“My default is self-destruction, and anything on top of that is a bloody lot of work.”

– Gillian Anderson

I like to look at ourselves as a mosaic of parts. We have, in essence, different aspects to ourselves; these can be labeled “parts of self” or “modes” or “personas.” These different parts of ourselves are internalized in our psyches and serve as our personality.

People with personality disorders have very distinct personas. most narcissists have Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, the seducer, the silent treatment persona, the rager, etc. These different personas or modes serve the person as protectors; usually, they are protectors of the person’s fear of intimacy, vulnerability, and neediness.

With respect to these different parts of self, they appear when triggered. Triggers can be either internal or external. Oftentimes, victims of abuse try to figure out how to not trigger their abuser. It is helpful to realize that many of the triggers are in the mind of the abuser him or herself, so it’s pointless to take any onus of responsibility. Counselors may tell you differently; but they may not have realized that some people have internal triggers to abuse.

Just like the narcissist, everyone has different parts of themselves that get triggered by certain experiences.

If you are trying to get out of, or heal from, the effects of an abusive relationship, one aspect of the healing journey is to look at your behaviors and how you self-sabotage your own life. One way to begin to identify patterns of self-sabotage is to notice your side of participating in a destructive relationship. This is not victim blaming, rather it is noticing how you allow yourself to be involved in a destructive situation.

Usually, when dealing with an abusive person, you aren’t doing anything but being there to receive the abuse. This is the part that you can look at. What are you telling yourself as the other person is abusing you? Are you minimizing it? Excusing it? Overlooking it? Forgiving it? Waiting for it to be over? What do you do to keep yourself sane while another person is trying to hurt you?

Self-sabotage is the term used to describe how you hurt your own life; one aspect involves allowing yourself to be mistreated. When you self-sabotage, think of yourself as being in a certain “mode” or “persona” as described above. This helps you be objective regarding your self-destructive behaviors so that you can work on them from a rational vantage point.

In other words, when you find yourself doing any of the following behaviors mentioned next, think of this as what you do when in your “self-sabotaging mode.”

Here are some ways you may self-sabotage: taking responsibility for other people’s behaviors; acting out and allowing the other person to “push your buttons;” staying around for abuse by minimizing it; staying around for abuse by fighting back; blaming yourself for another person’s poor behaviors; walking on eggshells; putting your emotional energy in a situation that is unsolvable; appeasement; playing “detective;” yelling and screaming; begging; using substances to cope…the list goes on and on. Think of things you do that sabotage your own mental health and well-being that aren’t listed here and add to your own list.

Remember, your journey of recovery is very personal and individual.

So, how do you stop participating in your own self-destruction (devaluing behaviors)? Here is a list of steps to take to stop putting up with abuse and take back your own life:

  1. Notice the other person’s behavior and analyze it in your own mind. Say nothing to the other person. Your recovery is not dependent on the other person changing.
  2. Now, notice how you react. Notice your behavior when being abused. Do you try to rationalize? Most of the time I see that victims of abuse become “hyper-reasonable” and under-reactive. Is this you? In case it is easy for you to forget how you respond, write your behaviors when being abused down so you can remember what you do.
  3. Rather than looking to the other person to decide “what he/she wants to do,” or trying to get the other person to “see you” or change, put the focus on yourself. What do YOU want to do with an abusive person? Do you want to continue taking responsibility for his/her behavior? That is an aspect of self sabotage.
  4. Stop letting the “self-saboteur” persona in your psyche run the show. Choose decisions based on self-value. Focus on what is best for you, most healthiest for you, and do that instead of the typical responses you had in the past.
  5. In order to heal from self-destructive behaviors, you must replace them with self-valuing behaviors. This is really quite simple. Yes, it may be hard to do at first because of the learned behaviors you have been participating in thus far; but, habits can be broken – even well-entrenched and “bad” ones. Here are some examples of self-valuing behaviors.
    • Don’t subject yourself to being mistreated; walk away instead.
    • Take care of your mental health by spending your time with affirming people.
    • Don’t allow yourself to act in ways you don’t respect. If you find yourself wanting to act like your abuser in retaliation, don’t; instead, walk away and call a safe person to process your thoughts and feelings with and/or write in a journal.
    • Take care of your physical self. Exercise, eat healthy foods, get enough sleep.
    • Develop relationships with safe people who don’t hurt you and be honest with them
    • Be honest with yourself.
    • Develop an inner “compassionate voice.” Do not criticize yourself. It’s okay to encourage yourself to “do better next time,” but not with disdain or self-loathing.

Whatever you do, remind yourself that you only have one life to live and you can live well. You are in control of yourself – not the other person; and this goes both ways.

If you would like a copy of my free monthly newsletter on the psychology of abuse, please send me your email address: therecoveryexpert@gmail.com.