How Self-Sabotage Logic Is Formed Over Time

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As children, we learn how to behave based on the people around us. This is true for adults too, but most of our thoughts and beliefs are formed during childhood because that’s when we are most malleable and trusting of others. As someone who grew up in a dysfunctional household, I have a lot of self-sabotage logic and behavior. Writing this essay is my way of getting to the bottom of this logic and helping myself and others to stop hurting ourselves in covert and overt ways.

I thought that the best way to go about this would be to make these “logic” charts because it’s easier to trace how a pattern of thought and behavior is formed.

This is only how one form of self-sabotage and trauma bonding is formed. There are others but I’m only focusing on one. Perhaps your parent rewarded you when you performed well or when you met one of their needs. That’s not covered here but if you replace the keywords I placed above, you can see how over time, you felt that you had to perform for others in order to be approved or rewarded.

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Repetition of consequences and feelings over time creates a false cause and effect that seems logical but isn't.By Me

An inciting incident from the child “causes” a negative response from the adult caretaker. The child feels a strong negative emotion or many negative emotions that they don’t know how to process or soothe.

For me, when I did well or experienced some sort of personal happiness or joy, my parents would punish or hurt me in some way. They would talk about my flaws or compare me to others as a way to make me “humble.” This usually created a lot of negative feelings that never went away.

As a child, I believed that I “caused” my parents to react negatively and to behave negatively. Breaking this sense of cause and effect has been extremely difficult to do as an adult. In some ways, I still believe that I cause others to be mean or rude but I — we — are not responsible for someone else’s emotions or behaviors.

Please also note that it is repeated, chronic maltreatment that creates these irrational logic patterns and becomes confirmation bias in the victim over time.

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The child/ victim begins to find tools to prevent punishment.By Me

I don’t know at what point that I thought self-effacement and self-punishment would make things better but I learned pretty quickly that it reduced the tensions in my family. It made me feel better and my parents were less disapproving. I thought that they were nicer to me. In hindsight, my parents were less disapproving but they weren’t really nicer to me. As a child, I didn’t think that I was trying to “control” my parents. I just felt better and it seemed like my parents cared about me when I hurt myself in some way such as running into the edge of a table or not having friends.

A child or adult victim (abused wife or abused husband) will try to find ways that will make their caretaker or abuser care for them or love them. For my family, self-effacement and self-punishment worked so I stuck with it. At the time, it protected me in some way from my parents but it also kept me from living.

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Over time, the child/victim learns that achievement causes punishment and stops trying to achieveBy Me

Over time, I realized that achievement, happiness, and joy were not allowed. So I stopped trying to experience those things. Even when I made steps in reaching my goals, something seemed to stop me, whether it was an external obstacle, a mental and emotional obstacle, or an obstacle of my own making. My own wants and needs disappeared. The only thing I cared about was pleasing my parents. This is one form of trauma bonding. At the time, I didn’t realize it was because as a human being, I was trying to protect my safety. When you feel threatened, you can’t do other things. I became entirely focused on my parents. My nervous system was on alert all the time and I was constantly hypervigilant. I didn’t know that this was happening. There were no words to describe this at the time and when it’s happening day-to-day, you don’t know that’s what your body is doing. You’re just trying to survive.

As a child and teenager, I thought that I was very smart. Why achieve, when you’re going to be punished? Just self-efface and self-punish. This brings a sense of relief and happiness. So over time, self-effacement and self-punishment became equated to happiness, a release in mental, emotional, and physical tension, and equilibrium in the family.

Now, as an adult, I use self-effacement and self-punishment as a way to self-soothe. It makes me feel better but it’s actually hurting my life by keeping me small and attracting incompatible friends and partners.

As survivors, it’s our job to break down this train of illogical thoughts formed in dysfunctional relationships and replace the self-sabotage thought pattern and behavior with healthier mechanisms. For me, I have to focus on why and when I choose to self-efface and self-punish and break the equation between achievement and punishment. I also have to break the link that it feels “better” to hurt myself. This is very difficult for me to do. But by seeing it drawn out on paper, it helps a little more.

I hope that this is helpful to you. This model can be used for adults with childhood trauma and adults who have had abusive relationships. Trace through the train of thoughts and patterns that got you to the self-sabotaging behavior and break it down.

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Hello! I'm a narrative filmmaker in NYC. These are my private diaries. I write about mental health, childhood trauma & dysfunctional family systems. Come along on my journey as I grow as a person, heal, and pursue my dreams of being a storyteller. I'd appreciate your support! https://www.patreon.com/filmmakerdiaries

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