Cast your mind back to the past week.
At any point did you find yourself thinking that something pleasant in your life was “too good to be true” or that you couldn’t possibly “be that lucky”! Conversely, maybe there was a moment when you thought that you “should be able to fit it all in” or that you weren’t “clever enough”. Or perhaps you felt guilty when you couldn’t quite finish a meal, because you were already full up, and so you forced yourself to clear your plate, leaving you with an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach.
These may seem unrelated thoughts and emotions, but they have one thing in common. They are survival patterns, also known as self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviours. Many of us will experience them multiple times a day without even realising it and, often they stem from childhood.
Let’s take the example of finishing a meal even when you are full. Can you remember a time when you were sitting at the table as a child and were told you couldn’t leave until you had eaten all of your dinner? In order to avoid the humiliation, that comes with being berated, because “you must be grateful for the food on your plate”, you probably forced the meal down even though your body told you that you didn’t need or want any more. Your underlying desire, to avoid humiliation and possible punishment, created the self-sabotaging behaviour of continuing to eat (often until the plate is clean) even after you are full.
Another example could be when we tell ourselves that a situation is “too good to be true” and distract ourselves rather than feel the joy in the moment. We self-sabotage to avoid experiencing disappointment that may come from getting our hopes up about something, which may not come to fruition.
But survival patterns aren’t all bad, and while some will hold us back, or leave us feeling uncomfortable, others may actually be useful (they were useful at the point in our lives when we created them ‘to survive’ the situation we were in and often this becomes a gift). The key is being able to recognise which ones still serve you and which ones it’s time to move beyond.
I work with many clients who feel that they always have to take the lead. This may stem from growing up in situations where they didn’t receive the guidance or emotional support that they needed and so they developed the pattern of taking the lead themselves. Usually, these people are resilient and independent, traits which, of course, can be hugely beneficial in life. And quite often this is the case, that within the survival pattern is a gift of some kind.
With this in mind, it’s important that survival patterns aren’t demonised! Instead, it’s useful for us to become aware of the behaviour and the underlying need or desire that they serve, to recognise whether it is sabotage or, in fact, has a useful purpose. Is it holding you back or is there a need for it at that moment in time? For example, sometimes we might notice that we are “holding ourselves back” (ie: a common self-sabotaging behaviour). If so, there could be a need for more thought or even rest before giving our all to a situation. In this case, holding ourselves back could be useful at that point.
I have recently been reading The Artists Way by Julia Cameron and one chapter really struck a chord with me when I was preparing this blog. It mentioned how we often limit what we think we are entitled to, whether that’s joy, success, or any other good thing in our life. This type of self-sabotage is keeping us from being truly happy. When we finally achieve the success or joy we are seeking, we don’t let it in! As we uncover our self-sabotaging belief and behaviours they lose their power over us and we realise that there is no limit on the amount of good we are allowed to experience.
“We are depriving no one with our abundance.” – The Artists Way by Julia Cameron
This is an area where I can see one of my own personal self-sabotaging behaviours. I often create a heavy workload for myself and then struggle to fit everything in and don’t leave time for fun and my personal life. I love the work that I do and so it’s easy to see how I create this problem. However, I came to realise that it was a self-sabotaging behaviour which came from un underlying belief that ‘all the work has to be done before I can play’! I grew up on a farm, where my Mum and Dad worked hard, seven days a week. I can think of many examples, but the one that’s coming to mind now is cleaning out a shed full of manure and being exhausted and wanting to stop, but Mum kept me going until we had finished! Now that I’ve made the pattern conscious, I can choose to ‘keep going until I’ve finished’ if it’s necessary or to take a break, have some time out and make sure that I have time for fun in my life. Although, it’s work in progress! Perhaps it’s something that you can also relate to. Something to remember the next time you find yourself thinking “I’d love to do that, but I just don’t have the time.”
Now, I’m sure you’re probably thinking to yourself “how do I know whether my self-sabotaging behaviours are keeping me from truly enjoying life or are useful to me?” Quite often it’s about recognising in each moment whether the behaviour has a purpose or is something you need to move beyond. So, it’s important to identify the underlying need or desire that is attached to the behaviour. If you would like support to do this let’s have a chat. Book a free call here .
If you believe that your survival patterns may be limiting and you’d like to learn more about my own journey, then you may be interested in reading one of my older blogs, Old Habits Die Hard.