Throughout time, theologians, philosophers and ordinary people in unfortunate circumstances have pondered the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” While people much wiser than I have written volumes on the subject, I would like to propose a one-word answer: choices. Regardless of how “good” we are or strive to be, most of us will experience bad things in life that occur largely as a result of our own choices.
I’m not talking about the unavoidable tragic death of a loved one or being hit by a drunk driver when you’re obeying the rules of the road and minding your own business. Rather, I am referring to all the bad stuff that tends to occur, recur and build day after day—unhappiness in a marriage; obesity; depression; fatigue; certain chronic health problems; dissatisfaction with your job, your life circumstances and yourself.
Of course, no one consciously chooses these things for themselves. If we had our way, we would all have great marriages; boundless happiness; trim, healthy, energetic bodies; challenging, well-paying jobs; and loads of self esteem. Yet every day, people unwittingly choose actions and attitudes that work against what they really want from life. These actions and attitudes are what I call self-defeating behaviors (or SDBs). We develop them at low points in our lives and continue to use them long after it stops being appropriate to do so.
In abstract terms, your life can be viewed as a line with various high and low points, representing a variety of experiences—some positive, some negative. Positive experiences develop healthy behaviors. Negative experiences (including being held to the unrealistic expectations of a parent, rejection of a romantic partner, taunting by peers as a child) can breed SDBs, as we strive to cope with the stresses in our life. SDBs are misguided attempts to deal with those stresses.
For example, a woman who as a young girl was teased for being chubby might come to associate being overweight with the stress of rejection and associate being thin with love and acceptance. For that reason, she may choose SDBs such as crash dieting, binging or taking dangerous diet pills to avoid rejection. Certainly her longing to be accepted is understandable and her desire to have a slender figure is generally healthy. But her ways of going about getting both are all misguided.
Life today can be stressful on all fronts. You may be working with all your might to balance a marriage, a family, a career and social life, while trying to maintain a home and pay the bills. Alternatively, you may be trying to cope with loneliness—the lack of marriage and family—or joblessness and the inability to pay your bills. You may have feelings of inadequacy when you can’t have—or give your children—the kind of life that others seem to have.
All of these things can lead to stress, which in turn lead to the development of SDBs. While SDBs may be a particular problem for people with chronic health conditions, the average healthy person practices six SDBs on an on-going basis.
Eliminating Self-Defeating Behaviors, a 4-hour continuing education course for mental health professionals, is designed to teach concepts to eliminate these negative patterns. The course is educational: first you learn the model, then you apply it to a specific self-defeating behavior. A positive behavioral change is the outcome. Following the course, participants will be able to identify, analyze and replace their self-defeating behavior(s) with positive behavior(s). The course also provides an excellent psychological “tool” for clinicians to use with their clients. The author grants limited permission to photocopy forms and exercises included in this course for clinical use.
- From Bad to Good Habits in Five Achievable Steps (psychologytoday.com)
- The danger of self-identifying as “stressed” (psychologytoday.com)
- Reaching Consensus About Behavioral Expectations in Schools (education.com)
- Stay in Balance to Boost Your Immune System (joyofspa.com)
- Healthy Thinking (healthy1dayatatime.wordpress.com)