We all have personal goals. Advance in our careers, fall in love, buy a house before age 30. While most of the goals we set for ourselves are achievable, we may find that even the smallest objectives remain incomplete for months… maybe even years. Why is it so hard for some of us to achieve our aspirations? Perhaps we endlessly procrastinate, pushing back deadlines until our work is past-due. Perhaps we repeatedly get drunk the night before a big meeting, or consistently show up unforgivably late to first dates. We may view these behaviors as mere character flaws – areas that need a little attention and improvement. We are a bit lazy, we like to party too much, we can’t seem to show up on time. We make excuses for ourselves, unready (or perhaps unwilling) to take a look at the real, underlying issues.
In reality, self-sabotaging behaviors often stem from something a bit deeper… unresolved childhood trauma that crops up in our adult lives, and hinders our ability to adequately function.
What is Self-Sabotage?
Most people who engage in self-sabotaging behaviors remain unaware of the harm they are causing themselves until well after the fact. Behavior is considered self-sabotaging when it interferes with personal goals, or causes significant, interpersonal issues. Some of the most common self-defeating behaviors include procrastination, overeating, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, and (consciously or subconsciously) impairing romantic relationships. If you find that you are experiencing great difficulty moving forward, it may be because you have been unwittingly ignoring your wounded inner child for the majority of your adult life.
It is never too late to befriend your inner child, and it is never too late to begin re-parenting yourself – showing your inner child the considerate compassion he or she may have missed out on earlier in life.
The Wounded Inner Child
Each of us has an inner child residing within ourselves – a child that requires our love and attention, especially when it comes to healing old wounds. When we are children, we are highly dependent upon our parents or primary caregivers. We look to them for support, instruction, and protection. They teach us how to behave – how to interact with others and how to treat ourselves. Because we are unable to function autonomously, we rely on secure attachment with our primary caregivers. When we are young, we completely depend upon a healthy attachment with those that look after us; we understand, on some level, that if we are to somehow disobey or disappoint our parents, we may find ourselves without the protection we need to survive. If our parents neglect us, abandon us, or abuse us in any way, we will likely internalize these actions and chalk them up to a failure on our part. “If I had been more obedient, my father would not have left my mother and I.” “If I had done better in school, maybe my mother would not have been so depressed all of the time.” “If I had helped more around the house, my father wouldn’t have beat me.” We subconsciously cling to these misguided core beliefs, and grow up feeling painfully inadequate. We often feel incapable of achieving success, and certainly undeserving of any success we do achieve.
We feel as if the happiness that others seem to so easily obtain has forever eluded us – that serenity and peace of mind is somehow always out of reach. It is important to understand that healing is possible, and in order to fully and permanently heal, we must finally stop ignoring and denying the needs of our wounded inner child.
Why We Self-Sabotage
Our inner child will dictate the way we behave based on the specific wounds that he or she has suffered. For example, our parents or primary caregivers may have consistently denied our most basic needs. They likely did not do so intentionally – maybe they could not afford to provide us with the life we deserved; father left when we were young, mother worked three jobs, and we often went to bed without food in our belly. Despite mother doing the best she knew how, we grew up feeling as if we didn’t matter – maybe as if we were a burden. We internalized this belief, and grew up believing that we were less worthwhile than others.
We carry these beliefs into adulthood. Without realizing that we are doing so, we constantly belittle ourselves. We fear asking for help because we fear feeling like a burden. We struggle immensely with self-assertion, and believe we must deprive ourselves in order to make life easier for others.
Perhaps our parents consistently intimated that we were less capable than our siblings – that we were the ‘black sheep’ of the family, and that we had better not set our sights too high. If our parents relayed messages of inadequacy (intentionally or not), we will likely grow up believing that we are incapable of personal achievement. We may still set goals for ourselves, knowing in the back of our mind that they will never be accomplished. If we do succeed, we attribute our success to dumb luck, or the alignment of the stars. When we look at the real reasoning behind our assumed lack of potential, we find a hurt child within ourselves – one that needs to be nurtured, loved, and told, “You are capable. You can achieve any goal you set your mind to. I believe in you.”
Trauma Recovery for Men
Many individuals who struggle with unresolved childhood trauma will turn to self-sabotaging behaviors. The first step to thorough and lasting healing is acknowledging that the inner child exists, and that he or she has been harmed. Many of us will neglect our inner child, just as we were neglected when we were children. We must embrace our inner child, and reconnect with all of the injured parts of ourselves – tell ourselves that we are lovable, and open ourselves up to a journey of therapeutic reconciliation. It can be difficult for men to embrace the idea of a wounded inner child, partially because societal and cultural constructs of masculinity forbid men from openly displaying emotional vulnerability. We at Next Chapter have extensive experience working with men who have cut themselves off from their inner children, and require a safe, curative environment in which to begin the healing process. For more information on our male-exclusive program of trauma recovery, please feel free to contact us at 561-563-8407. We look forward to speaking with you soon.