Why Can’t I Ever Get A Handle On Self-discipline

Question: Dear Luise: I am still fighting the battle with self-discipline that I fought as a youngster and I’m still losing. When I was young I was uncooperative, disruptive and rebellious. My mother, who was not well, soon gave up on me and raised me with her own variety of skillful neglect. I’m not sure what other options she had, since therapy wasn’t anything my family could afford and was seen to be a sign of failure. I can handle the big things like getting to work on time and getting my work out. I get my rent paid, stuff like that. I’m not a procrastinator…I just don’t do some stuff. Most of the things that bother me are about self-care…like eating wisely and exercising regularly. Taking care of my hair and teeth and keeping my place picked up and clean are also worrisome. I feel like I should have outgrown this long ago and it really gets in the way of my peace of mind and well-being. Any suggestions? Thank you. Amanda

Answer: Dear Amanda: Please don’t just put up with this self-induced inconvenience. Get some psychotherapy and let it go. There are a lot of reasons children choose the behavior path that you did, but you can bet that rage had a lot to do with it. What you were angry about may take some digging. Perhaps you felt unloved for real or even imagined reasons.

Behavior patterns are established early, some say by the age of seven, and then they just run. In this case they are running you. The code is set, way down deep in your unconscious. New Year’s resolutions and affirmations usually are to no avail.

A good therapist can help you get to the root of why you are stuck. Self-care may be a clue. You had control of that and you may have had very little control over other issues.

What is very encouraging is that you have been able to see your behavior clearly and are fully aware that it does not support you. If you thought it made sense and defended it, there wouldn’t be much hope.

I would suggest as you tackle this, that you look to see what is the most irritating thing that you do or don’t do. Pick that one and ignore the rest so you won’t become overwhelmed. Then, if you can, do it the first thing in the morning. If it’s eating wisely, have at least one sensible meal. If it’s exercising, get it done before you do anything else. Often this approach is do-able and can give you a whole new lease on life. If it works, then you can eventually add the second most disturbing thing and go for it.

Giving yourself a win in the self-discipline department isn’t going to remove the issue or phobia or whatever it is, but it might be encouraging as you delve deeper and look for more permanent solutions.

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