machine. Then our minds can practice taking different actions that could get us different results. After Brandy did this, she was confident she knew she could act with integrity, self control, and loyalty to stay faithful to her beloved husband. Then I asked Brandy to imagine being healthy, stable, and committed to her marriage while handling attention from attractive men in the potential future. Even if she and her husband were to go through a challenging time. And with that exercise the guilt, shame, fear, and distrust surrounding her behavior completely cleared. 

From then on, the self destructive behavior stopped! With ease, Brandy became healthier and happier. Brandy’s case is an example of how an underlying issue may need to be addressed by a process called memory reconsolidation. It’s one of my favorite tools for healing trauma and resetting the patterns that have resulted from it.

Why This Method For Healing And Transformation Works...

Memory Reconsolidation is the most cathartic and transformational process I’ve found, so far, in my own self growth and work with clients. The phrase is a mouthful but it’s basically a fancy term in neuroscience for re-imagining a memory to change the feelings and or event(s) from the original experience. It refers to a specific protocol in order to change the mental and emotional and behavioral impacts of the original event. This technique is used to clear traumatic impacts from past events as well as transform the behaviors that stemmed from them. It often involves memory recontextualization as well.

Recontextualizing a memory involves adding in new perspectives to a memory to help a person be able to think and feel differently about the original event. There are a variety of ways to recontextualize a memory in order to see it and feel it from a wiser, neutral, or more balanced perspective. A qualified professional can help you reframe the event you’re reconsolidating so you can see it in a new light. A skilled and experienced practitioner can apply all of their professional knowledge to help you reinterpret the event or point you to finding your own new perspective of it. 

If Brandy’s story resonates with you, reach out to me or another qualified professional who's available to assist you. If you’re interested to see whether hypnosis can help you achieve your goals be sure to review my Hypnotherapy FAQ or take the "Am I A Good Candidate For Hypnotherapy?" Survey before making a decision as to whether hypnotherapy services are best for you.

Kristin Rivas

Kristin Rivas is a certified Brain Health Coach, Hypnotherapist, and NLP practitioner who helps people to feel, think, and live better. Specializing in behavior change and goal achievement, she empowers clients to live to their full potential & foster their own wellness. A former TEDx presenter, she is also a highly sought after speaker.

Kristin Rivas

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