As a psychotherapist, people almost always come to me shortly after their lives have crashed. Everything was going status quo until the sudden divorce or separation, the teenager failing out of school, or crushing anxiety. If not for that life jarring event, they never would have thought to see a therapist, because they felt successful.
The emphasis on willpower and self-control permeates American culture. We think we should be able to discipline our primitive, impulsive mind through willpower. We just need MORE DISCIPLINE, says the countless self-help books.
This is one reason it’s so difficult to be kind to ourselves in moments of adversity or difficulty.
Do you Self-Sabotage?
Ask yourself these questions:
If you answered yes to 1 or more of these questions, this writing exercise (to help empower yourself and avoid self-sabotage) is for you!
Being more aware of your tendencies can help you take action!
Being kind to ourselves in moments of failure gives us strength to face our fears-both real and imagined.
To quote my favorite football team: “There’s medicine in a loss like this.”
I have an exercise in finding the “medicine” for you (adapted from Linda Graham) below.
EXERCISE: SHIFTING MOTIVATION FROM SELF-CRITICISM TO SELF-COMPASSION
Finding Your Self-Critical Voice
Examples of behaviors:
Drink too much.
Eat too much.
Write down this behavior.
Finding Your Self-Compassionate Voice
9.Now that your critical voice has been heard, try to make space for the compassionate voice. The part of you that is wise. This part recognizes these behaviors are harming you and wants you to change but for different reasons.
10. Close your eyes. Place your hand on your heart center or any other part that is soothing and grounding.
11. Now reflect again on the behavior you’re struggling with. Focus on the emotion associated with said behavior.
12. Begin to repeat, silently to yourself, the phrases that express your inner compassionate voice:
I love you, and I don’t want you to suffer.
I care deeply about you, and that’s why I’d like you to make a change.
13. Open your eyes and begin to write using your compassionate voice to address the behavior you would like to change. What thoughts and feelings emerge from the feeling and wish, “I love and don’t want you to suffer”? What words of encouragement and emotional support do you need to hear in order to do your best – to make a change?
14. If you found some new words for your compassionate voice, let yourself savor the feeling of being supported. (If you had difficulty finding compassionate words, that’s okay too). The important thing is we are setting the intention to be kinder to ourselves, and eventually new habits will form.
Self-Sabotage is our brain’s way of avoiding emotional pain.
If it’s no longer serving you, there’s many options available to help you avoid self-sabotage and change things.
Once you identify your patterns, you can come up with alternative actions to help quiet the inner critic, avoid self-sabotage and call upon the compassionate voice.
I believe one of the best ways to identify the inner critic is through expressive writing. And you can start by identifying and sharing your stories in community!
In conclusion, once you know the difference between the inner critic and other parts of you, this opens up a whole new world of possibilities and changes.
We all act in ways that confirm the stories we tell ourselves. It’s natural to try to minimize future pain.
Once you know differently, you can do differently!
The beauty of a writing community is that it is a safe space where we can listen to and tell stories that are brave, unapologetic, and true. We are here to write our way through to our future selves.