Chapel Hill expert says bad habits may be protecting you from emotional pain


Dec 11 2012 - 3:17pm
Why Do I Do That? Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shap

Trouble keeping New Year's resolutions? Chapel Hill expert shares six certain steps can help.

It happens every year: on January 1 you’re full of resolve to lose weight, drink less, save more money or quit smoking. But before long you’ve slipped back into the same old habits you vowed to change.

That’s because these habits are defense mechanisms that help protect you from various types of emotional pain says Joe Burgo, top national psychology blogger and author of Why Do I Do That? Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives.

Going on a weight-loss diet, for example, might bring out a greater awareness of unmet sexual and emotional needs. Giving up smoking might reveal anxiety or depression, and cutting back on drinking takes away the potent emotional pain killer alcohol provides.

If you are not prepared to cope with the potential frustration, longing, sadness or other feelings that will come up when you make these changes, you won’t be able to stick with your New Year's resolutions for very long.

Certain steps can help to stick with New Year's Resolutions, Joe says:

. Give thought to what lies behind the habit you’re trying to break before making a resolution.

. Try viewing bad habits as “friends” that distract you from pain, and take the time to consider how you’ll cope without them.

. Develop a set of coping strategies and find alternate sources of comfort that address the pain rather than mask it.

. Set realistic goals and take small steps, allowing yourself the time to adjust to the emotions that will arise.

. Don’t go it alone: Find a partner to share and reinforce your efforts. Consider joining a support group or starting individual therapy.

Joseph Burgo, Ph.D., has practiced psychotherapy for more than 30 years and is the author of the new book, Why Do I Do That? Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives.

Written by Sharon Bially

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