People that self-sabotage their recovery expect that they’re going to fail so they play the tape forward. “If I do this, if I take, if I do this action, if I go to this place, if I stay sober, that it’s not going to be what they say it is. This job’s not going to be as good as it is. This class is not going to be as fun as they say it’s going to be. This relationship’s not going to work out.” Everything that they view in the future has a failure expectation to it.
The reason why someone would be conditioned to expect failure may be because that is what they related with at some point in their life. Let’s start with before drugs and alcohol – at some point in their life, maybe their world was developed and set up and created in a way that they always walked into some type of failure that wasn’t even their own fault. Maybe their parents were struggling with each other, maybe there was domestic violence, maybe there was divorce, maybe someone passed away at a young age, maybe someone let them down, maybe there was abuse, maybe there was trauma, maybe there was grief and loss or whatever it was in the world, that they never saw the future is getting any better. For many people who experience adverse childhood experiences in their childhood, their adolescence doesn’t get any better because they have no control or sway in the environment. They’re almost like prisoners that are stuck in whatever situation they’re in so they start to get conditioned that no matter what they do, no matter how they live, no matter what choices they make, it’s never going to work out anyways.
The conditioning of childhood plus the conditioning of substance use disorders and addictions onto an individual’s mindset is a combination that makes them expect failure. So even when they are in recovery, they still expect failure. A lot of this stems from previous experiences, previous stories, and they project it onto their future.
Refusing to Take a Risk
Another reason why people self-sabotage their life and recovery is because they refuse to take a risk. It is related to a lack of goals. Goals don’t have to be big ones; they could be super small goals. Small goals over time can create a masterpiece. For example, if you have a 500 piece puzzle and each day you just put one of the pieces together, eventually, just one piece at a time, you have created a beautiful completed puzzle. People who want to do it all at once can’t do it and they get frustrated.
In the therapeutic space, whether it’s someone struggling with addictions, or just someone coming to therapy because they’re experiencing anxiety or depression, they always talk about this thing like, “I just have a fear of failure or I have a fear of success. My whole life I’ve been that way.” They talk about perfectionism or the exact opposite of it of just not trying – same coin by the way, different sides. Once they are aware that they have a fear of failure or a fear of risk, they are now responsible for their own actions, regardless of whose fault that was.
Why Fear Making Mistakes?
It usually was someone’s fault that a past adverse experience happened to an individual during their childhood or adolescence. If they have a highly critical parent growing up and they are afraid of making mistakes, it is likely that they caused the fear of risk, but now as an adult if the individual is still afraid of making mistakes even though it was someone else’s fault, the person who is responsible for overcoming that now is the individual in recovery. If someone feels like they are not good enough because a parent or an adult always told them they weren’t good enough, so therefore they don’t try, yes, it was probably the parent’s fault for saying all those things, however, at some point in life now it’s the individual’s responsibility to do something about the fact that they feel they are not good enough.
F.E.A.R = Face Everything And Recover
There are always two options when someone is faced with fear. One is to ‘Face Everything And Recover,’ and the other option is to ‘F* Everything And Run.’ Recover means to regain something that has been lost, stolen or destroyed, so face everything, including any demons, inadequacies, resentments, and traumas, and recover something that’s been lost, stolen or destroyed. What one regains from this process is their connection to their own self and whatever spiritual entity or connection to others.
People are free to make the choices they want but they are not free of the consequences of those choices.
Don’t let Failure Stop You
A failure may not always be a real failure – it could also be a perceived failure. Many successful people become successful because they choose to perceive their failure as a stepping stone to success.
“A hungry stomach, an empty wallet and a broken heart can teach you the best lessons in life.” -Robin Williams
Reading the autobiographies of people that are successful in whatever field that they’re in, whether they are chefs, or athletes, or humanitarians or actors can be helpful in showcasing how many of them came from difficult and challenging childhoods and upbringings, but they didn’t let failure stop them.
For people that self-sabotage when they experience one failure, it may help to remember that having a hungry stomach, an empty wallet, or a broken heart could be the foundation to build up an entire life. Don’t self sabotage it. Don’t quit before the miracle happens. Don’t be impulsive without having all the information prior to investigation. Don’t have contempt prior to investigation. Investigate honestly, openly, ask questions, learn from people, know as much as you can before making a big life decision. It is possible to build a really beautiful life on the foundation that failure can bring.
How to Change Failure to Success
The only way to change that expectation of failure is to change the story one day at a time, to change the narrative from what it used to be like to what it is now. And what that narrative needs to include is small victories. They need to taste victory. They need to taste success.
That’s why it’s so important when someone gets a 30-day chip when they are in recovery. It is the first time in a long time that a person tasted some victory, that they can do something that they were unable to do for a long time. The first time someone takes one community college class and gets an A, B or a C they taste some victory that they’re able to be a student which they thought they could never be. When someone gets in a relationship with someone and treats them with love, respect, honesty and loyalty, it is the first time in a long time that they didn’t fail in a relationship. When someone gets a job and they show up for it and they clock in on time and they leave on time it’s the first time in a long time that they changed the story of they just abandoned work and didn’t show up and had a lie and excuse for every time they weren’t there.