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Self-sabotage

returningstudentreturningstudent 247 replies90 threads Member
edited June 2007 in Parents Forum
I've given a lot of thought to this recently, and I was wondering if you guys had any opinions on this subject. I've noticed that, when given a choice, I sometimes choose the option I like second best rather than first best. Thinking of the first choice fills me with a lot of anxiety about taking on a new challenge and I sometimes convince myself that it's not what I wanted anyway! Sometimes, I force myself to do it, and then I feel better afterwards. Other times, I talk myself out of it and then hours, days, or weeks later, I realize how foolish I was. As I look back, I can see four notably stupid instances in which I did this---and I want to do whatever I can to make sure that I don't do it again (or at least get better!).

This tends to happen only with big choices that involve the long term, and money or prestige or further opportunities. It doesn't happen with, say, what I should do over the weekend.

So, I know that this board isn't supposed to be my private therapy session ;), but I wanted to see if anyone here has kids that have this problem. Does your kid do this? Do you know anyone who does this (child or adult)? And do you have any suggestions?

I've gotten some books on self-sabotage and underachieving, but I can't seem to find any that mention this specific problem. Any ideas?
edited June 2007
21 replies
Post edited by returningstudent on
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Replies to: Self-sabotage

  • NewHope33NewHope33 6136 replies72 threads Senior Member
    Returning - Well I wouldn't automatically conclude that "risk aversion" is the same as "self-sabotage." It may be risk aversion to put all your savings in Certificates of Deposit, but it's certainly not self-sabotage. Still I take your point and I've certainly found it to be true that "no risk often means no reward." You're young and you have plenty of time to find your appropriate level of risk-taking. You already know you're not being bold enough, and that's a very decent start!
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  • UCgradmaryUCgradmary 459 replies28 threads- Member
    Have things happened in your past to make you risk adverse or afraid of reaching? Are your parents (or boyfriend) big risk takers?
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  • b4nnd20b4nnd20 1324 replies22 threads Senior Member
    i think your decision is a response to pressure as well. i mean, think about it: do you really have choices if you consider the second choice "sabotage"?
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  • MarianMarian 13230 replies83 threads Senior Member
    What you're doing isn't sabotage, exactly. After all, if something is your second choice, it's probably a pretty good choice.

    But you may feel that you're protecting yourself somehow by not trying for your first choices. That way, if the choice you do make doesn't work out, you can always tell yourself that it wasn't your first choice anyway. Or if people criticize your choice, they're not criticizing the real you since it wasn't your real first choice.

    When I was young, I used to go with my second choices, as you do, but I did it for small things rather than big ones. I never told any of my high school friends what my favorite TV program was. Instead, I talked a lot about my second-favorite show. And when a couple of kids teased me about liking that show, it didn't bother me. It would have bothered me if they knew my true favorite and teased me about that. I also used to order my second-favorite meal in restaurants, and I would buy my second-favorite dress when I went shopping for clothes. There was a sort of protection in this.

    I outgrew it eventually. Perhaps you will, too.
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  • returningstudentreturningstudent 247 replies90 threads Member
    Thanks to everyone for your replies. This issue really cuts close to the quick for me, so I appreciate everyone giving it some thought. You guys are amazing!

    NewHope33: You make some really good points. I hadn't thought of it as risk aversion, because, in the objective sense, the second best choice is actually riskier. For example, I turned down a study abroad opportunity that would have been very enriching. At the time I told myself it was because I wanted to take a couple of specific classes on campus, get to know people better here, etc. Now that I have been abroad through a different program, I can see clearly that I was just scared. At the time, I had a lot of really good rationalizations why it wasn't time to go. I now can see that, in a way, it's a weird type of risk aversion where I think the first choice is risky when it's really not. In the long run, I think that is *more* risky, since it means that I will not have had the benefit of that experience. In the short run, though, it appears to be a bit less risky.

    UCGradMary - That's a very good question. My parents are classic underachievers who are extremely risk averse. They have a number of significant personal problems, and, while they are both extremely intelligent, neither has had a career of any sort. They didn't travel abroad until their 50s, were very afraid of people, didn't have any friends during most of my childhood, have very extreme views that keep them sheltered from the world, etc. I dated someone for a long time who also fit this pattern---genius IQ, but didn't do very much. I'm trying my best to break out of this and achieve my potential. It's extremely important to me, and that's why I find it so distressing when I mess it up.

    b4nnd20 - I consider it sabotage, now, looking back---at the time, I thought I was making the right choice. At the time, I always have these really good rationalizations about why I shouldn't do it. When I ask friends and family, they often give wildly different answers and "just want me to be happy". I only have one friend who, looking back, has always encouraged me to take risks in these situations and grow. (Now I'm going to listen to her! ;) ). I think perhaps I need some mentors who can encourage me to keep going and call BS on my rationalizations. :)

    Marian - That's a really interesting story---and I think that it is probably part of my motivation not to seem too "uppity". I only hope that I can one day "outgrow" this. Do you recall how you outgrew this? Was it a particular experience? Some piece of advice?
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  • ADadADad 3985 replies936 threads Senior Member
    Last summer you posted about your choice of major. Have you decided?
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  • MarianMarian 13230 replies83 threads Senior Member
    Do you recall how you outgrew this? Was it a particular experience? Some piece of advice?

    Sorry, but I have no advice. I had not thought about this subject in many years. But when I read your post, I realized that as a child and teenager, I behaved in a similar way. Somehow, it disappeared in adulthood. Maybe I was simply too busy to think about such things anymore.
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  • returningstudentreturningstudent 247 replies90 threads Member
    ADad: Yeah, I did decide. It's an interdisciplinary major that lets me choose classes from a lot of departments. (And not one of the ones listed in my original post!) It also combines well with Economics. :)

    (I don't want to get into details here because it's kind of a small major.)
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  • ADadADad 3985 replies936 threads Senior Member
    I understand, but am I right in thinking that it was a first-choice major for you?
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  • returningstudentreturningstudent 247 replies90 threads Member
    Yes, it was a first choice major. However, it's a bit of a different situation because it's not a competitive process. Since there's no anxiety about "getting in", I can choose as I like, based on what I most enjoy, how it fits in with other plans, etc. Also, the choice doesn't go away. If I want to switch back to any of the other options, I can do so at any point. And, finally, I can choose more than one option (a double-major, a minor, etc.), if I want to. (If it takes me longer to graduate, I can make the decision to face that consequence.)

    I think the issue for me has to do with things to which I have to be accepted(e.g., admission to a special program, job offer, etc.). When choosing between numerous options that require me to apply for them and then choose between them, I have a lot of trouble saying yes to my first choice and no to the others and wind up saying yes to my second choice. I'm still trying to figure out why I do this, but I think it has something to do with it appearing safer at the time, although it's really not safer at all in the long run.

    I really have to note that this is a situation everyone gets into, not just "elite" students. College life requires a lot of applying for things, from admission to graduation, and I seem to make nonoptimal choices in a lot of these situations. When I wasn't sure that I was going to qualify to get into the economics major, for example, I was nervous about it. However, when the options are not mutually exclusive (like scholarships, or leadership positions in clubs), I do okay.

    I hope that clarifies it. It's really a problem that occurs in this narrow situation. But that narrow situation is extremely important, as it determines what job I take after graduation, what grad school I go to, etc. I really want to stop messing it up---but I don't fully understand why I do this.
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  • mythmommythmom 8292 replies13 threads Senior Member
    This also sounds like a fear of rejection. One of my friends was asked by her doctor how she handled rejection. She said that she had never been rejected, and he pointed out what a problem this was for her because it meant that she wasn't entering into any situations in which she could be rejected. Everyone is rejected at some point. Martin Seligman, the great psychologist who coined the term "learned helplessness" explained that he had been rejected by Harvard and had to go to Princeton. When asked when he got over it he explained, "when I refused their job offer." Rejection is painful but it accompanies high aspiration.
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  • returningstudentreturningstudent 247 replies90 threads Member
    Mythmom,

    I've wondered if that was it---but I don't think so. Sometimes, a fear of rejection makes me too scared to even apply (boy do I know that feeling!), but this is what happens *after* I get accepted. All is well, everyone wants me---and I feel like a complete nervous wreck, stutter when I talk, stare out the window, and then choose the thing that I don't want! What is going on with me?
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  • returningstudentreturningstudent 247 replies90 threads Member
    I also wanted to thank everyone for answering my questions about this. I'm really eager to do something about it, but I don't really understand it!
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  • ellemenopeellemenope 11344 replies36 threads Senior Member
    I have a D who is has had such a problem in the past. I attribute it to "fear of failure." Here's something new for me to try, but I'm not sure that I can be good at it, so I don't think I'll try it. She has been getting better, not with any help from anyone.

    I asked her what's made the change and she said that when she examined her life and the regrets she has, she discovered that her regrets were caused much more by things that she DIDN'T do than with things that she did do. She regretted the things that she missed trying more than the feeling of "failure" for not doing something perfectlywhen she did try something. So now, when she has a choice of whether to do something "hard or different" or not doing that something, she chooses to do it.
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  • UCgradmaryUCgradmary 459 replies28 threads- Member
    Therapy could be of enormous help to you. The problem you describe usually is linked to self esteem, something many young women are weak on. Some outgrow it as they find roles they can be more confident in but I implore you to work this through to be your best, strongest self now, while you're young and making important choices. Your goal is to grow to be truly confident at your core. Group therapy would be great as you'll quickly see how common your issue is and you'll have supportive peers. Good luck!
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  • bigp9998bigp9998 757 replies17 threads Member
    I know exactly what you mean. For me, it was the pressure and differences of taking a new job with a few college students but mostly college grads (I'm in high school). There was a lot less pressure working at the local clothing store, but in the end, I forced myself to go with the first because it was truly the better option.
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  • mythmommythmom 8292 replies13 threads Senior Member
    Three things come to mind: 1) You're afraid people will discover you're a fake; 2)You're afraid that if the world knows what you want it will be taken away from you; and 3) You feel somehow guilty or sinful having what you want. Numbers 1 & 3 are quite common. I am not suggesting you are a fake in any way, only that you're afraid you might be. Three is very common for people raised in very religious homes. Number 2 is prevalent in people with very competitive parents. All involve a fear of punishment, hence the anxiety. Annoying as it is, I don't think any of these feelings are really usual or something to make you fret, particularly because you are well along in the process of working them through.
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  • ADadADad 3985 replies936 threads Senior Member
    When I ask friends and family, they often give wildly different answers and "just want me to be happy". I only have one friend who, looking back, has always encouraged me to take risks in these situations and grow. (Now I'm going to listen to her!)

    several people who had done the program before, and were working at the company afterwards, told me to do the program.

    A lot of people advised me against it, but they also said that "all of my options were good" and I "couldn't go wrong".

    sometimes I have difficulty distinguishing between what is people just trying to be nice and what is their real opinion on the situation.

    RS, I read your several recent threads and I'd like to emphasize something that has been mentioned by others but perhaps deserves more attention.

    Are you getting too much advice?

    For college essays, it is good to limit the number of reviewers, lest the writer's own, unique and precious voice be lost in everyone else's suggestions. Consider whether something similar applies here.

    My suggestion is that the next time you face one of these decisions, dramatically limit the outside opinions. Consider discussing the decision beforehand only with your trusted friend!

    It may be fine to learn the facts about various opportunities from other people. It is imo not so fine to find out what those other people think you should do. Try not finding out!

    Those other people cannot know what is best for you.

    By practice, by trial and error, learn to find, hear, and trust your own unique and precious voice. Learn to trust yourself.
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  • cheerscheers 5054 replies109 threads Senior Member
    Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
    Teddy Roosevelt

    I was lucky. I got into my private university after I was taken off the waitlist--in August. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was on par--or shock--more talented than the majority of my peers. It was a valuable lesson learned at 17--a lesson learned after accepting the idea of utter rejection for four months. I learned that a) I can tolerate failure to a very high degree and b) The establishment is not necessarily a reliable source of defining self-worth.

    That's the key. In order to break the bonds of safe bets--you have to risk failure and even live with failure for a few periods in your life. It makes sense that the rewards of risk come with pricetags, right? The pricetag is failure and rejection.

    Recently, I watched Sketches of Frank Gehry. Gehry fairly giggles as he tries to recount how many times he went bankrupt, how unhappy he was in his 30s (his therapist agrees), how his major client (The Rouse Company) suggested he disband his mainstream office to pursue a more artistic practice. He's now the leading architect in the world on the back of the risks he takes with form and material. To get to that pinnacle, he lived with absolute failure on many fronts--for long periods of time.
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  • 3togo3togo 5218 replies15 threads Senior Member
    edited June 2007
    Do you recall how you outgrew this? Was it a particular experience? Some piece of advice?

    Sorry, but I have no advice. I had not thought about this subject in many years. But when I read your post, I realized that as a child and teenager, I behaved in a similar way. Somehow, it disappeared in adulthood. Maybe I was simply too busy to think about such things anymore.

    I have a very similar early adulthood path ... how did I outgrow it? By experiencing life ... and it was a slow progression as my self-confidence grew. My advice would be don't expect to be hit by a bolt of lightning and become a new person ... at this time you are who you are and apparently at this time you're risk adverse ... and that is not good or bad it just is. Work on moving slightly out of your comfort zone ... and the next thing you know you will have a new expanded comfort zone ... then expand it a touch again.

    Looking back at my life I have few regrets but most of the regrets I do have are things I did not do ... things I was too timid to do when I was younger. That said I do not beat my self up because of those missed opportunities ... that was who I was at the time ... instead I'm pretty proud of my life's path and the child, parent, spouse, friend, coach, and individual that I have become ... it's been a 30 year journey of gradual growth ... and I hope I have 30+ more years of growth in front of me.

    One of my kids is quite risk adverse and as a parent I'd like her to try more new things and take more risks ... but you know what I will trust her driving or watching little kids from the get go. One of my kids is quite willing to try new things and is always willing to push himself and test his abilities ... but you know what I'm terrified of his driving and am not as confident of him being in charge of situations. All personality traits have pros and cons to them.
    edited June 2007
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