Updated: Jan 6
This week I happened to watch an episode of Netflix's 'One Bad Choice', the show explores young peoples stories of grappling with the life-changing consequences of a single decision supplemented by dramatic re-enactments (cautionary tales of growing up), and It lead me to write this blog about why we make decisions that turn out to be bad for us, & what leads us to make them?
Some sources suggest that the average person makes an eye-popping 35,000 choices per day. Assuming that most people spend around seven hours per day asleep, and thus blissfully choice-free, that makes roughly 2,000 decisions per hour or one decision every two seconds; many of the day to day choices we make are 'unconscious', the beating of your heart, blinking, pushing the shopping trolley, we rely on something that is called the 'Adaptive Unconscious', which is all the ways that our brains understand the world that the mind and the body must negotiate. The Adaptive Unconscious, first coined by Daniel Wagner in 2002, is described as a series of mental processes that is able to affect judgement and decision making, but is out of reach of the conscious mind. On the other hand 'Conscious' decisions are made with all the data at hand, the risks understood and the implications of the risk known with all possible consequences built into the decision.
So if our unconscious choices are made for survival, & our conscious choices made with the knowledge of consequence, why do some of us make catastrophically life damaging decisions, some of us repeating these same patterns time & time again?
As children we have a need to belong, to be loved by our parents/caregivers, thus providing us with a sense of safety; but this love can be in two forms, either unconditional - in which we are loved as our true selves no matter what we do, or conditional - in which we are loved (or perceived we are) if we do what other people want us to do. Some of us are lucky to have had unconditional love, but most of us have grown up with conditional love from parents (being gay is wrong), carers (you're too shy), teachers (you don't listen), family (you're not as pretty as your sister) or even physical, mental or sexual abuse... When we rely on conditional love we develop what we refer to as 'Conditions of Worth' or lack of 'Self Worth'.
These negative conditions of worth or lack of self worth from childhood can result in self destructive behavioural habits as adults. These habits are: self-hating, self-sabotaging, self-harming and self-defeating, such as;
Obsessive compulsive habits
Excessive self sacrifice
Self-neglect, such as ignoring health needs
Impulsive risk taking, such as high-speed driving or skydiving
Staying in abusive relationships and becoming a victim
Alienating behaviour to isolate self from others
Self-defeating thoughts such as, 'I know I'm going to fail'
Deliberate sabotage of school, work, or relationships
Some Psychotherapists believe self-destructive behaviour can be used as a dysfunctional 'coping mechanism'. Subconsciously or consciously, it is person's way of dealing with the burden and emotions of psychological or physical trauma masking emotions such as:
Anxiety and inner conflict
Anger and bitterness
Self-hatred or hatred towards others
Self-pity or shame
Loss or grief
Sadness, despair, or hopelessness
A sense of loneliness and isolation
For some people, self-destructive behaviours might just be a bad habit that continues even while they are aware the behaviour is harmful. For others, it is a way to take control over uncomfortable thoughts and internal conflict, bad habits such as:
Gambling and other behavioural addictions
Sex addiction and risky sexual behaviours
Eating disorders; under-eating or anorexia, overeating or binge eating
Alcohol & Drugs
For example, a rape victim, thinking the way they looked caused their rape, may become anorexic or binge eat to change their appearance as a way of taking back control.
If you think you are making bad choices, or recognise any of the listed self-destructive behaviours, Psychotherapy can by help you to explore the root causes, resolving the conflict within your self so that you have a greater conscious awareness of your decisions, working towards solving your trauma or conditioning and breaking those negative patterns. Psychotherapy can also help you with coping skills; such as relaxation techniques & learning to replace negative thinking and actions with positive ones.
Contact me for a free initial telephone consultation here
Eve Houseman MBACP