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Are You Your Own Worst Enemy?


WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Hallie Levine Sklar

Good Housekeeping Magazine LogoMaybe The Reason You’re Not Reaching Your Goals Is…You. How To Know, And Simple Ways To Stop Sabotaging Yourself

Last week, I hit the supermarket and loaded up on all my favorite junk foods: Krispy Kreme donuts, frozen pizza, and Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream. It's not for me—it's for my husband, I rationalized, as I pushed the cart up and down the aisles. Never mind that my husband was going on a business trip the next day, or that I work from home and am prone to mid-afternoon snacking. Oh, and did I mention that I'm on a diet?

I spent that hour of shopping in complete denial. Experts would argue that my actions are a clear sign of self-sabotage, preventing me from achieving the much-desired goal of fitting into my skinny jeans. "Everyone knows someone who does it—the coworker who whines about not getting a promotion when she's chronically late, or the woman who complains she's not getting enough attention from her husband even though she's constantly sniping at him," says Carol Kauffman, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. "These people are forever working toward some goal that seems elusive. In fact, their own actions are sabotaging them—they've become their own worst enemy."

While it may seem obvious to everyone else, the person engaging in this kind of behavior is usually clueless. "Most of the time, we don't even realize it," says Jay Jackman, M.D., a psychiatrist and career consultant in Palo Alto, CA. "We unconsciously respond to stressful situations in ways that hurt us." A study published by Dr. Jackman and his wife, Stanford economist Myra Strober, Ph.D., in the Harvard Business Review found that people tend to sabotage themselves in five major ways: denial, brooding, jealousy, fear of feedback, and procrastination. Sound familiar? Read on.

Denial

This means that "you're unwilling to face reality, whether you just blew your diet by eating 1,000 extra calories or your family's monthly budget by spending $500 on clothes," explains Pauline Wallin, Ph.D., a psychologist in Camp Hill, PA.

What to do:

Sometimes you do the deed secretly, which can make it feel OK (everyone knows that cookies eaten after midnight have no calories). So be careful not to fool yourself. If you're over-indulging because you're feeling sorry for yourself, "ask what the underlying emotions are," suggests Wallin. In my case, I realized I was eating junk food because I felt bored and lonely when my husband was either traveling or stuck late at the office. So now I go jogging with friends two evenings a week: It gets me out of the house and takes my mind off munching.

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