Do you have a friend, relative or co-worker who keeps making the same mistakes over and over? For example, shopping while their credit cards are maxed out, paying them, and getting in debt again. We all have behavioral patterns, some are good and some not so good.


I had a friend who used to tell a story. She was a Catholic and knew her priest well. One day during confession, the priest told her: “Jane, do you realized that you have been telling me the same sins, gossip and jealousy, every time you come here since many years ago. Are you going to change?” And I can tell you she didn’t.


I was reading a fascinating interview with a therapist and author in the New York Times and something caught my attention, the term “self-defeating patterns.” It is not a new term but it is a very powerful concept.

The author described that her patients have “self-defeating patterns that are contributing to their struggles, and once they see why the same thing keeps happening over and over — the same fight with their spouse, the same difficulty with family or bosses at work, the same fear of not being good enough … — they realize that the reason their lives feel like “Groundhog Day” is because of something they’re doing that they can change or do differently.”

What are self-defeating patterns?

These are behavioral patterns that are producing results that you do not want. They are stopping you from getting what you want. They are distracting you from the life you want to live. They are a form of self-sabotage. They cause troubles, destroy relationships and make you sad and sick. Nothing good comes out from them.

Why do we have self-defeating patterns?

We all have some of these patterns. In some people they are more destructive than in others, but we all have them. We have acquired them unconsciously through our lives. They mostly originate with limiting thoughts and manifest in bad results. They are also defense mechanisms that we no longer need. They can be the result of fear, insecurities and feeling unlovable. They can manifest in the form of:

  • Controlling personalities
  • Abuse
  • Criticism and judgement
  • Jealousy
  • Envy
  • Gossip
  • Playing the victim
  • Procrastination
  • Anger
  • And many more

Many of these patterns affect our health, others our happiness and peace, and the remaining our success.

Destroying the self-defeating behavioral patterns

Sometimes it is easy to see the results of the patterns such as broken relationships, anger, incomplete projects, unhappy careers, abandoned diets, lack of exercise, procrastination, etc. It is up to us to look for the patterns, their causes and break the cycle. And how do we do that?

The therapist in the interview said that:

“The work of a therapist is to hold a mirror so the patient can see the causes of the problems and resolve to change the behavior”.

Lori Gottlieb


During therapy sessions we listen to ourselves, the therapists ask questions and we answer them. Somewhere else I read that we go to therapy to learn to be our own therapist and solve our own problems.

In real life, we can hold that mirror ourselves if we choose to, and see our behavior and its results. This is a very powerful exercise that can be done using many techniques such as:

  • Journaling
  • Guided imagery
  • Affirmations
  • Meditation
  • Circles of friends
  • And many more

We can also see our patterns when we read other peoples’ stories and relate to them, but this can be an indirect way and too time consuming.

Hold the mirror

The trick is to see and accept that we are producing the results we do not like and we need to correct the pattern or behavior. We do not need to feel guilty or sorry or bad for our self-defeating patterns we just need to see them and be willing to correct them if we want to change the results.

Some people think that they cannot change, that “that is the way they are”. This is the first limiting thought to change. But we are not our patterns or our behaviors, we can change, we can grow, we can improve. If we are willing to see and analyze we can break self-defeating patterns.

You can find the interview of therapist Lori Gottlieb author of “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed” written by Judith Newman in NYT

10 Comments on The key to success: unmask your self-defeating behaviors

  1. Yes, realizing that you need to correct those behaviors is the very first step. What I have found working for me the best is slowly replacing bad habits with good ones. It’s a slow process but slit works great and is very rewarding.

  2. Thank you, yes, it is important to ask yourself why you are making the same self-defeating patterns. Then choose other actions that lead to your goals and the person you want to become. Not who you were.

  3. I like the image of holding a mirror!
    It’s exactly that. Sometimes we need to re-evaluate our habits, see what is it we are doing that is not producing the outcome we are looking for.
    We need to look into our mirror and be open to see and accept, in order to make the changes! Great post

  4. When I hear the word pattern I also think about habits. Some are easier to overcome than others. Nevertheless, it is important to make a commitment to positive changes in life. Don’t never feel like you’re defeated because you’re not. God will give you strength to move forward.

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