Alison had a recurring pattern of self sabotage. She would say or do the “wrong thing” and turn people who liked her against her. She would make and lose friends regularly.
Some of her self sabotages were spectacular! At the company New Year’s Eve Party she got drunk and made out with the intern. Later, when they told her what she had done, she felt humiliated, stupid and worthless. She had, once again, committed a self inflicted career wound. She could not go back. She knew that she had to look for another job. She had ruined the potential that this job had offered her.
Some call these humiliating moments a “faux pas,” a false step. The memory of it lingers in the offender’s mind and Alison obsessed about it for months. “What must they think of me? I’m not really like that at all. What can I do about it now? How will I ever live it down?” There were no answers to these questions. She could only turn this problem over and over in her mind.
This was not Alison’s first or last faux pas. She was seeing the pattern of her life and she was sick of it. She wanted to break it. Alison learned in counseling that there was more to her pattern than just faux pas. She always seemed to humiliate herself when things were going too well! She saw a pattern of happiness ending in self created disaster.
In order to break this pattern, we need to find out where, when, and how it got started. Alison’s father was cynical, crabby, unloving and selfish all his life. Her first recollections of him are negative and discouraging. Her mother tried to put a happy face on things for the children’s sake, but Alison was not deceived. She was not a happy child.
Every vacation seemed to bring out her father’s negativity. What was supposed to be a happy occasion turned out otherwise. He saw to it that no one had too good a time. He’d yell at them all the way home. He’d threaten to leave them behind next time. She never forgot these angry, scary words. She took them literally. She had no basis for taking them any other way. Alison was aware of these patterns, but she did not realize their significance for her in the present. These patterns coalesced into the following expectations about happiness and about life.
•Happiness is for other people, it is not for me.
•My happiness lies in pleasing others, not myself. Their happiness will be my happiness.
•If I fail to please others, I will be punished.
•The worst punishment is to be abandoned by the people I love and depend on.
•I live in fear of failing to get others approval and being abandoned.
•Happiness always ends in disaster.
•Suffering pays off. It gets people to pay attention to you. It’s negative attention, but that is better than no attention at all. It’s the only kind I deserve.
•Suffering is painful, but at least the pain proves I am alive!
•I am not living a real life, I am merely existing.
All of these attitudes taken together are a prescription for depression.