So, if it’s you, or maybe a buddy you really care about and hope the best for, who happens to be that “stuck” person, what should you do? First, understand what is going on that might lead to such behavior. According to psychologist Roy Baumeister (a leading researcher in this field), there are three primary models of self-destructive behavior.
The first model, according to Baumeister, is called “primary self-destruction” and includes those people who intentionally bring harm to themselves. For whatever reasons (and the reason are legion) they seek to harm or derail themselves. In the most classic sense, these are masochists determined to self-destruct because of their low self-esteem or self-hate in which they are desirous of the “unwanted” outcome.
Baumeister’s second model of self-destructive behavior is what he calls the “tradeoff.” In other word, a choice is made that offers an immediate reward in lieu of a later, undesirable, tradeoff. In a tradeoff, the person has two desirable goals that are automatically set against each other. In the classic example the individual decides to take up smoking; there is the immediate pleasurable rewards of tobacco smoking (i.e. immediate social acceptance, the relaxing effects of nicotine, etc) accepted in lieu of later consequences (nicotine addiction, detriments to health, later social rejection, etc). This is often seen among the young, for whom consequences are a distant concern, or among those who are able to easily compromise later costs against current rewards.
The third model, according to Baumeister, is one of “counterproductive strategies.” Like a tradeoff, this is common among younger or immature adults but, unlike the tradeoff, is entered into without knowledge or consideration of the potential harm. Using a counterproductive strategy “the person neither desires nor foresees the harm to self. In this instance a person is pursuing a desirable outcome but chooses a strategy or approach that backfires and produces the opposite of the desired result.”
Regardless of individual intent, or which model is represented by the failure, the outcome is negative and self-defeating. Of Baumeister’s three models, the first is most insidious because there is intent, however subliminal, to fail. In all, despite intent, failure is the outcome.
Are you getting in the way of your own success? Is someone you care about at work? Do you know you are smart but sometimes scratch your head at your own stupidity? Welcome to the club! Do you want to get out of your way, or suggest to your friend a way to stop screwing up? It’s possible but may require outside help.
So go get it; you owe it to yourself.
Derek held the clipboard in sweaty palms, wondering what came next. Finally, the door opened, the therapist stepped into the waiting room, and called his name…
Derek followed her back to the office, feeling his chest tighten and his stomach contract uncomfortably. As he settled uncomfortably into the big chair opposite the surprisingly comfortable – even casual – woman smiling across from him, he wondered why he was here… Oh, yeah, Jeannie was FURIOUS at this latest F-Up and let him know (in no uncertain terms) he’d better get it together if he thought she was sticking around! It wasn’t the sergeant’s interview – “If you don’t really want to be a sergeant, don’t be a sergeant, but if you really do then get it together for God’s sake!” - It was… every last letdown and shortfall over the last seventeen years.
“So, what brings you here today?”
Derek stumbled with the words to describe a whole adulthood of disappointment and falling short and his tongue tripped over the effort. And then the tears started falling… (Oh, for Pete’s sake… ah, well)
About The Authors:
Althea Olson, LCSW has been in private practice in the Chicago suburbs since 1996. She has a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University providing individual, couple, & group therapy to adolescents, adults, and geriatrics. Althea is also trained in Critical Incident Stress Management & is a certified divorce mediator.