There are five elements to the cycle of sabotage:
Trigger- the trigger is the catalyst or stimulus that begins the chain reaction. The trigger can be a person, place, memory, etc. For example, we will look at a trip to the mall to shop for clothing. As you know, shopping for clothing when you don’t feel confident about your body can create a barrage of negative thoughts and emotions which sets the stage for self-sabotage.
Thoughts- often thoughts are initially missed in this chain. We are not consciously aware of many of our thoughts. They become so much a part of the ongoing chatter in our heads, that we are consciously desensitized. We are so connected to them, it feels impossible to separate ourselves. Although they are not conscious, they continue to do a fair amount of damage to our self-esteem. In situations where you find yourself feeling a strong negative emotion, the thoughts that we do experience in relation to the trigger are almost always distorted. If they are not distorted, the chain is not likely to continue.
Feelings – we tend to notice feelings directly following the trigger. We tend to jump directly from the stimulus to negative emotions. We often see the trigger as the cause of our emotional state, but it is actually the thoughts that influence the negative emotions. In the shopping example , if you did not tell yourself you were fat and ugly, you would not feel the shame, sadness, anger and disappointed, you would not feel compelled to continue the cycle and act out. There would be no reason to engage in self-destructive behaviors if you were not attempting to soothe the intense negative emotions.
Behavior – as a result of the negative thoughts and feelings, we often feel the need to act out. This serves as a release for the built up negative emotion and serves as a temporary distraction from the feelings. A binge in the food court feels really good initially. It is an outlet for all of the angst you feel. Yet, it is only temporary. When you use something external, like food, to fill a void or soothe you emotionally, the effect will not last long and will only create more pain.
Consequences – after you act out as a result of the negative emotions, there are always consequences. Sometimes you may not notice them at first. The consequence of this example initially may be bloating and guilt, but the longer term consequences would be more shame and could ultimately lead to depression. The biggest consequence is that this perpetuates the cycle and becomes a new trigger. The longer you stay stuck in the cycle, the harder it will feel to escape it.
This pattern keeps you stuck in a pattern of self-sabotage. It can be incredibly difficult to accomplish goals like weight loss. So, where do you break this cycle? The easiest place to create change is with your thoughts. Once you can identify the distorted thoughts, you can begin to challenge them. By challenging the thoughts, you decrease the intensity and frequency of painful emotions. Without the painful emotions, you will not have the urge to act out to avoid them. Without the behavior, you will not experience negative consequences. Alternately, the positive consequences you will experience will be an increase in your confidence due to your ability to challenge this pattern which will improve your self-esteem.
By learning your patterns, you can begin to “play the tape through”. This allows you to understand how your cycle, if left unchecked, will turn out. Understanding the chain of events in your pattern will enable you to make changes when you see the warning signs arise. Breaking the chain will allow you to minimize destructive soothing skills like binge eating which make your weight loss goals impossible. By continuously challenging these thoughts, you will find more peace and contentment in your life. If you were able to let go of this negative image, what would change? For most people, this changes everything. Without the distorted thinking, you will feel more motivated and confident. Your self-esteem will reach new highs and you will feel hope to accomplish your goals. The key here is practice. Your negative self-talk did not form overnight and your new positive self-talk won’t change as quickly either. By actively challenging these distortions, you can create a positive cycle of self- talk. Be patient with yourself and enjoy the journey to your new sense of contentedness!