I'm a perfectionist! Is that a self-defeating habit?

Self-defeating behaviours (SDBs) are very common and affect a large proportion of the adult population and most of us have, at some time or another, had negative thoughts, attitudes, or behaviours that seem to block our own progress. They are actions that stand in the way of the person achieving their potential in a healthy and constructive way in the different areas of their life.

The feeling that people share in each case is frustration. This is because a need remains unfulfilled followed by, a lack of hope and lack of self-esteem. Therefore, they have little expectation that future attempts will change this situation, which can perpetuate a vicious cycle of failure, or inaction.

In my own experience, I have on occasions found myself developing negative thoughts that evolved in SDBs. However, I have been fortunate enough to realise what I was doing, or have someone nearby to point it out to me. On those instances my elder sister who is smart but lacks diplomacy would clearly spell it out, in a way that felt like a slap across the face. Her no-nonsense attitude is the best antidote to any of my SDBs.

These SDBs are connected to cognitive distortions where our mind persuades us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts generate, or underpin negative thinking or emotions. We tend to tell ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only help to keep us feeling bad about ourselves.

For instance, one of my students may tell himself, “I always fail when I try to listen to Spanish recordings; I therefore fail at everything I try in Spanish.” This is an example of “black or white” (or polarised) thinking. My student is only seeing things in absolutes — that if he fails at one thing, he must fail at all things. My students also add things like “I must be a complete loser and failure”. That would also be an example of overgeneralisation — taking a failure at one specific task and generalising it, applying it to their self and identity.

Cognitive distortions are at the centre of what hypnotherapists and cognitive-behavioural therapists can help a person learn to change.

Examples for these distortions are:

  • Filtering: Making the negatives aspects bigger while removing all positive aspects of a situation.
  • Being a perfectionist. If it's not 100%, it's not good enough!
  • Polarised thinking (or “black and white” thinking).
  • Overgeneralisation: we come to a general conclusion based on a single incident.
  • Jumping to conclusions: we are able to determine how people are feeling toward us before having all the information.
  • Catastrophising: we expect disaster to strike any minute, no matter what.
  • Personalisation: we believe that everything others do or say is some kind of direct, personal reaction to us.
  • I'm a victim!: we see ourselves as victims of fate.
  • Blaming others.
  • I will change you: we think people will change, if we just pressure or persuade them enough.
  • Always being right: go to any length to demonstrate our rightness.
  • Expect heaven’s reward: We expect our sacrifice to pay off, as if someone is keeping score.

In addition to the above list, we can also add misuse of substances; procrastination; sexual dysfunctions; depression and compulsive behaviour among others.

Seeking help from a hypnotherapist can facilitate positive change and overcome SDBs.

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Written by Alba Therapies - Maria Emma Moreno De Purdie

I am a bilingual English-Spanish hypnotherapist. I have over 30 years' experience in education, with post graduates and a Masters in Education and research in mental processes of learning and memory. I work on hypnotherapy and counselling using various techniques including CBT, NLP, Mindfulness and Reiki.… Read more

Written by Alba Therapies - Maria Emma Moreno De Purdie

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