How to rewrite self-destructive patterns
In the last post, I talked about substituting self-destructive managing patterns for self-caring behaviours (in other words, everytime you feel down, go out and hug a puppy).In a perfect world, we'd all be able to make the switch with very little effort. After all, it's just a question of remembering, right?The problem is, these behaviours are often deeply entrenched. They've been there for years. Some of them are not even conscious - and it's pretty hard to change something you're not even aware of yet. What's really important to remember is that it is only part of our personality that is prompting these self-destructive behaviours, it's not representative of each of us as a whole. After all, there's also another part of us that doesn't want us to act these behaviours out, right?The transition from self-hurting to self-caring can be broken down into several steps:Step 1: Becoming aware of what the self-destructive behaviours areSometimes they'll be obvious, sometimes they'll be present in the form of things we want to change and sometimes they won't be clear to us at all. This step is most useful for behaviours in the second and third categories. For instance, perhaps we want to change our sleeping patterns, stop procrastinating at work or lose some excess weight.Thinking back to times when we've deliberately stayed up late, found ourselves putting off an important project or eating unhealthily, think about the feelings that were around at the time. Even better, try and separate the thoughts from the feelings underneath and make a list of both. This will help raise awareness of what feelings trigger a self-destructive behaviour.Step 2: Noticing how we feel when we're acting on these behaviours and what sort of relief they bringSo we've got our trigger emotions, now it's time to look at why we've chose these particular behaviours to alleviate these feelings. Think back to the thought process that occurs when the uncomfortable feelings come up. What part is telling us to bite our nails, to light up or to go out shopping? Try and feel that part right now and ask it why it thinks those activities will help.If it doesn't have an answer, that's OK. Keep going back to it, tomorrow, the next day and, if you can, the next time it asks you to act out a behaviour you noticed in step 1. It might not respond immediately, but keep trying.3. Identifying the triggers (if that's possible at this point)Go back again to the last time/s you can remember these behaviours coming up. You know how you felt, and the thought process that led to the behaviour. Now think about the real-life events that occurred before this. At what exact moment did the uncomfortable feelings come up? What happened immediately before that? What were you thinking about at the time?The trigger could have been something obvious, like an argument, or it could have been subtle - maybe you were thinking about a conversation you'd had earlier that day or felt uncomfortable about the way someone looked at or spoke to you. Triggers can seem insignificant and, in the context of today, they might be. However, there is a reason they provoke uncomfortable emotions, whether it is to do with the immediate situation or with history. Once we know what they are, we're less likely to act on them in the future. 4. Identifying another action you can do that is related to the first action but self-caringSimply stopping a behaviour dead is hard work. Anyone who can do this deserves a superhero medal. Instead, replacing the behaviour with something more beneficial is a more realistic way of giving ourselves a chance to rewrite a pattern.We can do this by focusing on a positive activity that is related to the self-destructive behaviour we were engaging in before. For instance, in the last post I talked about switching cigarettes for a cup of tea. I still get to make something (I was a roller), hold something and ingest something. The pattern is basically the same... except tea is way better for me.5. Starting to change the patternNone of this stuff happens overnight. Change can be slow and it's frustrating to wait, especially when we know we're engaging in unhealthy behaviours. There's no point in beating ourselves up about the fact we haven't switched the behaviour yet because that's only going to prevent us from doing it in the future.To begin with, it's easier to start changing patterns in retrospect. For example, if you find yourself lighting up or biting your nails without thinking, that's OK. We can just stop, become aware of how we're feeling and start engaging in the positive counterpart.What's worked for you? Tell me below.