I have this amazing friend who is a total catch. She is smart, funny and has her shit together. If she wasn’t my best friend, I would totally date her. But, she is frequently single. Finding dates is easy, but keeping good relationships around is a different story. Last week over drinks we started to get into the details and it became pretty clear what the problem was. It was her.
As a gorgeous woman, she constantly attracts great guys. But 3-4 weeks into a relationship she starts to go a little cray-cray. If the man is interested and things are starting to really work out, she starts to push away. Her personal brand of self-sabotage is nit-picking. She would tear apart the guy’s career choices, the way he dressed and his lackadaisical grammar in text messages. Really? you don’t think he’s good for you because he forgot an oxford comma? You’re kidding… right?
This nitpicking would live inside her head – until it didn’t. She explained to me how she would hear herself say things to her new love interest that were completely unnecessary and downright mean. She couldn’t stop herself. These guys obviously didn’t stick for long and she would immediately start to pine after them, wondering why they left when the two of them had so much in common.
That’s the textbook definition of self-sabotage. You long for them when they aren’t around, and then you act crazypants when they walk in the room. You’re addicted to the push and pull. You see it, but you can’t stop it.
Well, I think you can. And here’s how to start:
Give your inner saboteur a voice
The voices in your head are much harder to deal with than your actual voice. Get the crazy onto paper, or out into the real world and it feels so much easier to deal with. Literally, say what you’re thinking out loud. Or if you’re like me, write them down in an email and read it back to yourself so you can see where the crazy is coming from. It usually sounds as nutso as it actually is and you can more easily laugh it off or at least acknowledge the crazy.
The cycle of self-sabotage can be a difficult one to break because it happens so quickly. Especially for people who are nervously aware of their actions and the effect it has on relationships, they actually anticipate the failure of a relationship, so they never really settle in and relax. Their bags are always packed, ready for the other person to get sick of their hurtful language and end the relationship. They see 3 steps ahead and are constantly looking for what’s next, knowing it’s inevitability. A relationship can’t succeed in this fast-paced churning. If you see yourself going hot and cold, try to just go cold for a few days. Let the relationship settle by being apart for a few days and get an understanding of your genuine feelings. If it’s meant to be hot, you’ll feel it and be able to go after it with confidence. You’ll be able to talk through your crazy by taking a slower, more thoughtful pace.
Take your mind off autopilot
This is the most important part of breaking the cycle. Just because you’ve self-sabotaged in all of your previous relationships, doesn’t mean that you can’t change. It means you definitely SHOULD change. But that means you need to literally do things differently. You need to be hyperaware of your mental process. Don’t let your mind repeat the same sabotaging stories over and over. When you hear your mind playing the tape over and over in your head, shut it off. Instead, try rewriting the story. Imagine what it will feel like when you act kind and caring in a new relationship. How will it look when you settle in and enjoy your partner despite their quirks. Literally write that script in your mind and play THAT one over and over.
Know what triggers the crazy
Trace your steps back to specific times, places and situations that made you launch into your bad behavior. What exactly was it that made you freak out or say something you regret? You’re not doing it to be mean, you’re not doing it because you don’t want a great relationship – so why exactly ARE you doing it. Pay closer attention to what is going on in your life when you start to lose control. Write it down so you can start to compare notes later. Figuring out the WHY is the key to changing your bad habits.
Talk openly about it with friends
Your friends know you’re nuts, they don’t always say it, but they know. They can see your faults clearly, it’s just not their place to point them out. It’s their job to love the shit out of you despite your flaws. But they are the perfect people to lean on when you need candid advice. Talk it out with as many friends as you can trust. This is not a secret that you should feel ashamed about, it’s surprisingly common and your friends might ask you to return the favor. Get a variety of perspectives and listen to the feedback that makes sense for you. Don’t necessarily ask for advice, just describe your situation and ask them for their perspective on where you might be going wrong or what might be at the heart of your insecurity and recurring sabotage.
Stay present and in the moment
Many people who experience self-sabotaging in relationships talk about how they hear themselves saying things they never expected to say. They see themselves outside their body doing things that they wish they could stop. Get back in your body! Be present! Don’t allow habit and fear to take over. Even if it’s weird and uncomfortable, make staying in the moment your priority. Own your actions and don’t allow yourself to make the same bad decisions over and over.
Take on your habits as a partnership
If your partner, or potential partner is willing to listen to you after explaining your crazy, keep them around! No one is perfect and everyone is a little whacko. So why would you try to change your habits on your own. Allow your partner, who cares about you and your process more than anyone else, to be there for you as you start to change. Have an open conversation about your fears and insecurities. As a couple, you’ll both make mistakes and that doesn’t mean the end of the relationship, it means creating some wiggle room for forgiveness. Partnerships are about growth, not perfection. So grow together. Support each other and allow your partner to support you. Even if it seems unbalanced at first, in most great relationships, this support system balances out over time.
Your self-sabotaging actions aren’t who you are
Avoid saying things like: I’m so _____. OR I always do _____. Just because you have a tendency to act irrationally in certain situations doesn’t mean you ARE that way. You are not crazy, because you do one crazy thing in one very specific situation. Don’t let your self-sabotaging define you. You are an amazing partner who happens to do this strange thing when you’re first getting into a new relationship. Make it easy for you to let that go, by acknowledging it happens, but it doesn’t need to. It’s not you, it’s just a weird decision you made. No biggie, now you can start to change it.
Photo by Heather – via Flickr