Bruce Alan Kehr, M.D. is the Founder and President of Potomac Psychiatry, ranked “Best Psychiatry Care Provider in Maryland” in 2020 by Global Health & Pharma. He has been named a Washingtonian Magazine “Top Doctor” for each of the past eight years. Dr. Kehr is a best-selling author whose works have been read by over 800,000 people in 206 countries. In 2020, Dr. Bruce Kehr’s blog was ranked #2 in the nation among mental health-related blogs. Dr. Kehr’s book, Becoming Whole: A Healing Companion to Ease Emotional Pain and Find Self-Love, is an Amazon Best Seller in the self-help categories: Happiness, Counseling, Healing, and Self-Esteem.
Part One: Understanding the ‘Me’ in #MeToo
When Kayla first came in to see me, her emotional pain was palpable. An attractive, thirty-something science engineer, Kayla was struggling with anxiety and serious depression. But within minutes of speaking with me, I knew something more dire lurked beneath the surface. As she described what ailed her—nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, all symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), she began to sob. Then, she told me of an experience that made my heart sink. She and her new boyfriend Jeff were out for dinner one night and had too many glasses of wine. As the alcohol took effect, Jeff began to say some awful things to Kayla. By the time they retreated to the basement of his house after the date, she was feeling ill from drinking and hurt by Jeff’s comments. She just wanted to go to sleep—but Jeff had something else in mind. As he began to move towards her, Kayla made it clear she was not interested in sex, and told him “no” repeatedly. Moments later, she found herself thrown forcefully against the couch, cornered, with Jeff’s hands closing in around her throat, and his voice threatening, “If you shout, I’ll choke you.” I sat there stunned while listening to her, my own eyes welling up with tears. Kayla was a date rape victim—and it turned her life upside down. But as we continued to work together, the feeling of sorrow in the pit of my stomach grew heavier: This wasn’t the first time Kayla suffered abuse at the hands of a lover. I began to wonder: Was Kayla also a victim of her past—a Self-Saboteur?
As her confidante, I was determined to help her get to the heart of her hurt. In the months that followed, using medication, empathy, compassion, and prolonged exposure therapy, we helped Kayla begin to emotionally stabilize, and then explore some of her disturbing longer-term patterns of behavior. Kayla had dated a series of severely narcissistic, verbally abusive men who typically came from prominent families or earned high incomes. They would wine and dine her, take her to the latest hot spots, or away for “fabulous weekends” to one resort or another. Despite showering her with gifts, these self-absorbed men would frequently put her down, criticizing how she looked and what she said. Treating her as nothing more than their possession, they insisted upon having sex with her whenever they felt in the mood—and often she would submit. She had no idea why she had repeated this pattern of dating abusive men, but after Jeff raped her she was determined to understand what drove her to sabotage her chances at a healthy, fulfilling love life.
Many, many aspects of our past can lead us to unconsciously sabotage what we have in our present. We began to explore the unconscious origins of two prominent causes for Kayla: her low self-esteem, despite many accomplishments, and her “repetition compulsion”, the psychiatric term for repeating a traumatic event over and over—in Kayla’s case, repeatedly choosing narcissistic men. Issues emerged around the longstanding nature of her relationship with her father, her mother, and herself. Not surprisingly, her father had been, and continues to be to this day, a demanding and critical man with whom Kayla never felt emotionally safe, or even loved. She had never felt good enough for him, and as a girl would constantly strive to please him. Her mother was passive, submissive, and continually dominated by her father. Kayla had internalized these patterns of relating that she had learned as a child. She was her mother’s “best student,” carrying on the sad, unconscious tradition of submitting to powerful, narcissistic men.
We worked together patiently and persistently. Now, 18 months later, Kayla has a new boyfriend who treats her like an equal—not a possession. Tommy treats her with kindness, is genuinely interested in getting to know her, and respects her wishes when she is “not in the mood.” It appears they may be falling in love.
Kayla’s story of overcoming her past to prevent similar outcomes in her present-day life and her future marks the beginning of a new series on my blog—one that I believe every single one of us can relate to in one way or another. For the next several weeks, we will be exploring the destructive patterns of the Self-Saboteur—someone who repeatedly behaves in ways that interfere with their potential for growth, happiness, and fulfillment in love relations and at work; who can’t explain why they hinder their human development as a caring, loving person, denying themselves a life where they live out their fullest potential; who may at times puts themselves directly in harm’s way—and discovering solutions to lead you and your loved ones out of the emotional restraints that hold us back from achieving our fullest potential.
Begin to Heal
If you believe that you may be a Self-Saboteur, repeatedly sabotaging your life with certain patterns of behaving, and suffering from some of the symptoms of PTSD, there are three steps to consider for you to recover:
- Seek medication from a psychiatrist or psychopharmacologist to alleviate potential symptoms of anxiety, panic, depression, nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia, emotional numbing, reckless behaviors, or other symptoms of this condition.
- Seek therapy from someone experienced in either prolonged exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) to further alleviate these symptoms.
- Begin to explore with your therapist the patterns of self-sabotage that you create and enact, and then uncover their origins, to begin to chart a new and healthier path forward.
Self-Saboteurs don’t know what they don’t know – there are myriad ways that people unknowingly sabotage their lives. What are some of the fundamental sources of this self-sabotage? Here are three that may be conscious or unconscious:
- Narratives that we play in our heads (with thoughts and feelings) about why someone important is behaving in certain ways, which are often based upon past relationships, and may have nothing to do with the current relationship in question.
- Repertoires of behavior that we enact, that are comfortable and familiar, and have been learned over the years, but may worsen our prospects in the present.
- Reflexive Responsesto various emotional “triggers” that take place in our day-to-day lives.
Reader, in the weeks and months ahead I will share with you the stories of those who suffer from, and explore many aspects of, the Self-Saboteur Syndrome. Some of their behaviors may even surprise you. Perhaps you will come to learn that you are one of them, too.
Self-Saboteur Blog Series
- Understanding the ‘Me’ in #MeToo
- Sleeping with Your Boss Comes at a Cost
- Binge Eating to Ease Emotional Pain
- Avoid Your Family Over the Holiday Season. Here’s How.
- ‘Tis the Season to be Annoyed: What to do when Grandparents “Parent” Your Children
- Yes, You ARE Entitled … to your Own Unhappiness
- Conclusion: Own Your Life by Owning Up to Yourself
If you have been sexually assaulted, help is available 24/7 at RAINN – https://www.rainn.org/ – including a National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656- HOPE – and a confidential “CHAT Now” service.
You may feel less alone, and find some courage by watching this video of my interview on ABC News – simply click on the image below:
There is also additional help available in Session Ten or Session Eleven of my book, Becoming Whole: A Healing Companion to Ease Emotional Pain and Find Self Love. Learn more at https://drbrucekehr.com/about-becoming-whole/.
Meanwhile, watch for an upcoming announcement about my weekly Go Live on Facebook video sessions, where I will answer challenging questions from the audience in real-time.