10 ways to avoid self-defeat.

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I was in class studying for my degree in counselling. I don’t recall the subject. But there was something our lecturer said that has stuck with me.

She said,after all these years of working with clients, I’ve come to the realisation that life is just not fair. When I really got that, I was depressed for a week!’ 

I don’t know about you, but I grew up believing that the ‘good guy (or Sista!) always wins’ or ‘karma will get them’ if someone hurt you. Then I grew up.

I grew up and realised that not everything in life is smooth sailing and sunny days. Storms happen, life happens, daring to intervene and defy our best laid plans. This is when we are most vulnerable and just want to give up, give in and fall down.

Storms will always happen. Life is unfair. When we don’t acknowledge and analyse this for ourselves, we stay in the storm. What keeps us there can be linked to how we think. Thoughts coming at us like thunder bolts from above, plaguing us with ideas of how things ‘must’ be but simply aren’t.

Reality check!

We all have personal beliefs which are guiding lights that direct us to where we want to go and what we want to achieve in life. They’re usually made up of personal values that determine how we live our life.

I find that for most of us, it takes thought and time to define what those beliefs and values are. It is something that I find myself helping the majority of my clients achieve. That is, discovering what is genuine and meaningful to them, rather than something they’ve learned by rout or what they think they ‘should’ be doing, thinking or feeling. 

But I must!

Albert Ellis, an American psychologist who pioneered Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) based his work on the idea that our beliefs and thoughts influence what we do and how we feel. He based this theory on the thought that there are common beliefs many of us hold that can lead to self-imposed limits and made up assumptions.

Ellis believed that these assumptions hold people back, cause pain and suffering and be self-defeating. He provocatively named these beliefs as MUSTerbation, that is, ”I must be…” or ”I must do…”. Here are some examples:

  • Belief 1: Being liked and lovedI must always be loved and approved by the significant people in my life.
  • Belief 2: Being competent – I must always in all situations demonstrate competence and I must be both talented and competent in some important area of life.
  • Belief 3: Having one’s own way – I must have my way and my plans must always work out.
  • Belief 4: Being hurt – People who do anything wrong especially those who harm me are evil and should be blamed and punished.
  • Belief 5: Being danger free – If anything or any situation is dangerous in any way I must be anxious and upset about it. I should not have to face dangerous situations.
  • Belief 6: Being problemless – Things should not go wrong in life and if by chance they do there should be quick and easy solutions.
  • Belief 7: Being a victim – Other people and outside forces are responsible for any misery I experience. No one should ever take advantage of me.
  • Belief 8: Avoiding – It is easier to avoid facing life’s difficulties than to develop self-discipline; making demands of myself should not be necessary.
  • Belief 9: Tyranny of the past – What I did in the past and especially what happened to me in the past determines how I act and feel today.
  • Belief 10: Passivity – I can be happy by being passive, by being uncommitted and by just enjoying myself.

(Reference: Egan, G. (2007) The Skilled Helper (8th edn.) Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.)

Some of these beliefs that Ellis highlights to be self-defeating can be confronting and hard to accept. This is especially so if you’re feeling hurt, misunderstood and angry.

It’s normal to feel this way and treating yourself tenderly when wounded can be necessary. However, it is important to not stay feeling this way but rather make the decision to get up and get yourself out of the storm and accept things as they are. 

This by no means is an easy or a quick task. Belief 6 tells us so! The question to ask yourself is whether these beliefs are active in your life. Then, ask yourself if you’re willing to do anything about it. And are you ready to make the change? 

Whatever you decide to do, this is not something you need to do alone. Talk it through with someone you trust who won’t judge you. You may want to speak with a professional about it. Either way, the more you know about yourself, the more accepting of yourself you are, the more that self-defeat will not affect you. 

With Love,

Rita Barnett xx


Rita Barnett

Rita Barnett is a counsellor/psychotherapist who loves working with women who may have had difficult relationships in the past, and want to discover new ways to have happy and fulfilled relationships in their future. Rita believes that the most important person you need to have solid relationship with is you. From that, everything else follows.

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