Some behaviors make us our own worst enemy: snooping through a partner’s phone, obsessing over Facebook photos of an event you weren’t invited to, or digging for information online about an ex.
Some people run from their problems, hoping they will disappear. Or some might even think about a problem so much, they become too paralyzed to make decisions.
“People tell themselves they are just going to think and think until they reach a conclusion,” says Alice Boyes, author of the new book “The Healthy Mind Toolkit.” But too often we get in our own way. “You’ve got to learn to disrupt that,” she says.
Her book presents an argument for a quieter addiction, unlike overeating or gambling, but seemingly harmless actions that lead to a downward spiral of self-sabotage. She says self-sabotage comes from a lack of insight, poor problem-solving, or sometimes it’s just out of habit and comfort.
Relationships add a new dimension — and finding a balance between being vulnerable and protecting yourself can be hard.
What if an unfamiliar name comes up on the phone of someone you’re dating and your first thought is, “Is he cheating?” And your first reaction is to play detective and go through his phone?
Boyes says the addictive nature of these behaviors is best described as compulsive — the irresistible urge to do something, even if you know it’s not a good idea.
“It’s a downward spiral because people feel bad and then do behaviors that make them feel worse,” she says. “They get into this self-sabotaging cycle.”
Be aware of larger emotions, like anxiety or depression, that will make you more vulnerable to that cycle, she says.
“There are women who will say, ‘If he’s going to cheat on me, it is what it is’ and others who will say, ‘I always want to know where he is,’” says Lynn Zakeri, a licensed clinical social worker in the Chicago area.
The right response would be “I’m going to ask him about it. But thus far, I trust him,” she says.
Boyes calls it “a balancing in thinking.”
“Learn that you can adapt your cognitive style within a range,” she says. “Think about what is the most useful balance of optimism and pessimism, cautiousness and boldness.”
Boyes’ mantra against self-sabotaging is to problem-solve by identifying possible solutions, picking one and implementing it. Here are a few she recommends:
Identify your triggers. Seeing your friend’s son on the honor roll might not be your trigger, but seeing that same friend post her Valentine’s Day gift might feel terrible. You aren’t feeling bad that your friend got a gift, but you wish you had that kind of love life. When you identify the root of the problem, you can start addressing it.
Don’t tell yourself stories. Social media is a product of what everybody wants to show off — people are portraying their best selves. The whole saga of taking 100 selfies before you post one has truth. If the story that you tell yourself is that you’re not pretty or rich enough, it becomes self-harming.
Disrupt destructive behaviors. Interrupt your own brain as a way of calming down and breaking patterns. Research shows that activities such as working on a Sudoku for a few minutes will help. Maybe it’s watching TV or listening to music. Find what works for you.
Know your boundaries. As with all addiction, distancing yourself from triggering activities is key. Delete your Facebook (we all know you can get it right back) for a day or take a one-day social media fast. Start out slow by deciding to only check social media from a computer at first. Then progress by setting a time limit — say, 10 minutes of social media every couple of hours. Think of it as a detox.
Trust yourself. If you have an ill feeling over an interaction with someone or a comment your partner made, it’s worth being curious about. Ask questions, ask for clarification, do a little research. But if you find yourself moving to the obsessing spectrum, you should examine yourself deeper.
Read and repeat. Find good sources of advice on the topic. Maybe it’s reading uplifting books or articles for an hour a day. Whatever you can do to remind yourself to starve your insecurities and feed prosperity will help.
Write it out. There’s comfort in putting things, like thoughts, on paper. Start a diary and do a weekly check in on where your feelings are at. Grab a notepad and write out a list of solvable problems and possible solutions.
Remember self-care. Allow yourself to experience pleasure. Punishing yourself isn’t a helpful concept. By intentionally participating in activities that you enjoy and feeling happy, you might feel it’s easier to break a pattern of negative feelings.
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