Blog : self- acceptance

Help Your Clients Stop Self-Defeating Behaviors

Help Your Clients Stop Self-Defeating Behaviors

By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

“All forms of self-defeating behavior are unseen and unconscious, which is why their existence is denied.” Vernon Howard

What are Self-Defeating Behaviors?

 In their book, Going Home: A Positive Emotional Guide for Promoting Life-Generating Behaviors (Honu Publications 2005), Drs. Gregory and Lori Boothroyd state that “self–defeating behaviors are any behavior or attitude that a person uses to such an extent that it diminishes the best life possible for that person” (p 5).

Self-defeating behaviors (SDBs) are behaviors used to protect oneself against perceived dangerous stimulus from the outside world. These behaviors are often not regarded as self-defeating initially, but rather survival mechanisms. An example could include a young child who is outgoing, but is continually regarded as irrelevant. This contrast could bring SDBs such as negativism or alienation to protect him/her against classmates’ attack.

SDBs tend to live far beyond the initial encounters and become staples of current and future personality traits. The Boothroyds further state that defeating behaviors interfere with the true internal self. Through continual use they can damage physical health, social and interpersonal connections, mental, emotional, and spiritual growth, vocational and educational connections, and financial stability (p 5).

The Boothroyds list of common self-defeating behaviors include:

  • substance abuse – used as a form of escapism
  • inferiority – constantly comparing oneself with others
  • excessive worry – can cause possible health issue due to created stress
  • alienation of others – can lead to loss of possible life-giving and changing contact
  • defensiveness – not willing to listen to others makes one shallow in understanding different points of view
  • negativism – it is hard for others to enjoy a relationship if it is never positive in nature
  • procrastination, disorganization, and indecision – these could all be unhealthy traits for the implementation of a career choice

The Continuing Pattern of Self-Defeating Behavior

 In Going Home, the Boothroyds describe continuing SDB as a circular pattern of behavior. Each step the individual partakes in further strengthens the SDB response imbedded in the unconscious.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Situation (Flashpoint): Something strikes a chord and the SDB is initiated; cues bring out the SDB response.
  2. Conclusion (what the behavior is supposed to prevent): Experience now shows that the SDB is the safest and the smartest thing to do for that particular situation and it is repeated.
  3. Fears (If I don’t use the behavior then….): Individuals wants to avoid being in a frightening situation without the SDBs that have protected them for so long.
  4. Choice (to throw the self-defeat switch again): This stage happens so fast one does not realize they have made a decision to use old SDB; it is an unconscious reaction.
  5. Techniques (tools to implement the choice): Techniques are any kind of thought and action that help promote and deliver the SDB.
  6. Results (consequences of the choice): Using SBDs over time greatly affects one’s emotional and physical well-being. The result stage can be an important avenue of change when one realizes what was lost and is finally willing to do something.
  7. Minimizing (denial of results): A person using SBDs denies that the behavior is bad.
  8. Disowning (dump the responsibility): This stage allows the individual to release the responsibility to anyone or anything other than themselves for their behavior. The individual paints him- or herself as the victim of circumstances.

 How to Eliminate Self-Defeating Behavior

 The Broothroyds share that “it’s time to rediscover and thereby recover home that place within us that’s not in form, not in time and not in space. It’s just here – waiting and beckoning” (p 41).

How to go about rediscovering oneself is laid out in the following 12-step program:

  •  Step 1 – Identify your self-defeating behavior: One should pick a strong, often-used SDB and focus attention on one at a time. The SDB chosen may affect other SDBs and you may kill two birds with one stone.
  • Step 2 – Isolate the flashpoint situation: What creates the stimulus to use the SDB? What particular events or situation arouse your need to use the SDB? It is important to connect arousal points so as to be know when to be aware of your responses to situations.
  • Step 3- Identify your favorite techniques: Techniques are used to carry out the SDB. This is the stage that gives you the ability to catch yourself before implementing an old SDB. The Boothroyds use examples of internal techniques, such an individual dwelling on past hurts or anticipating negative results, and external techniques, such as failing to meet obligations and manipulating others.
  • Step 4 – Do a thorough damage assessment: This is a critical stage in which an individual assesses and connects the dots, so to speak, with SDBs and the effects they have on many aspects of one’s life.
  • Step 5 – Identify your minimizing strategies: In this step, it is time to confront your past minimizing behavior after using SDBs. It takes courage for the individual to realize what is truthful about their behavior and its effect on the quality of one’s life.
  • Step 6 – Identify your disowning targets: Now it is time for the individual to face their personal responsibility for past behaviors.
  • Step 7 – Identify a replacement behavior: People need this step to fill the void in a positive manner that will replace the old SDB.
  • Step 8 – Identify replacement techniques: This step encourages the individual to realize that to be able to sustain behavioral changes will not be easy, and that it will be a continual work in progress.
  • Step 9 – Seize the moment of choice: In this step, it is critical that the individual empower the moment of choices. Take advantage of the changes of behavior one has been working on and don’t be afraid to implement them into a process of action.
  • Step 10 – Identify life-generating results: This step revisits step 4 but instead of listing a self-defeating behavior and its effects, the prescription of this step is to list all positive consequences of the life-generating behavior. Listing positive outcomes will hopefully be a positive reinforcement toward the implemented behavioral changes that are underway.
  • Step 11 – Maximize and enjoy the results: One should be able to take credit for his or her behavior. This does not mean becoming cocky about what one has accomplished, but rather giving oneself credit for the new pathway one is traveling in generating a new lifestyle.
  • Step 12 – Own your new behavior: Finally, one should be able to enjoy the fruits of his or her labor. Realizing the importance of this accomplishment will hopefully give one confidence to tackle other aspects of life that may also be leading to SDBs.

 SDBs are powerful avenues that people take to live their lives. Many times, one does not realize how strong the emotions are in wanting to not be hurt. The goal is to become what Abraham Maslow describes as a “fully functioning individual” versus an individual striving to survive and cope in the scary world that we envision is around us.

“Self-acceptance comes from meeting life’s challenges vigorously. Don’t numb yourself to your trials and difficulties, nor build mental walls to exclude pain from your life. You will find peace not by trying to escape your problems, but by confronting them courageously. You will find peace not in denial, but in victory.” Donald Walters


Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC | Thoughtful Experience
Self-Esteem: Set-Up for Success or Failure

Self-Esteem: Set-Up for Success or Failure

By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC


Many people go through life expecting the worst. Alfred Alder, the 19th century Austrian psychotherapist, stated: “Meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations.” But you can help your clients change their perceptions of themselves and the world and, as a result, work toward positive and high self-esteem.

In the words of self-help pioneer, Maxwell Maltz: “Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-break on.

When people have deep spiritual, physical, and emotional wounds, they can carry these burdens with them through life. In so doing, they cloud their perception of their own value or importance. And our perception of ourselves is what dictates our self-esteem.

In carrying the burdens of low self-esteem, people often substitute these feelings with dependency self-gratification methods, such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, and pornography. In some ways, these people want control of changing their low self-image, and for too many the answer is to indulge or self-medicate. Dependencies allow them to deal with the status quo and numb away the negative feelings.

What is Low Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem refers to the overall opinion we have of ourselves and the value we place on ourselves as people. Low self-esteem means that the tone of this opinion is negative: for example, “I’m unlovable” or “I’m useless.”

Of course most people have mixed opinions of themselves, but if the overall opinion is that you are an inadequate or inferior person, or if you feel that you have no true worth and are not entitled to the good things in life, this is low self-esteem. And low self-esteem can have a painful and damaging effect on one’s life.

The Ways People Support Their Low Self-Esteem

 Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning in their book Self-Esteem (New Harbinger Publications, 2000) list ways in which one maintains a low view of oneself. Talk to your clients to see if they practice any of these bad habits:

  • Overgeneralization: From an isolated event, you make a general, universal rule. If you failed once, you’ll always fail.
  • Global Labeling: You automatically use negative preconceived labels to describe yourself, rather than accurately describing your qualities.
  •  Filtering: You selectively pay attention to the negative and disregard the positive.
  •  Polarized Thinking: You lump things into absolutes, black and white categories, with no middle ground. You have to be perfect or you’re worthless.
  •  Self-Blame: You consistently blame yourself for things that may not really be your fault.
  •  Personalization: You assume that everything has something to do with you, and you negatively compare yourself to everyone else.
  •  Mind Reading: You assume that others don’t like you, are angry with you, don’t care about you and so on, without any real evidence that your assumptions are correct.
  •  Control Fallacies: You either feel that you have total responsibility for everybody and everything or feel that you have no control; that you are a helpless victim.
  •  Emotional Reasoning: You assume that things are the way you feel about them.

Ways of Increasing Self-Esteem

 We are what we think. What people take in influences their perceptions of themselves, and the filters they use to gather information about themselves is key in how they feel.

The problem with changing anything in life is that people fight it: no matter how bad they feel, humans are creatures of habit.

The following is a list of potential ways of increasing self-esteem that you can recommend to clients in your practice:

  •  Use positive self-talk: Tell yourself you can handle it and support yourself in going after your goals.
  • Engage in regular physical activity: Regular exercise fends off depression, low energy, and disease, while increasing stress management abilities and enhancing your mood.
  • Take care of your needs: Be good to yourself by getting adequate sleep, taking care of your personal hygiene, creating time to be alone, saying no when you need to, eating in nutritious ways, stimulating your mind, and connecting with others.
  • Let the little things go: It is damaging to your health to beat yourself up over every little thing.
  • Own who you are: Give yourself permission to like what you like and not like what you don’t like.
  • Practice self-acceptance: Get to know yourself. Let go of any need to be perfect.
  • Be creative: Creativity helps you achieve a greater sense of well-being and gain better control of your thoughts. Step out of the box.
  • Have a grateful and optimistic attitude about life: Practice daily gratitudes.
  • Have personal integrity and live by your values: Listen to your inner voice.
  • Participate in meaningful activities: Follow your passions.

The bottom line when it comes to self-esteem is we play the most important role in our own self-esteem. One’s personal happiness can greatly increase by taking positive action in changing one’s attitude.

Advise your clients to take time in their days to meditate and take stock in how they are processing the world around them. Teach them to be attuned to setting healthy boundaries with themselves and others, and not be afraid of asking a trusted love one to give a valid and honest assessment of how they are doing. Lastly, tell them to take the brake off, and allow themselves the freedom to enjoy the ride of their lives.

“Only as high as I reach can I grow, only as far as I seek can I go, only as deep as I look can I see, only as much as I dream can I be.” Karen Ravn


Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC | Thoughtful Experience