Self-defeating Behavior

What could have come over a prominent politician and cause him to act out in such a self-destructive way? Temporary insanity? A cry for help or attention? An answer to the bedtime prayers of late night TV talk show hosts and stand up comedians...


Unfortunately, his is not the only story of high-profile police meltdowns leading to criminal or civil charges, career destruction, personal loss, and black eyes for the profession. 

Fortunately, stories of such gross malfeasance, although certainly prominent when they happen, are actually relatively rare.  Imagine a US city populated – solely - by every sworn US law enforcement officer.  The population of that imaginary city would fall somewhere between that of San Francisco and Detroit, but its crime rate would be miniscule in comparison.   Overall, we are statistically a very well-behaved bunch!

The problem for most of us, whether in law enforcement or not, is not the high-profile, hugely destructive meltdown exemplified above.  It’s the small, day-to-day rejections of success, failures to launch, and acts of personal self-sabotage that haunt us and hurt us in our careers and personal lives.  They are more common than you think. 

Consider these (not so really) hypothetical people you may know (or be):

  • The veteran patrol cop, bitter over his lack of promotion or career advancement, who blames the administration, his bosses, the “brown nose’s” who do get the assignments or stripes he feels entitled to, politics, or any number of other villains for his woes.  Oddly, that he never puts in for anything, takes the promotional exams (or bothers to study if he does), or considers politicking on his own behalf never comes up.
  • The veteran patrol cop who does take charge of her own destiny and advancement,  only to pull a stunt so thoughtless as to derail herself on the eve of succeeding – sometimes over and over again.
  • A buddy, married to wife number four (and vowing to really make it work this time!!) whom you catch striking up a dangerous flirtation with that new Records Clerk.  It was flirting with wives two, three, and four that derailed marriages one, two, and three, respectively.
  • That old college friend who, despite being bright and hard-working, never quite closed the deal and dropped out just short of graduation.  He’s spent the last twenty years four credits shy of a degree and light years from achieving his potential.
  • There are even college instructors (always an adjunct, never a Prof) whose unfinished and unsubmitted dissertations collect dust, who will never enjoy the benefits their doctorate could bring them. 

These are just a few examples we can probably all relate to, because we probably all know someone just like them.  There are countless others out there. 

Psychologists have questioned and studied self-defeating behavior and found that it does exist, in some to the point of almost having the traits of a separate, specific mental illness.  For the most severely self-defeating people, there was a proposed, but rejected, diagnostic classification of self-defeating personality disorder suggested for the third and fourth editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III and DSM IV). 

Whether self-defeating/self-destructive behavior is part of a persistent pattern or situational, it is something that touches all of us at some time or another.  Whether the alleged behavior and personal and professional collapses of Anthony Weiner and the Deputy Chief were intentional (even if subconsciously) I cannot say right now.  It’s likely they can’t either, unless and until they get help from a professional to dig into their psyches.  What I can say is this:  Patterns of self-defeating behavior are something that hold a great many people back from their maximum achievement.  Do you have any holding you back?  Are you interested in finding out?  Do you want to correct any you may have? 

Self-defeating behaviors are something we all need to be aware of and look closely at so we can recognize, root out, and discard them.  Choosing success is the theme we consistently push, and specifically what we will be looking at further in coming columns.

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