Last week we focused on self-care and savoring. We used our mindful awareness in each moment to consider, “What do I really need right now?” We did our best to slow down, respond to these needs, and savor all of our experience. We are deepening our practice of listening to our bodies, hearts, and minds with compassion. Through this continued practice, we might feel ourselves growing softer. We may begin to see the fear and hurt underneath the parts of ourselves we used to judge; this awareness helps to grow our self-compassion. We will need to lean into this softness as we face our next challenge: identifying self-defeating behaviors.
This phrase may feel harsh or frightening to us at first glance, but we can rest assured that here, we examine this aspect of ourselves through the lens of compassionate curiosity. This focus invites us to view ourselves through the lens of honesty and accountability. Such self-inquiry has helped untold thousands in 12-Step recovery groups to heal from life-crippling addictions and traumas of all sorts. This week, we might open our minds and empty our cups to consider if this approach might also be helpful for us.
So, what are self-defeating behaviors? Simply put, they can be a range of behaviors that cause harm to ourselves or others–from habitual, self-destructive patterns to well-intended but unconscious coping strategies. At their core, they are behaviors that lead us away from our center. Even as we read this, a personal behavior that incites embarrassment or an instinctive defensiveness may be creeping into our awareness. If such a pattern has repeatedly brought discord into our life or relationships, it may well be self-defeating. Many of us have spent considerable energy nurturing and excusing such behaviors for a lifetime. In some ways, we may feel that they work for us! Perhaps they have even helped us to survive.
Yet, when we look deeply at these behaviors, we might feel a tugging deep inside. Usually, some part of us recognizes our unconscious attempts to cope with life, find safety, or regulate our emotions. As we observe ourselves in a space of loving non-judgment, we can often sense our ego at their root. As we investigate with open and loving awareness, we can begin to see our fear-based motivations, our grasping for a sense of identity, our limiting beliefs, and our illusions.
These behaviors are aptly titled self-defeating because they usually prevent the very outcome we desire. Perhaps we have been perfectionists, spending much time and energy trying to make ourselves look or act perfect. Why do we do this? We might not know. But deep down, a limiting belief colors our glasses and drives our behavior: perhaps we believe we must be perfect to be loved. Yet, our desperate pursuit for perfection often makes us so rigid and outcome-based that we snap at anyone who gets in the way of our agenda. In a state of fear, rigidity, obsession, or judgment, we struggle to be present and loving with others. Thus the behavior intended to secure love becomes the very obstacle to obtaining it.
Perhaps we have used anger as a shield to protect us from vulnerability or emotional pain. This emotional protector might move in so quickly we don’t even recognize it happening. Yet, our anger is so aggressive it pushes people away, making it impossible to feel the connection we truly long for. What starts as a protector ends up trapping us in further isolation and loneliness: deep down, we are even more vulnerable and alone than if we had faced the initial situation with our guard down.
Fortunately, the more we practice finding our center, the more quickly we can sense when we are caught in self-defeating behaviors. With compassionate curiosity, we might ask: Where in my life do I keep doing the same thing expecting different results? Most of us have heard this described as the definition of insanity. When we investigate the places in our lives where we habitually feel stuck, we will usually find self-defeating behavior at work. This feeling of stuck-ness can be a manifestation that we are resisting life and at odds with nature. When we are misaligned with the flow, our actions inevitably become self-defeating, creating suffering in one way or another. At LBS, we offer the following Life Laws to help us more skillfully navigate the flow of life.
LBS Life Law #1: I only have power over my own heart, mind, and actions.
We might consider how often we focus attention on problems that fall outside of our control. Typically, the more we try to force the issue, the more resistance we meet. In examining these situations, we might consider how we are using our willpower. When we use our willpower to attack a problem or control others and outcomes, we are misaligned with nature. Our efforts then become self-defeating. Instead, we can use our will to look inward, examine our motives, and align our own hearts and minds with what is, with God’s help. We can connect with and harness His Power by focusing our attention on the only place we can control: our own heart, mind, and actions. When we do, we can safely expect that He will show up for us and lead us to our next right step.
As the saying goes, “Where Attention Goes, Energy Flows, the Flower Grows.” When our attention turns toward God, a Higher Power flows through us, and our capacity expands infinitely. We find abundance. We organically shift our attention away from other people’s problems and into our own sense of alignment. As we look inward, we might get particularly curious about those places we feel most desperate to control, investigating for limiting beliefs or unresolved traumas that are still shaping our glasses.
I Can Change:
I Cannot Change:
My circumstances (sometimes)
LBS Life Law #2: The Law of Opposition
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This Newtonian concept operates in both the natural world and our inner world: darkness and light, death and birth, winter and summer, pain and progress. In our fitness classes, we strengthen our muscles by first breaking them down.
As we come to know ourselves more deeply, we will uncover traits that appear to be strengths and some that seem to be weaknesses. Initially, we may feel an aversion to the parts of us that we don’t like. But, as we grow in awareness, we will often find these traits are interconnected: our strengths are facilitated by our weaknesses and vice versa. We grow as we learn to embrace and befriend both the pleasant and the unpleasant–in ourselves and our life experience. Developing the full strength of our divine identity includes learning to accept the inherent opposition of life.
LBS Life Law #3: The Law of Attraction
The law of attraction states that the Universe is essentially made up of energy (think physics). Every object represents a conglomeration of quivering particles. Our thoughts, emotions, and actions also generate energy: they are mental and emotional objects with their own vibrational frequency. And in our Universe, like energy attracts like energy. So, when we send out positive vibrations, we attract positive energy into our lives. Similarly, when we send out negative vibrations, we attract negative energy. There is no way around it: in this world, we get what we give.
LBS Life Law #4: The Law of Karma
The law of Karma suggests that our actions, perceptions, narratives, and the energy we put into the world eventually come back to us. Through an often subconscious dance of cause-and-effect, we fundamentally create the life we experience. This idea can be incredibly empowering. When we take ownership over what we contribute to each experience, there is nothing we cannot change with the help of our Higher Power.
The Wheel of Karma
We can apply the Wheel of Karma as pictured below to help us see how we contribute to the cause-and-effect of our lives. Whenever we feel confused by our emotions or wonder how we wound up in a troubling situation, we can use this graphic to help us find clarity.
We begin with either an internal or external circumstance. Then we consider if we can identify ways that our subconscious mind might have filtered this situation, creating emotions we may not have been aware of. Were there rules, values, beliefs, or past traumas that fueled an unhelpful narrative? What behaviors did we turn to in order to cope with these feelings? Finally, can we acknowledge the results of these behaviors–either positive or negative? If we find ourselves in a negative place, where did we go wrong? Usually, challenging our subconscious filter offers our most powerful opportunity for change. We can use the prepared worksheets to help us work through different situations. (also available online)
For example: Imagine that you are throwing a family party. By mid-week, you feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and depleted. You are at war with everyone in your house, but it feels you have no other choice; they are making your life miserable. You are stuck. You might employ the Wheel of Karma worksheet:
External Circumstance: Family Party
Rule–Everything must be perfect.
Value–I love my family and want them to feel special and loved.
Emotion: Scared, Mad, Resentful, Afraid
Behavior: Rigid, Controlling, Yelling
Result: Frustration, Disconnection, Overwhelm
As you recognize what is happening in your subconscious mind, you can create space and freedom to approach the situation differently. For example, you can challenge the subconscious rule that everything in the food, presentation, cleanliness, and decorations must be perfect. As you place your inner peace over the outer appearance of your party, you might even consider hiring a caterer, relaxing your expectations, or asking for help. Additionally, you can honor and celebrate your value and love for your family. As you honor this beautiful intention, it can bring you joy instead of fear that your offering will not be enough.
This week, we work to bring mindfulness to the self-defeating behaviors that habitually take us out of alignment with life. We can approach this task by conducting self-inventories, a common twelve-step exercise. Importantly, when we inventory, we are not trying to fix anything. We are simply identifying what is there in a space of non-judgment. This week, let’s consider our life history and trust our Higher Power to show us what we need to know for now. We can use our logic, memory, and the felt-sense we experience in our bodies to bring awareness to the places that still feel tender. We might particularly notice where we habitually find ourselves stuck in various ways: at-odds with others, in self-defeating behaviors, in internal narratives, in resentment, in depression, in anxiety, or perhaps in a victim mentality.
With each self-defeating behavior we uncover, we can kindly investigate around our Life Laws: How is this behavior self-defeating? Am I trying to control something? What energy am I attracting through my thoughts and attitude? What am I contributing to this situation?
Let’s also inventory our past life experiences for any traumatic memories that surface and consider what situations, relationships, or experiences still hold negative emotions. Let’s investigate whether there is anything we have never shared with another due to shame or humiliation? Let’s examine our history with food, body, exercise, and relationships, looking for the patterns around these histories. We can use the prepared worksheets to make lists, or find other ways to process or journal through our past.
Most of all, let’s approach these tasks with the kind curiosity of an objective observer. Let’s allow plenty of space for whatever arises, careful not to judge or shame ourselves during this trip down memory lane. Instead, let’s use this experience to get curious and better understand ourselves. No matter what we find, we remember that our behaviors and thought patterns do not make us bad or good. Instead, they help us uncover our subconscious mind: the limiting beliefs, traumatic memories, rules, values, and paradigms that make up our invisible glasses.
Let’s trust the wholeness we feel inside when we touch home: our inherent goodness is already secured, without any effort on our part.
Let’s consider each limitation we find as an untapped seedling for radical transformation. Our meditation practice can help us bring these buried shoots into the Light and give them space to sprout, grow, and heal. In this way, meditation and compassionate curiosity helps us uncover and rewire our subconscious mind, release the old, and make way for new growth. If we can identify what still feels broken, we can take these beliefs or feelings to our Higher Power to heal and get unstuck. Let’s discover the freedom that comes by bringing Light into our darkest corners.
As part of this week’s mindfulness practice, let’s also commit to sharing with another person something we are learning about ourselves from our inventories. To help us do this, let’s attend Daily Practice or set a date and time to either meet in person or make a phone call. It can be someone from the program or someone else in our life with whom we feel safe. The purpose of this exercise is simply to share what we are learning about ourselves: to open up and grow in humility and trust. It allows us to speak our truth and free ourselves from the shame of things we may have previously hidden. Let’s use this opportunity to find and enjoy the power of vulnerability and connection.
We can discover a new and magical kind of growth when we are willing to share our mistakes, self-defeating behaviors, and traumas with safe people. Sharing can open us to new levels of both giving and receiving empathy, love, and compassion. As we look at ourselves objectively and share ourselves openly and honestly, we can naturally lose the impulse to judge others. Instead, we become intimately acquainted with our own humanity and learn to humbly embrace our constant need for Grace. With a new understanding of what it is to be human, we can see ourselves more clearly–free from doubt, fear, and shame, clearing space in our minds and hearts for something Higher. With God’s help, we are getting unstuck.