Are you one of those people who seem very comfortable with self-defeating acts in the moment? But later, when the moment has passed, do you hate yourself for behaving that way? Do you know anyone (including yourself) who indulges a passion for desserts no matter what the cost? Do you wonder why his or her (or your?) sense of regret doesn’t lead to different eating choices the next time? Do you (or anyone you know) distract yourself from important tasks such as schoolwork or a job by partying, watching TV, daydreaming, and so on, and then justify it to yourself or others? It may feel great at the time, but the remorse that inevitably follows is like that killer hangover that also fails to motivate constructive changes. When you promise yourself to do better the next time—as you do when you say “I’ll start my diet next week” and you still fail to follow through—you’re left with a strong sense of betrayal, remorse, and guilt for having failed . . . yet again.
ARE YOUR FANTASIES A SUBSTITUTE FOR REAL SATISFACTION?
Are your fantasies the major source of your happiness? Think about your weight fantasies, your relationship fantasies, your sex fantasies, your fantasies about power, parenting, money, and success. If you want to make your fantasies become realities, you need to change. Pick your dream. Go ahead. Is it a dream of being powerful, admired, creative, great in bed, wealthy, the world’s best parent? We all have dreams—nothing wrong with that and nothing too surprising either. What is surprising is how often these dreams remain out of reach to us despite our great desire to achieve them and despite knowing that our happiness depends on fulfilling them.
LOVE, SEX, AND ROMANCE, OR WHY YOU CAN’T GET NO SATISFACTION
Remember your fantasies about acquiring great sexual power, appeal, and success like movie stars? Remember your dreams of great everlasting love from the protagonists of romance novels? As adults, if these fantasies don’t become transformed into realistic life satisfactions, it’s a sign of serious underlying conflicts. Does that mean that perfect beauty and/or a buff physique are necessary for happiness? No. We all probably know people who are average in looks but very powerful in sex appeal. And there are those who are well endowed with looks but are inept at romance and love. The important question is, how and why do we fall short, and why is it so difficult to change?
Here are some common signs of underlying trouble. You’re great at seducing someone, but run the other way as soon as he or she falls in love with you. You lose interest in sex with a willing, attractive, and sexy partner, yet there was no such problem in the beginning of the relationships. You need pornography, or fantasies with someone else, or fantasies of your partner having sex with someone else, in order to get aroused. You need a good fight with your spouse as a prelude to sex. If you notice that any of these issues apply to you, you’ll soon learn what’s behind these patterns, and how to use that information to overcome them.
SEXUAL AFFAIRS, OR NEVER GETTING TOO INVOLVED WITH ONE PERSON
What do you think motivates someone to have affairs when it can be so completely detrimental to one’s well being? You may say that the person who is engaging in the affair feels excited, or is having a great adventure, but in fact the behavior is usually truly self-destructive. The chapter “Why Can’t I Fall in Love or Stay in Love” will explain why so many people have affairs instead of serious long-term relationships.
ANOTHER BAD RELATIONSHIP, OR WHEN WILL I EVER LEARN?
For many of us, it’s hard to understand the motivation of people who complain about partners who mistreat them but don’t stand up for themselves and/or leave. You yourself may notice that you have an ability to attract a desirable partner, but then become critical of him or her.
Why, you wonder, do you (or others) choose partners with qualities that seem so mismatched with your (their) own? What do you make of the shy person married to a domineering person? Ever wonder how you’d be affected if you needed to have everything in its place but were married to a disorganized slob? Why make that choice in the first place?
As you read on and start recognizing a few simple principles, you’ll find that it’s becoming much easier to figure out the choices you and others make.
WHEN SUCCESS AND MONEY ELUDE YOU, OR I COULDA BEEN A CONTENDER
Failure to achieve success, to make their ambitions come true, is a major source of distress for a lot of people. Does career or school success elude you completely, or do you undermine yourself after you achieve success at work or school?
Perhaps you dropped out of school even though you wanted to be someone? Maybe you’re a perennial student who’s afraid to graduate into the real work world? Or maybe you can’t reach your professional goals despite having talent to spare and opportunities waiting? So what’s the problem? Is it possible that your problems with success revolve around money? Many people habitually lose money when investing, even though they have years of experience in the market and have read everything on the subject. Do you have similar problems with money and success?
Have you ever noticed that after accomplishing academic, career, or financial goals, some people become increasingly anxious or depressed? Have you ever seen someone avoid taking credit for the successful outcome of a big project while attributing the success to others or to simple “good luck”? Do you find it ironic that the happiness normally associated with personal achievement is replaced by worry, unhappiness, or excessive modesty? Sometimes problems with success and money are really about the following two issues, best summed up as: Why Am I Such a Wimp? And I’m a Worthless Nobody. Let’s tackle the Wimp issue first.
WHY AM I SUCH A WIMP, OR A LACK OF ASSERTIVENESS AND POWER
Think of the word “power.” What comes to mind? Is it a picture of an influential person who realizes his or her goals, leads organizations, garners respect, and gains admiration? Why is it that for some people, personal power seems to fail them at every turn of their lives? A lack of personal power doesn’t just show up at work or at home, it rears its head in the most unexpected places, too.
When you’re susceptible to sales people who want you to buy products that you don’t really want and definitely don’t need, your lack of personal power is showing. When you can’t turn down requests for money, or conversely, you say no to any and all requests and suggestions—oops, it’s your lack of personal power again. How do you explain people who always act self-sacrificing and can’t help but put others’ needs first? Yes, you’ve got it, it’s that pesky lack of personal power. Now let’s go on and see about this “worthless nobody.”
WHY AM I A WORTHLESS NOBODY?
Many people are plagued by negative behaviors and thoughts that affect their ability to be liked and to feel good about themselves. Does this sound familiar—you can’t accept a compliment, and you’re unable to let yourself be the center of attention? Then there are people who criticize themselves excessively. Ever encountered thoughts like this in yourself? “I’m a baby.” (For “baby” you can substitute words like “no good,” “lazy,” “stupid,” and a whole host of others.) Once you have the word in your head, is it hard to get it out of your head? If so, you can consider yourself to be a member of the “Worthless Nobody Club.” Not one you probably want to be a member of, and one that we’ll deal with in greater detail later. When we do, you may find ways to resign your membership from the club and move on.
ARE YOUR LITTLE ANGELS LITTLE DEVILS IN DISGUISE?
Anyone who has raised children knows how often you can be blindsided by their unexpected behaviors, behaviors that provoke you and are difficult for you to deal with. Some of these exasperating actions are normal parts of a child’s early development, like acting cooperatively, then immediately afterward refusing to do what you want, or like getting very close to you, only to reject you one minute later for the other parent, and like turning to you for comfort, love, and advice, then ignoring you.
If you are overly sensitive to any of these behaviors, and react by acting hurt or threatened, it will cause your children to behave in more extreme and more provoking ways. Chapter 16, “I’ve Become My Mother/Father and My Child Is a Pain,” addresses the question, Why do some of these patterns become increasingly rigid and unyielding as some children get older (especially during adolescence)? Why does this happen no matter how frustrated, angry, pleading, or cajoling you become, no matter how many rewards you promise? You find yourself wondering “What’s gotten into them?” as if they’ve become possessed by the devil, or as if one of the plagues sent down on the Pharaoh was visited upon you instead.
The key to overcoming these problems is to understand which one of your behaviors (hidden from your awareness) is responsible for the behavior that you can’t stand in your child. This book will help you identify which of your words and your deeds are responsible, and then will show you how to use this information to help them get on track.
THE NEW SEE FOOD DIET, OR EATING EVERYTHING YOU SEE
Everyone who has had a weight problem at some time in his or her life can appreciate how difficult it can be to keep under control. In spite of the abundance of diets that prevail, a large number of people continue to overeat and hate themselves for it. If this is the case, then clearly there must be some hidden self-defeating motivations that are responsible for the compulsive habit of overeating in spite of “best intentions.” In the chapter “Why Am I Fat and Why Can’t I Lose Weight?” I’ll describe the six underlying reasons for this. If this is one of your own problems, reading on will help you discover which motive applies to you.
WHY CAN’T YOU GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER, OR SO YOU THINK YOU LEFT HOME?
Why does behavior we hate that originates in childhood continue far into adult life when we’re not even living with our family? If we’re no long under the influence of our parents or our siblings, why are we still controlled by the self-defeating beliefs that have their roots with them? Later in this book, I’ll show you a chart called “How You Create New Moral Codes to Live By” and you’ll understand how you create new moral codes for yourself. The codes or rules are all based on experiences you had while dealing with your parents’ and/or your siblings’ flaws.