When it comes to conversations around self-abuse, many of the red flags resemble those associated with verbal or physical abuse at the hands of another person. In essence, we are bullying ourselves, making ourselves feel unworthy of love and happiness. This behaviour can stem from a variety of factors that are deeply personal for each individual. But the majority of the symptoms — depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of self-worth — stem from these internal one-way chats we have with ourselves. While we can be incredibly cruel to ourselves as a result, we often neglect its harmful side effects — after all, it’s all words and behaviours we’re doing to ourselves, right? No one is getting hurt. Except that someone is: you. It can, however, be incredibly difficult to notice the sign if it’s a behaviour we’ve honed over the years.
As Toronto-based emotional stress coach Anna Betel points out, “While we often want to have purposeful thoughts, when we find our actions and behaviours not in line with that, it leads to a conflict of our inner world. When your behaviour is self-sabotaging, that means something is going on [inside] that is not in line with what you say you want or what you’re planning on doing.”
To help balance negative self-talk with thoughtful intensions, Betel practices Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) with her clients. A popular meditative tool, it’s also referred to as “tapping” and triggers high-stress areas of the body where we carry our anxiety and tension. “It’s really a mind-body technique,” she explains. “Stress is something that we think about a lot and it gets triggered by how we perceive the world. [EFT] uses acupressure points with your fingers to stimulate [certain areas] while tuning into an issue that is causing you stress or discomfort. It relaxes your body by tapping on these points, thereby teaching your body a different way to react to something you typically have a stress response around. That’s a way to rewire your brain to have a different way to deal with what you’re experiencing with.”
Not sure if your behaviour patterns fall under the self-abuse category? Here’s how to read the warning signs.
You blame yourself for everything
“If you find yourself saying something to yourself you wouldn’t say to a friend or even a stranger, that’s something to be aware of,” Betel says. “You have to catch yourself because it starts to feel so normal you don’t even realize you’re doing it. It’s negative, it’s punishing.”
Name-calling and self-harm
Setting unreasonable expectations for yourself
Pushing yourself to extremes
We’ve all done things we’ve come to regret over the years, but continually putting yourself at risk in an attempt to find your self-worth is a worrying sign. Examples include embarking on dangerous fitness regimens that involve drastic weight loss or working overtime at your job in an attempt to quiet the voices in your head telling you that you’re not doing enough. If your quest for self-worth involves trying to be perfect at every turn without allowing yourself time to relax and be fully human, this is a concerning sign.
“Everyone is striving for happiness all the time, but then you’re setting yourself up for failure,” Betel says. “The human condition is 50/50 — we’re supposed to have what we term 'negative emotions.' How you get out of it is where the emphasis should be.”