Self-Sabotage

Richard Friedman in the NY Times:

“You could say I’ve been unlucky in love,” a young man told me during a recent consultation.

He went on to describe a series of failed romantic relationships, all united by a single theme: he had been mistreated by unsympathetic women who cheated on him.

This was not his only area of disappointment, though. At work, he had just been passed over for a promotion; it went to a colleague whom he viewed as inferior.

I asked him about his work as a computer scientist and discovered that he worked long hours and relished challenging problems. But he also did some curious things to undermine himself. Once, for example, he “forgot” about an important presentation and arrived 30 minutes late, apologizing profusely.

What was striking about this intelligent and articulate young man was his view that he was a hapless victim of bad luck, in the guise of unfaithful women and a capricious boss; there was no sense that he might have had a hand in his own misfortune.

I decided to push him. “Do you ever wonder why so many disappointing things happen to you?” I asked. “Is it just chance, or might you have something to do with it?”

His reply was a resentful question: “You think it’s all my fault, don’t you?”

Now I got it. He was about to turn our first meeting into yet another encounter in which he was mistreated. It seemed he rarely missed an opportunity to feel wronged.

Of all human psychology, self-defeating behavior is among the most puzzling and hard to change. After all, everyone assumes that people hanker after happiness and pleasure. Have you ever heard of a self-help book on being miserable?

So what explains those men and women who repeatedly pursue a path that leads to pain and disappointment? Perhaps there is a hidden psychological reward.

I got a glimpse of it once from another patient, a woman in her early 60s who complained about her ungrateful children and neglectful friends. As she spoke, it was clear she felt that all the major figures in her life had done her wrong. In fact, her status as an injured party afforded her a psychological advantage: she felt morally superior to everyone she felt had mistreated her. This was a role she had no intention of giving up.

As she left my office, she smiled and said, “I don’t expect that you’ll be able to help me.” She was already setting up her next failure: her treatment.

One theory mentioned above is that self-sabotage allows one to feel superior. My experience with many low self-esteem individuals who self-sabotage is that they simply don't believe they deserve the good things in life. I have no good explanation of why such a character trait might exist.

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One theory mentioned above

One theory mentioned above is that self-sabotage allows one to feel superior. My experience with many low self-esteem individuals who self-sabotage is that they simply don't believe they deserve the good things in life. I have no good explanation of why such a character trait might exist.

Me either, but it certainly explains the Tea Party, 912'ers and Conservativism.