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The Real Reason Why a Person Won’t Stop a Negative Behavior

We live in a universe that is managed by the law of cause and effect. This means that everything we do or don’t do, has a consequence. That consequence might be experienced as positive. Or it might be experienced as negative. Usually, when something we do has a negative consequence, we learn not to do it and to do something else. But sometimes, we keep doing something, despite the negative consequences. In this article, I’m going to explain to you the real reason why a person may be choosing not to stop a certain behavior, even if that behavior has obvious and very severe negative consequences. And I’m going to explain how to break through this pattern if it occurs.

In a previous video, I explained that there is no such thing as self-sabotage. I explained that if any part of you is exhibiting a behavior that is bringing about a negative consequence in any way, it is because that part of you thinks it is in your best interest to do so.  In other words, it believes it is saving your life by engaging in that behavior and by not going along with the plan.  For this reason, we cannot say that it is against you. It just doesn’t agree with the rest of you about how to be FOR you. 

Most of the time, this happens because the specific behavior gets that part of you something that it (and therefore you) needs. So essentially, this part of you perceives itself to be in a lose-lose situation and that the negative consequence of whatever behavior it is engaged in, is worth whatever it is that it is (and therefore you are) getting. To understand more about this, you can watch my video titled: There Is No Such Thing as Self Sabotage. 

But behaviors which persist due to a need that is being met through those behaviors are not even close to as stubborn as those behaviors that are inspired by avoidance. And it is avoidance-based behaviors where you see the most extreme patterns of people continuing a negative behavior, no matter the consequences to themselves or others. When a person is caught in this pattern, they do X despite any of the extreme consequences of doing it. Because doing X keeps them away from a consequence they are FAR more afraid of than those consequences. 

So that you can understand this pattern, here are two examples. Suraj has a big problem. Every time he pursues a relationship and the woman starts to act like she really likes him, he loses interest in her. He becomes aloof and disconnects emotionally. He dodges questions. He starts pointing out all of their differences. He starts to go against anything she says, as if he was intent on creating petty arguments. He brings up past women he has been with, as if romanticizing them. He pushes her away. This behavior has massive consequences. For starters, he is desperately lonely. He feels terrible about his life and himself and likes to escape those feelings with too much alcohol. His parents shame him on a weekly basis about the fact that he hasn’t settled down and the cultural pressure is building. But Suraj keeps doing it. Despite all these consequences. The reason he keeps doing it is because, as a child he was raised by a severely enmeshed mother and a culture that raises children in an atmosphere of enmeshment. In Suraj’s childhood, none of his personal boundaries were respected. He was treated like he existed for one reason only: To please his mother and to deny all of his own desires, needs, wishes, aversions, dislikes, thoughts and feelings to serve his mother’s wishes and overinvolvement in any given moment. Suraj is terrified of being swallowed up and suffocated by whomever he is in a relationship with, and completely losing his individual autonomy. Suraj is far more afraid of that, than he is the consequences he is experiencing when he ruins yet another relationship. So, the behavior continues. 

Katie has a big problem. She is addicted to crystal meth. The consequences are dire. She lost her job. She spends time at other people’s apartments, because she can’t afford one of her own. She suffers from convulsions. She has cracked teeth that are decaying. She has sores on her skin from picking at it. She feels frail all the time. She’s lost nearly every relationship in her life. She has to deal with the come-down and withdrawal every time she uses. And she can clearly see that her life is ruined. Despite all these consequences, she keeps engaging in her addiction. But it isn’t really because of the confidence, the energy, the euphoria and elation caused by the high of the drug itself. Nor is it really caused by the chemical element of substance addiction in her body. It’s because the drug keeps her AWAY from the emotional hell of her life. The deep vacuum of loneliness. The feelings of being inherently unlovable. The emptiness caused by years of emotional neglect and emotional abuse. The desperate powerlessness of feeling like she can’t fix any of the things that cause her pain about her life, so as to feel better. When Katie does crystal meth, it pulls her away from that powerlessness. It doesn’t help her to fix any of those problems. Afterall, her problems feel pretty unfixable. Instead, it makes all of those problems just go away for a few hours, especially in those moments when she’s in so much pain in the moment that each minute is an unbearable lifetime and so, she starts having suicidal thoughts. Katie is far more afraid of getting stuck in the hell that is those thoughts and those feeling states than she is of the consequences of the drug that is killing her. So, she keeps up her addiction. 

When a behavior that has negative consequences is motivated by a need, the way to change the behavior is to find a different way (that comes without the negative consequences) to meet that need. When a behavior that has negative consequences is motivated by an avoidance, the way to change the behavior is to find a different way to empower a person to keep themselves safe from experiencing whatever it is that they are trying avoid. And/or to decrease their resistance to whatever it is that they are trying to avoid.

Using our examples, Suraj might be able to start letting go of his behavior if he was encouraged to stop forcing himself into relationships and have conscious casual relationships or friendships instead; until he feels like he really wants to have a committed partnership. Rather than doing it because he thinks he has to. Or because he thinks the only way to not be lonely is to have a committed partner. And he could focus on going to attachment-based therapy. And he could commit to learning all about boundaries. And he could dedicate his free time to learning about himself (developing a sense of self and identity) with other people who are also committed to learning about themselves, rather than settling down. And he could do parts work with the part of him that feels guilt relative to his mom for focusing on himself. And he could journal every day to identify his own opinions, thoughts and feelings. And he could set blocks of time aside, as a kind of safe container to focus on others, so he can go back and forth between focusing on them and focusing on himself. 

Katie might be able to let go of her behavior by having someone else be completely with her in a brave joint exploration into the deep traumas and emotional absence and losses that are the origin of the mental and emotional pain she has suffered from for years. And by being in a social setting where she is not alone, where there is always someone available to connect to. And by exercises to change her deeply painful beliefs. And by disciplining herself to notice and list the positives in any given situation for an allotted time each day. And to restore a sense of empowerment to her life by picking only one single problem in her life at a time to improve, and focusing on taking little steps each day to bring that improvement to the situation, until it is better. And by doing presence meditation, where she develops the ability to be with her emotions instead of abandon her own emotions, as well as a tolerance for feeling uncomfortable emotions. She would benefit by realizing that the feelings themselves are not going to harm her and that they are helping her by carrying important messages about her personal truth, including what she needs in any given moment. And by picking something to learn or picking a skill she already has an aptitude for and putting time and energy into it so she can build confidence and self-esteem.  

When someone is terrified of some consequence and that is why they are keeping up with a negative behavior, despite there being other consequences for doing so, it is a profoundly painful experience for them. But the way to solve it, is to find a different way to avoid whatever it is that they are trying to avoid, so that the initial behavior is no longer the most effective means of keeping themselves safe.     




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