Do you have a talent for self-sabotage? (Sure, you’re on a diet, but another doughnut won’t kill you, right?) If so, Martha Beck can help you defeat your own worst enemy — that would be you — with a simple three-step plan.
By Martha Beck
Rose is a strict vegan who eats only whole, organic food…except when she drives to 7-Eleven to suck up sweets like an industrial Shop-Vac. Anya is an ambitious, conscientious employee who has a knack for oversleeping, procrastinating and spacing out on appointments when something important is happening at work. Cissy, an accountant, prides herself on squeezing every penny until it screams, yet frequently goes on shopping binges that keep her in permanent credit card debt.
Perhaps you, like these three women, have a few counterproductive habits — like staying up too late, playing computer games instead of paying your bills on time, leaving food where it could attract bears. If you ever find yourself asking, Why, why, why do I do this to myself? consider this: You’re sabotaging yourself, all right, but probably not in the way you think. In fact, many bad habits are your subconscious attempts to deal with a deeper self-sabotage, one you may not realize exists. To eliminate the counterproductive behavior on the surface of your life, you must correct the self-betrayal you’re keeping buried.
Your Very Own Rat Park
Several decades ago, a Canadian psychologist and professor named Bruce Alexander became interested in myriad studies showing that heroin and other drugs are ferociously addictive. Many of these experiments involved lab rats (rat and human physiologies are similar); the research showed that rats, once given heroin or other opiates, routinely doped themselves to oblivion.
But Alexander noticed something so obvious, everyone else had overlooked it; namely, that all the rats in the experiments were kept isolated in cages. And then he had a radical thought: Maybe (follow the logic closely) rats don’t like being alone in a cage. Maybe they dislike it so much that when locked inside, they’ll desperately distract themselves with whatever is available. Hello, heroin!
With this hypothesis in mind, Alexander and his colleagues went on to build a veritable spa for rodents — a large, clean, wood chip — strewn enclosure they called Rat Park. Alexander then took rats out of their cages and put them in Rat Park. He also offered them a choice of plain water or sugar water laced with morphine. The rats in Rat Park most often chose plain water.
The Rat Park studies profoundly influenced my view of what many people call self-sabotage. I believe that most of us live in cages of our own creation. Ignoring our actual desires, we try to do what we think is right (or good or healthy or admirable — pick your poison). Sometimes this arrangement works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Picture yourself as two beings in one body. The first is a miraculous, intricate animal, one whose world view focuses on food and frequent cuddling. Concepts like cholesterol levels, mortgage payments and PowerPoint presentations mean nothing to it. It’s all about joy. The second being is a brilliant logical thinker, almost like a high-powered computer that processes abstract concepts with ease.
When your animal and computer selves are after the same goal, the two-beings-in-one arrangement works wonderfully. Say you’re a morning person and you work the morning shift. No problema! You know broccoli is good for you, and you love broccoli. Hooray! But when your computer self tries to force your animal self to do something it doesn’t inherently enjoy, you run into trouble. Self-sabotaging trouble, to be exact. In fact, self-sabotaging is almost always your animal self rebelling against not-so-much-fun conditions imposed by your computer self. The computer self builds a sort of cage of obligations and beliefs. Bad habits are your animal self’s attempt to ease its distress while living in that cage.
Consider Rose, a working mom caring for her elderly father. When she’s out of physical and emotional energy, her body suggests a 7-Eleven run to comfort itself with sweet, fatty food. Anya’s animal self dislikes sitting in an office all day. Oversleeping is her animal self’s form of relief and protest. Cissy is married to an unexpressive man who travels constantly. She shops, sating her suffering animal self with new possessions, when she feels most alone.
When the animal self feels caged, it fights back and, ultimately, wins. Rose knows everything there is to know about healthy eating, Anya is a doggedly hard worker and Cissy has a thorough awareness of how to manage money. But their animal selves are operating on a deeper evolutionary level, sabotaging the plans that don’t contribute to basic happiness. The animal self’s urges are powerful and nearly impossible to resist.
The only effective, long-term way I’ve ever eliminated bad habits, in myself or my clients, is by freeing the animal self from its cage and creating for it something closer to a safe, comfortable Rat Park. If you cease to betray yourself in fundamental ways, the self-sabotage on the surface simply stops. Here’s how the process works.
Step One: Figure Out What’s Really Going On
To soothe your animal self, you must first become aware of your inherent desires and the times in your life when you’re disallowing them. Begin by getting a pen, some paper and half an hour to sit still. Then make a detailed list of things you plan to do tomorrow. List actions both small and large: showering, making breakfast, carpooling, feeding the goats, acquiring a corporation, holding up a liquor store — everything on your agenda.
Now think about the bad habit you’re trying to break. Feel the compulsiveness that accompanies it. Relax your breathing and read over your to-do list. As you imagine performing each activity, notice how much you feel like engaging in your self-sabotaging behavior. Put a number by each item: zero if it doesn’t make you feel the least bit tempted to indulge your bad habit; ten if it makes you jump right up and rush to the fridge, a bar, a slot machine or wherever you go to self-sabotage.
This exercise can bring you face-to-face with some scary truths. Someone you call a friend might turn out to be mainly a binge buddy. Your job may make you want to smoke all sorts of things. Calling your mother may trigger your desire to gamble. Beneath the familiar urge, you’ll find a sensation of constriction, one that may feel like weariness, sorrow or terror. Instead of beating and deriding your animal self for feeling this way, move on to the next step.
Step Two: Release Yourself from the Cage
Once you’re aware of your self-sabotaging triggers, it’s time to deploy your brilliant computer mind — not to stifle your animal self, but to let the pair work together to create a life that feels freer and more nourishing. Considering each self-sabotage-inducing item on your list, ask:
1. In a perfect life, would I do this thing at all?
2. If so, what would I change to make it more enjoyable?
3. If not, what would I rather do?
Let your imagination roam as you consider the last two questions. Think of alternative activities that aren’t just concepts but images, pictures that make your animal self perk up, relax or both. Don’t limit yourself to what’s logical, doable or even possible. Dreaming it doesn’t mean you have to do it, but guess what — if you never dream it, you’ll never do it.
Step Three: Build Your Rat Park
Now, starting with the wildest-dream scenario from step two, begin making changes — even tiny ones — that allow your life to more closely resemble your animal self’s ideal environment. Your personal Rat Park doesn’t need to be built in a day. Just envisioning it will give your animal self hope and reduce its need to sabotage your agendas.
For example, overscheduled Rose noticed that she went nuts with the sweets whenever she tried to keep up with stay-at-home moms at neighborhood parties. She finally decided to skip social events she didn’t like and immediately felt less compulsion toward Krispy Kremes. Anya wasn’t prepared to quit her onerous job, but she asked her boss whether she could do more work outside the office and found that she had much less trouble keeping appointments. Cissy addressed her loneliness by joining a Wednesday night knitting circle, and soon her need to shop dwindled. Give the animal self a little love, and incredible things occur.
Bruce Alexander helped a few would-be hard-core addict rodents avoid a life of dependency by guiding them out of a miserable situation and putting them in an environment that felt normal and natural to them. All it took was a bit of time and compassion to give those animals the type of sanctuary that nature designed them to thrive in.
That’s all you have to do to ease your own self-sabotaging tendencies. Begin caring compassionately for your animal self. Even before you’ve made much headway toward creating your own Rat Park, you’ll feel bad habits begin to lose their compulsive pull. If you keep working your way toward more enjoyable days, deep self-betrayal will begin to diminish, and those bad habits may cease entirely. In hindsight, what you once called self-sabotage may appear as wisdom — the unlikely spark that led the way to a happier life.
If you cease to betray yourself, the self-sabotage in your life simply stops.
Martha Beck’s latest book is The Martha Beck Collection: Essays for Creating Your Right Life, Volume One.
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Chelsea Handler And The Black Friend Defense - The Root
Then, to make matters worse—after taking some heat for it—she went on Good Morning America and proceeded to argue that she can’t be a racist because (drumroll, please) … “I date a lot of black people. So that would be a difficult thing to explain to them.”
And when I heard that, all I thought was: Here we go again.
Another high-profile white person gets in hot water for a racially charged remark and then chooses to deploy the Black Friend Defense. Only, in Handler’s case, this time it’s specifically the Black Boyfriend Defense.
Using your black friends to shield you is the tacky way out—no matter how you look at it. But it’s even worse hiding behind a sexual partner—particularly one whom you’ve admitted to denigrating when he wasn’t around.
Trece Hayslett: A “Mindfulness” Breakdown: Black Swan (2010)
A “Mindfulness” Breakdown: Black Swan (2010) The Story of a Ballet Dancer.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis
Company: Twentieth Century Fox/Fox Searchlight
Ignorance is the root of all suffering – believing things that are not true or suffering delusions. The protagonist (Nina) gets caught up in fantasies delusions believing them to be true. They cause her to suffer.
Having no one believe her – She tries to explain to Thomas that Lily wants her part and is “playing mind games” with her.
Nina Experiences physical suffering – the rash and the physical demands of being a dancer.
Nina’s extreme behavior – there is no Middle way or balance; her extreme denial of food and her quest to be perfect.
The untrained mind can never know peace, has no free will, or inner discipline.
You become a slave to your own thoughts and emotions.
You create a negative state of mind that can turn into negative behavior or actions.
It destroys your perception. You no longer “see” reality or can gain Wisdom/Truth.
Mental Development or inner strength is not about being smarter. Sometimes it’s about not being a slave to the negative states of mind.
Drama and conflict comes from this polarization.
The white Swan versus the Black swan (Twins)
Good versus evil
The child Versus The woman she wants to be.
There are two extremes fighting within her this creates inner conflict that manifests itself in crazy behavior.
Having no one believes her – She tries to explain to Thomas that Lilly wants her part and is “playing mind games with her.
Lilly pretends to be a friend
(Lilly) Approaches her at her home (personal and shows intent)
Lily pulls Nina into a negative environment (the bar/nightclub). (Context/situation)
Told Thomas that Nina had been crying. Planting Doubt into his mind about Nina.
Lily encourages drug use – an altered state of mind – taking away Nina’s ability to make good decisions, have clarity.
Lily then takes Nina’s place at rehearsal the next day because has trouble recovering from Lily’s invite the night before.
Openly embarrasses(using shame) Nina when she asks lily about the night before
Tries to get Nina to say she is sleeping with Thomas
Lily’s “attacks” are not overt, like most evil acts. Regardless, she is a villain because she creates obstacles for our hero, acts with the intention to hurt someone (the hero), is motivated by personal gain (becoming the swan queen), and she doesn’t think about or care about the consequences of her actions.
What lily has is deniability she hides her agenda so well that if Nina makes an accusation, Nina sounds crazy or paranoid.
“My sweet girl” – Her mother’s label of her as a child. It keeps her from becoming a woman/ the black swan.
“My little princess” – Her mentor’s label of his stars/women.
If she accepts these labels she restricts what she can become in the future she never becomes a woman, the black swan.
Obsession / Want and Craving
Evidence and examples of extreme behavior
Ringtone: Swan Lake
The music box: Swan lake
Throwing up: Her weight
Emotions take away clarity
Makes a bad decision – Trust Lily.
Fear of Failure - Causes Suffering.
Lust for lily – Causes Delusions
Drug Use – Made more easily deceived
Believing Material Things Have Power
Nina steals Beth’s things. Beth is “perfect” and Nina believes owning her things will make her perfect.
Trying to find what you need from the external world.
The Dark, Grey Chaos is a pattern or journey of suffering created by negative external and internal forces.
Mind Blindness (Extreme stress) cultivates polarized, either/or thinking
High emotional state hinders critical & decision making skills
Thoughts are embraced as reality
It’s the trauma of an event in your life that may never go away and may cause “triggers.”
Nina’s extreme behavior – no middle way or balance. Her extreme denial of food and her quest to be perfect. Is there even such a thing as perfect? What makes her a good dancer can be made to hurt her in the right situation; even strength in the hands of the wrong person can be used to against her.
Nina experiences physical suffering – the rash and the physical demands of a dancer.
Trece Hayslett: What You Can Learn About Politics & Torture from Aliens
**Spoiler alert: If you have not seen the episode The GingerBread Man, from ABC’s show “The Neighbors” you may not want to read this.
In Episode 11 (The Gingerbread man) of the funny and clever ABC network show “The Neighbors,” in order to help Debbie Weaver take control of the school PTA Larry Bird, neighbor, alien, father, and supreme alien leader, uses his knowledge of politics and psychological war tactics to drive the PTA president mad.
Since many parents have to deal with school politics and because you never know when your bosses will use alien techniology for psychological attacks against you at educational institutions I have prepared a life lesson guide.
Lesson to Be Learned: Don’t be a Jerk.
A little kindness and compassion goes a long way.Both Larry Bird and the PTA president were jerks and both paid the price for it. The PTA president suffers psychological trauma and Larry Bird will never be asked again to help out with anything ever again.
Life Skill to Be Developed: Mental Strength
Larry Bird’s attacks on the PTA president caused her to have a heightened “fight or flight” response. Identify triggers and face them so they don’t have power over you. So, if you happen to have an unrealistic fear of gingerbread men you should deal with that.
Critical Thinking: You can’t believe everything you see or hear.
Use critical thinking to find the answers. Have an open mind, but use logic and reason. Aliens may not exist, but jerks who like to play mind games do.
Use Mindfulness (or “How to be a confident, strong black woman… like a alien”)
Stay calm. Stay focused. Counterproductive emotions make critical thinking almost impossible. “Watch” your thoughts. If you start to sound crazy to yourself you know you have a problem.
Let’s hope the former PTA president doesn’t go postal, but I think Larry Bird’s attacks were meant to make her retreat or go away. Until of course she realizes what has happened and who is responsible. I’m betting then she becomes an alien conspiracy theorist.
The Neighbors airs on Wednesday nights, 8 p.m. central time/9 p.m. ET on ABC