What are your self-sabotaging statements and what do they really mean?

One of my most favorite things to teach my students and clients is about flawed thinking habits. As it turns out, many of the thoughts we think perpetuate a less than ideal mental health status and often get in the way of achieving our goals and realizing our desires.

Here are 8 self-sabotaging statements and what they really mean. Hopefully, the insight acquired from the information below will help you to reach for better feeling self-talk from here on in.

"I don’t have time (for yoga, or reading, or playing guitar, or taking walks)"

Of course we need to make time for the important things in our lives and, yes, obligations are important and, yes, deadlines are important, and yes, keeping your kids alive are important. But if our entire week is spent only doing the things we HAVE to do, we are likely on our way to burnout, or unhappiness, resentment, or bitter-ville. We need to make time for things that bring us joy or, at the very least, things that bring us relief. Our mental health depends on it. We have to understand that self-care is not a waste of time as many people unfortunately believe. If we can’t see value in self-care, there is a larger problem going on.

"I don't know how"

This self sabotaging statement usually based on fear of failure (or fear of success in some cases) or a fear that we won’t be good at a new task. This does not allow the individual to move forward because of the sentiment that failure (or not doing well) is unacceptable. In it’s worst form, this thought amounts to something called 'failure schema' in which some people can't even get themselves to work or to school out of fear they will fail. Truth is, failure must become acceptable! It is, after all, an important part of growth and it doesn’t make someone weak or less-than.

"I’m not ready"

Is there really a magic moment when someone becomes ready to do something? I have kids and I still don’t know if I’m ready. This statement can reflect failure schema as explored above but it can also represent a fear of the unknown. Not having a guarantee of how things will look can make a lot of people very anxious (this type of fear is actually one of the main characteristics of an anxiety condition called, generalized anxiety). In order to help yourself, the key to remember is to start believing that they new thing you are trying might actually go smoothly, and maybe, just maybe, there won't be a catastrophe. However, it is also important to know that things are never perfect and inevitably something will go wrong at some point. And in order to prepare for that, the most productive thing you can do is believe there will always be help to be found around you and/or there will always be options and solutions to be considered every step along the way. Acceptance and trust are important components here.

"I should" - AKA Should-ing all over yourself

Using the words "I should" too much qualifies as something called a cognitive distortion - a limited thinking pattern, if you will. "Should-ing" is having excessively high standards for yourself that are not sustainable over time. Additionally, these are standards you cannot bring down even when your body needs a break. It’s often tied to perfectionism and the belief that performing exceptionally well is the only acceptable outcome. Truth is, you’re allowed to have high standards but they have to be reasonable. Even at that however, you cannot maintain high standards 24/7. You would break. There has to be acceptance in lowering standards because not doing so leads to declining mental health. It is no surprise that "should-ing" is a thoughts pattern I see in individuals who come to me on sick leave from work.

"But so-and-so really needs me"

When you have the desire and mental resources to help someone, please do. However, many people are helpers to a fault. They help, regardless of how they are feeling. Put plainly, this is having bad boundaries. Before we can be of good help, we need to assess how we are feeling and unfortunately, if we have no gas in the tank, we can't move forward and must take a break. But no worries, we can circle back around after our recuperation. Not being able to say "no" or "I'll need to get back to you tomorrow," will cause exhaustion, resentment and burnout. We can only help once we put the oxygen mask on ourselves first. We can only lend money once our pockets are full, am I right? Moreover, having boundaries doesn't make you a bad person - it actually makes a smart person and an even better friend, so please drop the guilt.

"I’m not smart/talented/brave enough"

Put plainly, this is selling yourself short. Maybe you weren’t the best candidate for the job or maybe your grades weren’t quite where they needed to be to get into that program. We each have our strengths and our work in progress. We must be able to celebrate and value our current skills and character strengths because undervaluing ourselves leads to lower self-esteem and depressive symptoms. And we should not feel upset or guilty about what we are less good at - we can always learn and acquire new skills along the way.

"I’m not good enough"

This statement often comes from people who feel they have to above-and-beyond at home and at work to simply be considered “good” or "good enough." A lot of what they do include behaviors like always helping, rarely taking breaks, answering emails at 3am and these are the excessive caretaking behaviors that make these individuals feel like they are "good." In truth, we are all good enough as we are, but somewhere along the way, these individuals were made to feel like what they did was “not satisfactory” so they’d push themselves further just to feel like they were doing enough. This dropped their self-esteem and created a pattern of going-above-and-beyond to prove that they are good and this shows up in their everyday lives. In truth, most of these individuals are brilliant overachievers but too often sell themselves short.

“Just my luck” “if only” “why me” “I can never catch a break” “not fair”

Using statements like these put you right in victim mode. Look, when something bad happens, we are allowed to have a pity party - we are, on occasion, actual victims. But if we are perpetually saying “why me” or “I can never catch a break” nothing will move. On a spectrum, the opposite of victimization is empowerment so, when someone wants to leave victimization, they must take action, make moves, and not fall back into victimization when things get tough - victimization is immobilizing.

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.

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