Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

Self-Defeating Patterns

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only
to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
~John F. Kennedy

Being Stuck

Whether it’s a reason you come in or something we discover during the process, being stuck in patterns – particularly self-defeating ones – is a very common characteristic of people who are not happy with their lives. It’s normal to struggle with difficult issues and sometimes choose a response you later regret, but when the same maladaptive behavior begins to crop up over and over and over again, then it’s getting in your way. What does repeated self-defeating behavior mean? We could say that this kind of “stuckness,” is any behavior that occurs frequently and keeps you from getting what you want in your life.

The range of behaviors is enormous and ranges from minor habits, say, at work or at home, to major life choices. It’s impossible to list them all, but I’ll mention some of the more common ones. If you don’t recognize yourself in any of them, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist, it just means that yours are unique to you, and have probably become so much a part of you that you may not even be aware that they’re a problem.

Common self-defeating behavior patterns

(in no particular order)

How They Got There

These patterns usually start out as a way to cope, a way to deal with or get out of a difficult or unpleasant situation, sometimes as early as your childhood. Maybe you had hypercritical parents and your fear of disappointing them became a driving force. Or just the opposite. You had parents who praised you to the sky, perhaps even when it wasn’t warranted, and you absorbed the message that you had a reputation to live up to.

Or if not in childhood, then somewhere along the way you discovered that doing one of these things relieved the distress you were feeling. So it made sense to do it again. Because it was always a temporary fix, because it seemed easy and you had no other solutions, the need to repeat it became habitual. Most people have engaged in these behaviors at one time or another. It’s only problematic when it’s the only way you know. Eventually that backfires, and your life feels derailed.

Breaking the Patterns

It’s really hard to break patterns that have been with you this long. Most of the time you don’t even recognize that what you do is what’s getting in the way. “It happened again! How could this be! I was sure this time would be different.” It’s sometimes hard to see yourself from the outside, or as others see you. (But I’m willing to bet you can identify all the reasons your friend is having trouble with her boyfriend.) Part of the therapeutic process is to help you see yourself from a new perspective. To figure out how all this came to be, and then begin, slowly, to change it.

Warren Buffett, the billionaire financier, told an audience at the University of Washington how he and Bill Gates became so successful. He said, “Everybody here has the ability to do anything I do and much beyond. Some of you will, and some of you won’t. For those who won’t, it will be because you get in your own way, not because the world doesn’t allow you to.” It’s not easy, but therapy can help to break these patterns.

To learn more
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