Ever want to shout out at a naughty child, “Stop it, you’re being BAD?” You are definitely not alone. Parenting, caregiving, teaching children requires lots of patience and skill especially when they are not complying.
Growing up, I knew a lot of kids who heard this from teachers, siblings, and well-meaning neighbors. These kids didn’t listen, were very hyperactive, and above all, mischievous. I didn’t like some of them. I was friends with some. Later, I would come to find out that kids aren’t bad, they just engage in behaviors that are either not expected, liked, or accepted for the situation.
Which is why when one of my daughter’s first words were, “bad! bad!” I cringed and as I was trying to tolerate the shame of having my daughter say this (and with conviction), I of course, yelled at my husband. You see, in her first year of life, my husband would constantly tell our chihuahua, Millie that she was “bad! bad!” when she would bark at strangers, family members, the baby, nothing, or a knock on tv (she’s just protective!). My family would laugh at me when I would say, “Millie’s not bad, she just makes poor choices.” Yes, these are the conversations in the home of a therapist. My point was that Millie was responding to her internal alarm, her “flight and fight” response telling her to protect us and the home. And while she has a lot to learn about life and real and perceived danger, we as her parents need to train her to do better, instead of making her feel as though she’s bad. Every time I hear someone say “bad person” it’s like nails on a chalkboard for me. Mainly because I know how much people suffer when they believe it about themselves.
In my work, the “I’m a bad person” core belief comes up quite frequently. A lot of people believe they are inherently BAD. When we examine this belief and its history on their life, we find that the message (or “seed” as I like to refer to it as), “You’re bad” was planted back in childhood. It might have been an innocent, non-ill intentioned experience, and it kept being reinforced through time and other experiences. I tell my clients that these reinforced experiences are like oxygen, water and sunlight… all the things that a core belief and “tree” needs to grow and thrive. Then people start to believe the message and can develop assumptions about themselves and act accordingly. Two extremes can be: 1) continue to act that belief out, ex: “Since I’m bad and everyone knows it, I will continue to do bad things.” and/or ; 2) do everything possible to combat this belief or “inherent trait”, ex: “I have to go above and beyond to do nice things so that no one catches on and sees that I’m actually really a bad person.” Such behaviors can cause people to suffer and ultimately, behave in ways that are opposite to their values or goals.
Now that my daughter is 3.5 years old, I see her personality flourishing, how she developmentally appropriately pushes boundaries (and bedtime, and more snacks, or juice after brushing teeth, or stalling to clean up toys and on and on), and asserts her independence (no, I do it!), and how she is also starting to hold on to certain beliefs about herself and even others, like Millie = bad. It won’t be before long that an experience plants a seed about how her behavior is a direct reflection of something or someone she inherently is, even though it really isn’t.
And so this post is for her, for me, for you and your children. Let this image be a reminder that kids aren’t bad, they’re just:
Hungry. Tired. Bored. Overly Stimulated. Super excited. Frustrated. Delirious. Loopy. Sad. Having bad memories (trauma reactions look a lot like hyperactivity in kids – more on this in a later post). Legitimately not listening to you or the directions.
Sure it frustrates the hell out of us parents or caregivers (or aunts, teachers, sitters, cousins, grandparents), mainly because we’re:
Hungry. Tired. Bored. Overly Stimulated. Super excited. Frustrated. Delirious. Loopy. Sad. Having bad memories (trauma reactions look a lot like irritability in adults – more on this in a later post). Legitimately not listening to them or the directions they have for us.
And that doesn’t make us bad either.
Hey, parenting, teaching, caregiving – it’s all hard. Every day is a whole new ballgame. Be kind to yourself and those kiddos.
Stay tuned for the next post focusing on what you can do to help with some of these behaviors.
If you feel triggered by this article and are in need of some immediate resources, I urge you to contact:
- 911 or go to your nearest ER if you feel you a danger to yourself or others
- 211 – in LA County it’s the social service directory for grief groups, therapy resources, housing, and more. It’s also online, google, “211”
- LA County Access hotline for a psychiatric evaluation wherever you are located. The ACCESS/HOTLINE Phone number is : 1-800-854-7771. ACCESS operates 24 hours/day, 7 days/week as the entry point for mental health services in Los Angeles County.
- Email me at email@example.com if you’d like to inquire about an appointment with me in the Long Beach area. I can also help connect you to other therapists if you live elsewhere.
- If you would like to access your insurance mental health benefits, there should be a Member Phone number on the back of your insurance card. Ask them for their list of approved therapists. They can also email it to you, making it easy to cross reference the list on www.psychologytoday.com where you can check their profiles out.
Thank you for reading. Follow me on Instagram under @mendingrootstherapy to get updates about new articles, quotes and other musings on mental health.
A few weeks ago a colleague and I bonded over discussing Rumi, the 13th Century Persian Poet-Scholar. She has been studying Rumi with members of her Persian community and I have been introduced to his writings and poetry through my personal study on Acceptance and Healing. We (and millions of others) were drawn to Rumi’s words and poems because he captures the essence of emotions through several written gems. I call them gems because when I read them, they illuminate an experience in me that perhaps has been hiding under denial, pain, or masked by other emotions. Uncovering pain is also a gem to me because it highlights how much someone cares and how much their values mean to them.
Earlier this week, she lent me the book, “Silent Words” with hundreds of pages of poems and pieces by Rumi. I flipped through a few pages and found the following gem. “Fearfully, I was stealing from my own gold.” In the poem, Rumi is expressing his experience with doubting his wise friend and spiritual instructor, Shams. By doubting and challenging his wisdom, Rumi says, “Fearfully, I was stealing from my own gold.” It’s that cringe-worthy memory that shows up any time you realize, “‘so and so’ told me this would happen. ‘So and so’ was so right about this and I didn’t listen. The doctors told me this would happen, etc, etc.” I’m sure we could come up with hundreds of scenarios that get triggered by this gem. “Fearfully, I was stealing from my own gold.” I swear, the more times I say it and write it out, the more powerful it becomes. To me, this message and gem is about Self-Sabotage and how at times, we create barriers for the life we want to live.
I define Self-Sabotage as engaging in behaviors or thoughts that move us away from our goals, values, happiness, progress and ultimately, well-being. Giving in to negative thoughts and core beliefs also contribute greatly to Self-Sabotage. What’s important to know about giving in to deeply ingrained negative thoughts and core beliefs is that more times often than not, they are wildly inaccurate. We might have adopted a negative self view of ourselves as children or other painful experiences in which we might not have had a complete perspective, control, or facts and we internalize them as an absolute truth. Giving in to those thoughts and core beliefs takes away from our happiness. It’s stealing from our own gold!
Self-Sabotage and “stealing from your own gold” is also behavioral. For me, it entails those times in which I overeat in an unhealthy way. It entails crossing my own boundaries, such as overworking, over-committing, procrastination, or convincing myself that I don’t need exercise or a day off. I think any fellow workaholic can relate to this.
For others it might be not following a medication regimen, skipping out on doctor appointments, not meeting deadlines, or poor work performance. It means doing things that get in the way of self-care, progress or happiness.
The role of self-sabotage in relationships can be significant. It might look like an inability in trusting others (who are safe to trust), engaging in inappropriate, unbalanced or unhealthy relationships, having unhealthy boundaries, or even avoiding connections.
Stealing from your own gold also encompasses suppressing or over acting on emotions in an ineffective way, which can cause problems in your work, school, or home life. This might look like yelling or lashing out in the workplace; threatening others; not asking for help; or having unfair expectations of others — including loved ones co-workers, teachers, or the general public. Engaging in such behaviors can cause problems for us in reaching our goals. It can impede 1) having a good relationship with our child’s teacher; 2) being evaluated well in our performance evaluations; 3) having a serene home environment.
One of my favorite sources of research and inspiration is this little cataloging website called Pinterest.com. When I did a search for self-sabotage it pulled up an overwhelming selection of quotes and messages. Among the best in describing self-sabotage were:
- “Don’t stand in your own way.”
- “Get off your but.”
- “Self-sabotage is about wanting something so bad and making sure it doesn’t happen.”
- “She didn’t know who would leave or stay. So she pushed them all away.”
- “I’m afraid of what I’m doing to myself, but I can’t seem to stop.”
- “Stop hurting yourself because you are angry at someone else.”
- “Do not sabotage your new relationship with your old relationship’s poison.”
- “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
Impressive and overwhelming list of quotes right? I know. They resonate with a feeling of dis-control that’s linked to hurtful experiences, and actions that we engaged in. I know.
So what do we do about self-sabotage? Below is a list of different recommendations and techniques that I have found to be extremely helpful in identifying self-sabotage and chipping away at it. By no means do I think that these are easy tasks. You should know that it can be a painful process in the beginning, especially if hurtful memories or trauma comes up for you. And some days might be better than others for you to be able to turn your cycle in the opposite direction. However, please don’t underestimate yourself and your capacity for self-kindness and resilience. (*I also want to be clear that I recognize the role of systemic and societal barriers on our psychology and negative thought process. That conversation, however, is a much more complicated topic and post that, well, yes, I will have to write in the future. You have my word.)
- Recognize and acknowledge your self-sabotaging thoughts or behavior. This is a pivotal first step in making a change. Identify your behavior that is getting in the way of a goal you have for yourself.
- Observe the negative thoughts that are going through your mind. You can write them down if you want. Think about those one-liners that go through your mind as soon as you decide to go in the direction AWAY from your goal. What are you saying to yourself, about yourself, about others, the situation, the future?
- Challenge or evaluate these specific, situational thoughts. Think of evidence for and against it. Is there a more positive way in which you can think of this? Are you taking into consideration ALL perspectives? Are you being unfair with yourself? What would you be saying to yourself if you were being kinder? Or better, what would you tell someone close and who you love if they were in your shoes? Is the thought related to a fact? If it is, evaluate how HELPFUL or USEFUL the this thought or fact is in your life? Just because it might be true, does not mean you have to adopt it and live your life according to it. Write the new, more positive, true and feel-good thoughts on a card, write in on your Notes app, or take a picture of it and look at it repeatedly for daily reminders. Make a pinterest board out of them (I swear, I’m not affiliated or get paid by Pinterest).
- Make a commitment to doing one thing, one action that’s in the direction of your goal. Even if it’s small. In fact, the smaller, the better because it’s more likely to be attainable.
These are small, yet meaningful steps that you can take to break the cycle of self-sabotage. If you’re finding yourself having a difficult time following these steps, go ahead and google ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’ (or go to www.academyofct.org), or even on Amazon. There are tons of amazing self-help books on changing thoughts, feelings and behaviors — all related to defeating self-sabotage and negative thinking.
I think it’s only fair that I also share with your some quotes from Pinterest that to me, help with reversing the Cycle of Self-sabotage. Among my favorites are:
- “Slay your stress monster”
- “When you let go, we create space for better things to enter your life.”
- “I will not feel deprived when I bypass junk food, I will feel empowered that I made a healthy choice”
- “Remember that you are doing the best you can in THIS moment.”
- “You are worthy, You are worthy of love, happiness and your own forgiveness.”
Feel free to follow me on Instagram @mendingrootstherapy for inspirational quotes and other musings on mental health and wellness.
Lastly, if you would like a free 15 minute consultation to discuss your situation and if you would benefit from individual therapy, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.