Creative Counselling: Self-Slighting
In this month’s Creative Counselling, Marie Bruce tackles the topic of self-slighting and martyring behaviour
by Marie Bruce
Have you ever heard of self-slighting? This is when you treat yourself poorly as a daily habit. It’s when you pull out the good coffee when a friend comes round, but only use the cheaper option for yourself day-to-day. It’s when you welcome guests through the front door but use the back door, or ‘tradesman’s entrance’ yourself when you come home from work each evening. It’s when you save your favourite bath and body products ‘for best’ and never actually use them at all, because no occasion feels good enough.
Self-slighting is the direct opposite of self-love and self-care. When you get into the habit of self-slighting, of snubbing yourself in small ways on a daily basis, it lowers your overall self-esteem and leads to low confidence. It also teaches others by example that they can treat you poorly, because that’s how you treat yourself.
Are you self-slighting?
There are many examples of this kind of behaviour. Perhaps you watch your work colleagues going out to lunch at a local patisserie while you stay at your desk with a homemade sandwich. You might think that you are being economical, but you are actually robbing your own self-esteem-bank account. You are also missing out on the opportunities to socialise with workmates – and maybe hear of a promotion you’d be interested in. Valuable information is shared when colleagues socialise together, so going out to lunch with them, say once or twice a week, will keep you in the loop.
Another example which is very common is that of the mother who gives herself the worst food and saves the best cuts for her children or partner. If the toast is burnt, she’ll eat it anyway rather than making more. This tends to teach children that motherhood is a constant sacrifice, and leads to a martyr-mother mindset, which is damaging to family dynamics.
There is a myriad of ways in which people snub themselves and yet most of them are unaware that’s what they’re doing. They think they are being economical, frugal or efficient, but they are actually demonstrating that they feel worthless inside. It is a classic, tell-tale sign in the therapy room and one that counsellors look out for. Often, it isn’t about money: the well-off can self-slight just as much as those in financial difficulty.
While it may seem like such a small thing (because who cares if you use the front or back door to get into your house?) once this type of snub has become a habit it leads directly into self-sabotaging behaviours and this is when things become more serious. With self-sabotage you are effectively ruining your opportunities with negative behaviour.
Recognising and rectifying self-slighting behaviour
A good example of this was seen in the hit TV series Downton Abbey. The character of Mr Molesley dreams of becoming head butler at Downton, but on both occasions when he is put in charge he sabotages his opportunity by getting drunk on the job. He does this not once but twice, repeating the mistake and then wondering why he doesn’t progress in life. A similar thing occurs in the film When Saturday Comes, starring Sean Bean, who gets the chance to try out for his dream football team Sheffield United but gets drunk the night before the trial and ruins his chances.
These are classic examples of how people self-sabotage. Using alcohol to celebrate the chance rather than waiting to celebrate the results is a common mistake, and one that many people make. My advice is always to wait until the contracts are signed before celebrating. Then you can enjoy a tipple if you wish, but don’t sabotage your chances by celebrating too soon.
Another way that people self-sabotage is to simply give up on their dreams and goals. Achieving a dream is never easy and there will inevitably be disappointments along the way, but some people find disappointment very difficult to handle and so they just give up, often falling at the first fence or two. It isn’t easy to maintain the long-term motivation needed to succeed and behaviours such as missing deadlines, skipping classes, failing to turn up for an interview and so on are all ways in which people sabotage their own progress.
Self-slighting and sabotaging become patterns of behaviour. If you do it once, you are likely to do it again, until eventually you shoot yourself in the foot and miss out on the very opportunity you’ve always dreamed of. It is vital that you recognise the occasions when you are tempted to snub yourself. Do you always purchase the cheapest brand when grocery shopping? Do you only ever buy second hand clothes and furniture? Do you take a quick shower rather than a long bath? Recognising these smaller snubbing habits and nipping them in the bud is the key to avoiding the pitfall of self-sabotage.
When opportunities come to you, say thank you to the universe and then begin to prepare yourself to take on that reality – don’t just take it for granted that the job (or whatever it may be) is yours. An opportunity is just that: a chance to prove yourself and show what you can do. Just because an opportunity has been presented to you, that doesn’t mean that you’ve got the gig! Never be tempted to celebrate until you have the results you want and the contracts are signed, sealed and delivered.
Replace the habit of self-slighting with acts of self-love and self-care. Prepare as well as you can for every opportunity that is offered to you. Don’t take anything for granted and be more aware of how you treat yourself on a daily basis. Look back on your life and try to identify moments of self-sabotage so that you can be aware of when you are tempted to behave that way again. We’ve all done it at some point, so don’t feel too bad. Use the information to move forwards with positivity and live your best life. Until next month,
Marie Bruce x
About the author:
Marie Bruce Dip. T.C. MBACP is a qualified psychotherapist, Cruse Bereavement Counsellor and best-selling self-help author. She specialises in grief and loss counselling, PTSD and military counselling, and life coaching.
In this monthly column, Marie offers simple tools used by therapists to help clients and readers improve their mental well-being.
Marie’s books are available on Amazon UK.