When the world goes silent

You hear them at the back of your head

The incessant noise

You try closing the tap, but all goes vain

The overflowing water

You assume it’s not an issue

Until your storage goes empty

You won’t realise the value

Try harder to close those dripping taps

Because people around also get affected

It’s late but not too late

Find someone to repair the tap, if you can’t

Just like the disturbing noise of the dripping tap, many of us hear a voice that disturbs us from within. The voice of our own thoughts, that pull us down: “I am not good enough”, “I am worthless if I am not perfect”, “I always let people down”, “I am not lovable” are some examples of our self-defeating thoughts. We don’t consciously think of them yet they influence our decisions so much. Barbara Sapienza, PhD, a retired psychologist says that self-defeating thoughts are “automatic and habitual, slightly below our consciousness.”  

We humans react to situations as they come. It is so simultaneous that we fail to notice the influence of thoughts in our reaction. There is always a thought component in between a stimulus and response. So what these thoughts speak to you determines the direction of your behaviour. For example, a freelance writer is presented with an opportunity to write an article in an international magazine. If the voices in the writer’s head tell him that he is not worthy enough and will be criticised by all then he will undoubtedly give up and decline the offer. However if his voices prod him to try and experiment, then he is more likely to give it a chance. Likewise in all behaviours we carry out, there is a thought component that propels our attitude toward life. So what happens if the freelance writer declines all the offers he gets? He will miss out on opportunities that would help him grow and improve his career. Despite his desire to be a writer he is contradicting himself by blocking his growth. Defeating oneself is what self defeating thoughts do.

When these thoughts continuously influence our behaviours it becomes a pattern leading to self defeating behaviours. One common example of self defeating behaviour is procrastination. The voices in your head keep telling you ‘you are incapable, you cannot achieve no matter what’. Thus we conveniently procrastinate and not put efforts into the specific activity. Dysfunctional procrastination hinders individual’s growth and well-being. Therefore it becomes necessary to recognise our self defeating thought patterns and resolve them.

Let us look at the analogy of dripping tap, water is essential but water leaking from a tap goes only to the drains. In the same way, thinking is essential however over thinking may not always be healthy. A study conducted by Keisuke Takano and Yoshihiko Tanno at the University of Tokyo found that self-focused thinking of trait ruminators is likely to be more negative and uncontrollable. Rumination refers to the tendency to repeatedly thinking about the causes and consequences of one’s negative experience. From the study we can infer that when rumination is more self focused it becomes more negative. It can consist of self defeating thoughts or can contribute to more such thoughts.

Persistent self defeating thoughts can become your faulty belief system affecting your self esteem and your relationship with others. It is the primary aim of the cognitive behavioural therapists to change the people’s attitudes and behaviours by focusing on the thoughts and beliefs of the individual. Recognising the voice of our thoughts is the first step to resolve the defeating nature of the thoughts.  Only when you know which tap is leaking, can you do something about it.  Carefully observe the monologues in your mind while you experiencing a negative emotion. When a student fails in an examination, what sort of thoughts would run in the mind? The thought pattern while receiving the result plays a major role in the behaviour of the students post results. In India, examination failures are causing suicidal ideations in many students. Over pressure on self to achieve an expected score disrupts their sense of self. “I am not worthy enough to live when I can’t even get this score” “I always let people down”, “I have always been a failure”, such internal self defeating thoughts along with the additional stressors from the environment can contribute to negative behaviours.

Now to avoid water leaking from the tap, we can always try harder ourselves to close it tight. It can either be difficult, or it can be pretty easy but it all depends on you and the usage of the tap. Wanting to change is the first step towards change. To handle these self defeating thoughts, ask yourself if you would make these statements to a good friend? If not then why do you say it to yourself? Our subconscious is so strong that it can internalise all of these self defeating thoughts and sabotage the self image. It is important to treat your ‘self’ with concern as how you care for a friend.

Give yourself time to evaluate the consequences objectively. What would happen if you fail? Professor Martin Covington of the University of California says that “Our fear of failure is directly linked to our sense of self-worth. And that is why many of us consider ourselves unworthy when we fail. However where we actually fail is in the understanding that failure is a part of human experience where we build resilience and strength. Definitely it’s going to hurt but what’s more important is the lesson you learn from it”. Let us assume the freelance writer somehow wrote an article and got it published in the international magazine. He will definitely receive appreciations, criticisms, judgements and suggestions. However if he focus only on the criticisms and negative judgements then his self defeating thoughts would take charge and not let him live at peace. However by working on the mistakes would help the writer to hone his skills and abilities. A research conducted by Kristin Neff, an associate professor in the University of Texas found that people who practice self-compassion recover more quickly from failure and are more likely to try new things. Failure and success are not only for academics, career or skill based activities but also for relationships.

If all this fails, what should you do now? You tried your best to close the tap but it’s not helping. Look out for someone who can help you out. Social support becomes very helpful when you have difficulty dealing with your own thoughts. All we need is a supportive person who can identify your faulty beliefs. Revealing your self defeating thought is equal to exposing your vulnerabilities and so it becomes important to find an empathetic and non-judgement individual. However if you cannot find such a person or have fear of being judged, then turn in for professional help. But unless “you” seek help, no one can help “you”. So reach out and repair your dripping taps before it lets the tank run dry.

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Ambigi Vanail


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