Being unable to learn from others is one of the most common traits of self-saboteurs, or people who self-sabotage. It stems from an I-problem: “I am perfect, I am inflexible, I am stubborn, I am fearful.” They are often referred to as egomaniacs with an inferiority complex.
A Weird Story
Consider this random analogy, for demonstration purposes. Let’s say there is an individual called Bob who is addicted to banging his head against a wall, and that it is a full-blown addiction. The definition of addiction is the continued use of a substance or behavior despite negative consequences. Let’s say Bob is just walking through life one day and he sees a brick wall which appears majestic, the best brick wall Bob had ever seen. So Bob goes up to the wall, whips his head back as far as he can and bangs his head against the wall. The result is of course, a pounding headache, a bruised eye that looks like he just got punched, Bob walks away thinking he is never going to do it again. Maybe he takes off for 30-60-90 days and wants to figure things out. But then Bob comes across another wall that is way nicer than the wall before, like a high-end wall which has art on it, different textures, and different surfaces. So Bob once again goes up to the wall, whips his head back as far as he can go and bangs it against the wall as hard as he can. This time, his orbital socket breaks, it shatters his eye and the concussion is so bad that he falls down on the ground and starts throwing up. He is in so much pain that he needs to be taken somewhere to rest for a while, maybe 30 days in some facility. 30-60-90 days go by and then Bob, being a self-sabotager, wants to leave and figures that he can’t continue to bang his head against walls anymore, and needs to find something else to do. But then all of a sudden he sees another wall behind him and it instantly looks exciting, in fact so exciting that he is compelled to bang his head against the wall. But Bob remembers that the last few times he hit his head against a wall was bad. Even so, he puts his head forward and bangs his head up against the wall as hard as he can and it knocks him out, lights out, like the TKOs in fights. He is taken to the hospital unconscious.
In the hospital Bob’s family is there thinking, “Oh my god, is he gonna wake up? Is he coming back to life? Should we call grandma and grandpa and tell them what happened? I don’t think they can handle this. It might kill them to hear the news. Let’s not do that. Should we tell the kids what happened? They’re so young. We might not need to tell those kids. I don’t know how they’re going to deal with it.” The doctors are talking about, “Do we pull the plug? Do we not pull the plug?” These are the conversations that are happening in a hospital when someone is admitted and laying there unconscious, not knowing what happened. Mom, dad, brother, sister, aunt, uncle are having those conversations. And for whatever reason, miraculously, Bob wakes up in the hospital. The family members might think that Bob is regretful and remorseful about what happened, however for Bob, his first thought is, “I want to go bang my head against a wall again.” He rips off the cords and just leaves the hospital. As Bob checks out of the hospital and is leaving with his hospital bracelet still on him, he goes to the parking garage and looks at the concrete wall in front of him, his favorite and says, “Oh God, I can go bang my head against that wall!”
Learning from Others in Recovery
Here’s where being unable to learn from others is one of the causes of self-sabotage. The remedy for that is learning from others. It could be from a counselor or someone who has been sober for several years, when they share their own story of recovery, of how they lost everything, including their job, home and family because of their addiction. It could be from someone who experienced the worst pain in their life and shares their experience with others so nobody else goes through that pain again.
Learning from others prevents us from so much pain, so much unnecessary misery, so many consequences of our ignorance and lack of knowing, decisions and actions we take because someone that’s been there, done that, can probably help us not do that anymore. This is why this recovery stuff works.
Learning to Trust Others
Many times, self-sabotaging people do not learn from others because they don’t trust them. For many people, trust gets established, not in the addiction process, but their core understanding of trust happens when they’re younger. When someone lies to them, when someone tells them they’re going to be there and they’re not there, when someone physically, sexually, psychologically, emotionally abuses them, when someone neglects them, they have already established their understanding of trust already, long before the drugs and alcohol. So one of the important things people in recovery need to learn is to overcome their trust issues in order to learn from others.
Whether it is addiction, codependency, anger, or some other pattern of behavior, learning from others can go a long way to help avoid unnecessary pain. Codependency is the same way. A parent of a person in recovery might say, “Hey, I’m not going to help my kid ever again,” however, they do it again – it’s just like banging their head against a wall. After they repeat this pattern several times, they eventually get to the point of being in enough pain that they start learning to set boundaries, and to stay firm to those boundaries. They learn to develop the psychological and emotional strength to be strong. When another family member or a counselor says, “This is what I suggest,” the parent may then be ready to take their suggestion and feedback. They will learn to stop the enabling process. Family members often need to hit bottom just like the person struggling with addictions. Everybody’s bottom is different and a lot of factors go into that.
Learn to Live a Disciplined Life
Many people in recovery or who self sabotage live undisciplined lives, whether it comes with their schedules, their patterns, their habits, or their values. If a person doesn’t stand for something they will fall for anything. So in life, it is important to show up and work by standards, not moods. People who are undisciplined are dominantly controlled by their moods. “When I feel like it I’ll do it, when I feel like it I’ll go to a meeting, but I don’t feel like it. When I feel like it I’ll go have a conversation with someone that I’ve been avoiding but I’m just not feeling like it. When I feel like it I’ll take care of myself but I’m just not feeling like it.” If an individual allows their feelings and moods to dictate their life they will continue to have an undisciplined life that will always lead to self-sabotage. But if standards and values become the north star, they can become the guiding principles, regardless of feelings and moods.
In recovery, people are urged to get into contrary action, so if a person is not feeling like they should do something that’s a sign, a glaring headlight, that it is exactly what they need to do in that moment.