Why are so many of us “driven” compulsively to seek or do things that frequently aren’t in our own best self-interest?
You probably aren’t surprised that my answer is: beliefs. But there is a specific type of belief that results in “driven” behavior. And it is formed in a very specific way. Let me explain.
Imagine you are a young child who has created a host of negative beliefs about yourself or about life. (Very few of us escape childhood without forming a bunch of negative self-esteem beliefs. I’ll explain why in a future blog.) At this point you are in school, interacting with lots of other kids and adults. It dawns on you that you are going to grow up and will have to make your own way in life. You are confronted with a real dilemma, albeit an unconscious one: “How will I make it in life if there’s something fundamentally wrong with me or the world?”
Imagine the fear and anxiety you must feel when you experience these two conflicting “facts”: On one hand, you sense that you must make it on your own in life. On the other hand, you have concluded that “There’s something fundamentally wrong with me or life that will make it difficult, if not impossible, to make it on my own.”
Fear and anxiety are unpleasant and painful feelings, so children who have them try to find ways of not feeling them. In tens of thousands of sessions with clients, I’ve discovered that people have two basic ways of dealing with the unpleasant feelings that are caused by negative self-esteem beliefs:
First, they use alcohol, drugs, sex, food, or other substances to cover up the feelings and numb themselves or to make themselves feel good.
Second, they develop strategies that help them deal with the anxiety that stems from their negative beliefs. I call them “survival strategies” because the fear one experiences when one has negative self-esteem beliefs often makes one feel as if his survival is being threatened.
When a survival strategy is formed, the child also forms a belief about that strategy:
“What makes me good enough (or important, or worthwhile, etc.) is ….” A variation of that is: “The way to survive is ….”
Survival strategies are based on a child’s observation of what it takes to feel good about herself, to be important, to be worthwhile, or to be able to deal with life in spite of negative self-esteem beliefs.
Susan’s parents placed a heavy emphasis on friendships, on what others thought of them, and on impressing people, so Susan concluded that the way to survive was to get everyone to like and approve of her.
Fred formed a similar belief in a different way: When he got praise and acknowledgement from his parents he really felt good about himself, in a way he normally didn’t. So he concluded what made him good enough and important was having people think well of him.
Here’s Lauren’s story: She noticed that people treated her dad with respect and admiration because he had been so successful in business and had so much money, so Lauren concluded that what made her important and good enough was being financially successful.
Art lived in a community where the people who were considered important and given respect were in gangs and carried guns, so he chose that as his survival strategy.
(By the way, one way to know if you have negative self-esteem beliefs is to ask yourself: What makes you good enough