Welcome to the archived web site of
Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. Psychologist (1950-2013)
California License No. PSY 10092
Specializing in Presence-Centered Therapy
balancing mind and heart, body and spirit

Now in memoriam - This website is no longer being updated
While Dr. Friedman is no longer with us, there are still many helpful resources on his site. Articles and resource links have been relocated to the top. His family hopes you might find them helpful. But since this site is no longer being updated, some links may no longer work.


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It's an Inside Job!—Our Misery is Self-Inflicted the Vast Majority of the Time

Transforming Anti-Life, Self-Defeating Behaviors Into Pro-Life, Self-Supportive Ones

© 2011 by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

Misfortunes one can endure-they come from outside, they are accidents.
But to suffer for one's own faults-ah!-there is the sting of life.
—Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan

We have met the enemy and it is us!
—Walt Kelly, Pogo cartoon strip

Have you ever put a sealant on the floor of a room and so misjudge and mistakenly plan so you end up in the far corner of the room waiting for the slow-drying sealant to dry? Have you ever found yourself one more time in the same unsatisfying codependent involvement that you are highly familiar with? Have you ever thought you are "damned if you do, and damned if you don't" in applying for a job, developing a relationship, renting an apartment, or looking to change your life somehow? Have you ever felt chronically defeated and discouraged over some facet of your life? Have you ever felt really stuck and plaintively cry, "I just can't live like this!," and continue in the same pattern anyways? Have you ever shared your life frustrations with a friend, have the friend say, "Then why do you continue in this unhappy pattern?" and reply something like, "Well, I know this doesn't work, but I'm good at it… and I like to do what I'm good at." Have you ever given you the Horatio Alger talk in spotting procrastination, ambivalence and indecision, to pull up your boot heels and get with the program, whatever that is, and still do nothing to change, grow and develop? If you can relate, then you've lived self-defeating behavior.

Life's an inside job, the joys and the sorrows, the ecstasy and the agony. It fits not only with crimes and travesties, but also with triumphs of the spirit and twenty-year overnight successes. As much as humans want to quickly and easily say others are at fault and to blame, on some level almost all of us are aware and will acknowledge, if we are fundamentally honest, that whatever occurs has the same common denominator—us. Astounding or not, essentially all the misery we experience as human beings is self-inflicted. Humans have a remarkable proclivity to fight, sabotage and defeat themselves, and so this as regularly as clockwork. Every great faith, religion and philosophy all say the same thing: human beings are an enemy and danger to themselves! For heaven sakes, even the cartoon character of an opossum named Pogo, holding a stickpin and bag looking forlornly at a forest strewn with human refuse, observes, "We have met the enemy and it is us!" I've yet to meet anyone who disagrees with this statement. This experience of being human qualifies as a hellava wake-up call for anyone with a heart.

George Demont Otis     San Gabriel Mtns

It is well known and generally accepted in clinical therapy that acting neurotic, what is now more commonly called self-defeating behavior, is incredibly broad-based, applying to as many as 97 percent of us. The eminent psychiatrist Karl Menninger in fact chose to name a book of his, Man Against Himself. Most just shrug or laugh it off, or just throw up their hands and say, "What can I do about it?"

Consider anti-life, self-defeating behaviors as any actions that undercut, undermine, sabotage, separate, block or otherwise defeat an unaware individual in their social web of relationships from their core integrity, principles and values in authentically living their full creative expression. Alternatively, see pro-life, self-supportive behaviors as any actions that actively support, enhance, extend, amplify, facilitate, optimize and empower an aware individual to gain access and practically engage in life from their core integrity, principles and values in authentically living their full creative expression.

It is helpful to have some perspective and a context for understanding self-defeating behavior patterns. There was a brief time between 1987 and 1994 when the diagnosis of "Self-Defeating Personality Disorder" was given a trial and later eliminated from the standard taxonomy of disorders according to the American Psychiatric Association. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual III-R (DSM III-R, 1987) as an Axis II personality disorder, clinicians could use "301.9 Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (Self-Defeating Personality Disorder)" so long as the following criteria were met:

  1. A pervasive pattern of social, occupational and interpersonal behaviors that result in sabotaging or otherwise defeating the person in realizing personal goals.
  2. The person is often unaware of this above pattern and has emotional episodes or associations to it including frustration, irritability, anger, depression, resignation, despair and/or helplessness.

While personality disorders are thought to be long-standing patterns of behavior disorders that are less amenable to short-term interventions, these criteria still can serve as a relatively accurate description. Being unaware is one key. When the above described pattern is not so pervasive and occurs on some periodic basis, it seems appropriate and reasonable to apply this to self-defeating behavior patterns.

Milton R. Cudney and Robert E. Hardy (1991) offer a comprehensive set of techniques by which people carry out their habitual thoughts and actions forming self-defeating behaviors, many of which are classic defenses and passive-aggressive behaviors. The four categories are: 1) Inner techniques (thought processes that support self-defeating choices); 2) Outer techniques (observable actions that act out misguided behavioral choices); 3) Minimizing techniques (ways to justify and rationalize indulging in self-defeating behaviors); and 4) Disowning techniques (ways to not be responsible and own your self-defeating behaviors). These authors recommend reading through the lists and check the techniques you implement, and add any you use not on the list, all for self-awareness. Some items have been adapted.

Inner Techniques

_____ Comparing the self to others
_____ Forming unrealistic expectations  
_____ Anticipating negative results
_____ Holding back honest feelings
_____ Distorting feedback
_____ Creating false limitations
_____ Blaming oneself or others
_____ ? _____________________
_____ Imposing guilt on the self or others
_____ Reviewing past hurts
_____ Labeling the self or others
_____ Fantasizing
_____ Intellectualizing
_____Magnifying real problems
_____ Rationalizing
_____ ? _____________________

Outer Techniques

_____ Attacking others, verbally
or physically
_____ Throwing temper tantrums
_____ Manipulating others
_____ Laughing when it is not appropriate
_____ Being late for appointments
_____ Arguing for the sake of argument
_____ Withholding sexuality in
loving relationships
_____ Pouting
_____ Analyzing problems or situations
when action is required
_____ Acting rashly in situations where
thoughtful analysis is required
_____ "Nervous" tics or habits
_____ Acting "crazy" to acquire or
maintain a diagnostic label
_____ ? _____________________
_____ Failing to meet obligations
_____ Engaging in promiscuous
or unloving sexual acts
_____ Lying
_____ Making sarcastic remarks
_____ Crying at inappropriate times
_____ Drinking too much
_____ Spending money you
do not have
_____ Racial or religious bigotry
_____ Using drugs
_____ Stealing
_____ Smoking or chewing tobacco
_____ Gambling
_____ ? _____________________

Minimizing Techniques

_____ Ignoring
_____ Comparing
_____ Joking
_____ Numbing (with alcohol, drugs,
food, sex, etc.)
_____ Martyring
_____ Adapting (making unhealthy
_____ ? _____________________
_____ Being chronically "busy"
_____ Nihilizing (no meaning or
purpose in life)
_____ Making others pay
_____ Making others pay
_____ Therapizing (playing therapist
when unasked)
_____ ? _____________________

Disowning Techniques

_____ Fragmenting the mind and body
_____ Capitalizing on social, political,
or economic inequities
_____ ? _____________________
_____ Blaming other people
_____ Embracing fatalistic conclusions
_____ ? _____________________

In about 1980 American psychologist Dr. Roger Callahan coined the term "psychological reversal" to describe about 40% of his clients who were most difficult to treat given what he calls the reversal of the electrical polarity (polarity reversal) in the body's energy meridian system, the very same meridian system theorized in ancient Chinese medicine and the basis of acupuncture along with a wide variety of Energy Psychologies used as alternative therapeutic approaches involving taping specific meridian points. Callahan (2010) developed his system of Thought Field Therapy (TFT) and found that psychological reversal could be corrected by tapping on the side of the hand a few times along with rubbing an area he called the "sore spot", below the left collarbone, in a circular motion.

Callahan considers the psychological reversal state to be a universal experience. People who are reversed tend to be decidedly negative, have self-sabotaging moods, are irritable and prone to self-destructive behavior and procrastination. A person can have a "massive reversal" affecting thinking about most areas of life or be reversed only in specific areas, such as over computers and technology, achievement, money and success, or in their close relationships. Self-defeating behaviors associated with psychological reversal include addictions, debilitating diseases, phobias, fears and anxieties, depression and chronic stress. Psychological reversal may often be present when feeling stuck or blocked, experiencing delayed healing or a seeming inability to feel happy, satisfied and peaceful in life.

Strangely enough, although not surprising, dawns the deepening realization that these very self-defeating behaviors in our lives are rooted in survival decisions, beliefs, roles, identities, roles and stories made up by the fictive ego-mind to help cope, survive and aid living through hurtful, difficult and traumatic experiences that somehow we fearfully perceived as threatening our lives at the time. In other words, what was originally employed to support our dealing with life challenges is the very same one that now defeats and separates us from our core healthy full creative expression as we truly are. There are many effective therapeutic approaches that can reveal, transform and dissolve past baggage to be free.

What can you do in this moment to live pro-life self-supportive behaviors? Possibilities are all around us. Consciously giving acceptance, even deep compassionate acceptance, in simply watching your own behavior and honestly owning it when it is defeating, dramatic or destructive. It creates a remarkable non-judgmental opening in awareness and the possibility of growth and compassion. Cultivating genuine compassion for yourself, that is, observing and feeling with your own suffering and defeating behavior patterns, is almost unheard on this planet and can be a wonderful opening to grow. All harm and suffering are rooted in ignorance, resistance to "what is," holding tight to desires, being deluded by the ego-mind and being asleep to who and what you are. Given our ego-mind's fear-driven, survival-based prime directive, it seems hell bent on reenacting the same conditioned beliefs and incomplete traumas, at least until we can see for ourselves precisely what actually occurred. Unworkable conditioning starts to dissolve once emotional and relational truths are glimpsed for just what they are.

If Daisaku Ikeda is correct in noting, "Life is filled with truly unfathomable potential…in most cases, our so-called limitations are nothing more than our own decision to limit ourselves," then what can enhance awareness of our self-imposed limitations and resulting dissatisfaction and unhappiness? All misfortunes when correctly perceived are gifts in gnarly disguises. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote, "Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave." The clarion call that beckons us for our healing is to muster the courage to begin seeing our own ego lenses and healing our perceptions, what we have repeatedly thought we felt, saw, heard, experienced and seemingly know now. This surely includes filling in all blanks negatively, often with worst-case scenarios, our ego-minds endlessly dream up. Perhaps not so farfetched is seeing that all worldly dimensions of time, space and cause along with our knowledge base and wisdom seem oh so irrelevant and devoid of any meaning in challenging what we firmly think and believe we know.

If this description is a relatively accurate view of the predicament human beings face running on auto-pilot and gazing through the distorted lenses of the ego-mind with it's fearful, separate dream, then what? How can the anti-life, self-defeating behaviors be transformed into pro-life, self-supportive ones? Since the impulsive, reactive and odds-on bet for the mind is to say you must learn something, know something and then do something, which only drives us deeper into the muck, does a transformative healing perhaps has more to do with unlearning, not knowing and not doing? Oftentimes it is not what we need to further learn, know and do that makes the greatest difference; rather it is what we see though and naturally release in what we thought we knew that simply isn't so, admit we don't know, and engage in a conscious process of undoing in not indulging patterns of thought, attitude, mood and action that only continue defeating ourselves, that throws the doors of true growth opportunities wide open. An understanding in the Hindu faith that points to the path of negation, subtraction and release is "Neti-Neti" ("not this-not this"). When all is seen through and let go of, as in "not this and not this," all that remains can only be authentic, true and real, as in authenticity, truth and reality. A sweet moment this is.

George Demont Otis     The Desert in Bloom

When we pause, watch and see what we see for just what it is, with a gentle receptive acceptance in presence, then we can flowingly surrender all that is not ours. One version of this is to "catch and release" all mind-created conceptualizations that broadly encompass random thoughts and beliefs, attached positions and beliefs, comparisons and judgments, roles and false identities along with stories. The "catch" part is straightforward in simply recognizing, identifying and accepting each mental concept as soon as it arises, it comes out of your or another's mouth, or you begin to behave in accord with it, all of which your ego-mind give you lots of room to manipulate yourself and letting it control you. When you are awake, aware and attuned to the here-and-now moment, what can be caught anyways? If all thoughts that arise are no longer followed, invested in, worked up, obsessed over or fed, then what power or control do they have? If nothing is given to these thoughts, then what do they have in fact? Once conscious and awake in this moment, you can practice spotting or catching these mental forms.

The second step of "release" is equally simple. Remembering for a moment what outcomes generally occur from playing around with conceptualizations by "playing the tape all the way though," then ask yourself, "Want a bit more of that?" It's highly unlikely you will be too interested. You are also welcome to consciously lose interest in such shenanigans by withdrawing your attention from each as you give them all they deserve in running your life—absolutely nothing. It's the great big magnificent nothing that completely satisfies given it reflects our Original Nature and Original Sanity. What happens to a fire when you withdraw all oxygen and refuse to add any further kindling, wood or fuel to it? That's correct—it goes out! What happens to conceptualizations when we give them nothing? They fade away.

Consider an ancient illustration that uses clouds to represent self-defeating thoughts and urges. You are relaxing in a meadow, the beach, or in the mountains, all while looking at a cloudless beautiful sky. Then a small puffy white cloud arises over the horizon. We are at this crossroads every moment. One very common, unconscious and over-learned habitual pattern is to become fixated on the cloud and give it lots of thought, time, energy, attention, interest, importance and activity. Doing this results in the cloud getting much bigger and darker, and fairly soon unleashing an increasing torrent of rain, hail and snow, which continues to escalate into lightning and thunder, fierce winds, ferocious storms, tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, monsoons and earthquakes! Not so great, huh? The other alternative is to simply see the little puffy white cloud and lightly, briefly observe it and turn your attention gently elsewhere, to any pro-life healthier elsewhere. Doing this results in the cloud dissipating, with only blue sky again in the sky, and the next cloud comes. Life continually affords us just one opportunity after another!

Let's use the same metaphor of clouds, but now representing pro-life, self-supportive ideas and constructive urges. When this more interesting cloud arises you are welcome to consciously explore it, and you remain free. When it inspires some healthy, creative expression, then you're free to go with that inspiration and see where it leads as it unfolds. With no attachment or position to dictate to reality what should show up in this moment or how it should show up, and no attachment to any particular results, it may be fun to surrender all self-defeating ideas and behaviors that arise. As a big bonus, you can whole-heartedly accept everything, and particularly enjoy pro-life self-supportive ideas and behaviors. Instead of the imaginary ego-mind living its version of your life, you're free to live your own true life. What joy!


American Psychiatric Association (1987). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd ed., rev., Washington, DC: APA.

American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., rev., Washington, DC: APA.

Callahan, R. Thought-Field Therapy and other Energy Psychologies web resources and articles addressing "Psychological Reversal": http://www.rogercallahan.com/news

Cudney, M.R. & Hardy, R.E. (1991) Self-Defeating Behaviors. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, pp. 186-190.

George Demont Otis     Summers Day

© Copyright 2013 by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.

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