Self-Preservation vs Self-Sabotage...There's A Difference

5 years ago

Last night, as I was scrolling through my cable tv guide, I came across the movie Something Borrowed and decided to tune in. I had heard of the best selling book by Emily Giffin, though I've never read it, and was curious to see what it was all about. The story pretty much follows the main character, Rachel, a Manhattan lawyer who (in her tipsy, just turned 30 haze) accidentally reveals to her bff's fiancé that she's been in love with him since their days in law school. Turns out, Hunky Mcdreamy had a crush on Rachel too. Subsequently, they "accidentally" trip and fall on each other's lips, which thus lead to awaking the next day in a cloud of post-coital guilty glory. It's a story of rapidly escalating circles of deceitfulness, lost love, testing friendships and so on and so forth. Toxic friendship issues aside, what I couldn't get over about all of this was (as we learn via flashbacks) that Rachel ended up initially "losing" the man of her dreams to her best friend back in law school due to an intense display of insecurity and self-sabotage. Sure, Rachel thought she was self-protecting by pretending not to like the man in question and bashfully refusing to see his obvious longing for her even when her best friend tried to force her to do so. Consequently, the confident bestie decided "hey, if she doesn't want him, I'll take a shot!" This movie couldn't have popped up at a better time, because I have been thinking a lot about self-preservation in the dating world lately. It factors a lot into my own style of dating and we all do it to some extent, as it is emotionally and socially responsible to a certain degree. It's important to go into dating and relationships with one's eyes open. However, there is a thin line between healthy self-protection in dating and engaging in full blown self-sabotage. While the euphoria of infatuation can be both lovely and nerve-wracking, it can also be blinding and cloud rational judgment. The basic premise of self-preservation in dating stems from a mixture of personal insecurities, past relationship experiences, expectations, morals, and values, and it can easily be abused and hinder you from the ability to move forward in relationships: aka Self-Sabotage. So, what's the difference you ask? Here are some examples of behaviors and self-talk from a self-preservation perspective vs a self-sabotaging one.

Self-Preservation (SP) vs Self-Sabotage(SS)

SP: Saying "I want to take things slow because we need to get to know each other better".

SS: Saying "He probably doesn't really like me anyway, so I'm going to play it cool by taking 24hrs to return his texts and acting aloof when we hang out".


SP: Deciding to wait until you both have made the choice to be in a committed relationship before having sex.

SS: Deciding to go ahead and have sex with him in an attempt to solidify a relationship status.


SP: Realizing that the guy you are dating is not a perfect prince charming and deciding whether the major issues will affect your ability to have a healthy relationship.

SS: Considering any and every flaw as a deal-breaker.


SP: Having standards (i.e. health conscious, hard-working, spiritual, educated, etc)

SS: Having unrealistic/excessively limiting expectations (i.e. multi-millionaire with 6 houses, Ryan Reynolds lookalike, perfect, etc).


SP: Being honest with oneself when a relationship is lacking in emotional connection.

SS: Pretending that a purely physical attraction is an all consuming emotional connection (i.e. drunk off his looks).


SP: Making a conscious effort to get to know someone past the "Representative"phase.

SS: Becoming caught up in who you want the person to be through justifications, ignoring warning signs, and creating a surface level fantasy.


SP: Managing your initial infatuation by telling yourself to remain calm and level-headed about the person you are dating.

SS: Shattering your initial infatuation by telling yourself that you are not good enough.

 See the difference? Don't get me wrong, infatuation can feel amazing! I get it, I'm totally navigating through infatuation mode right now. Yep, going gaga over this one, HOWEVER, I am also wise enough to know when to take a step back and reflect to myself that, yes, while there is obvious attraction present, now is not the time to go planning some dopamine-induced fairy tale ending. Rather, now is the time to find out who this person is (I mean who he really is) and through this process we'll both slowly discover whether to proceed or to abort mission. 

Self-preservation is not a bad thing. It exists for good reason. It is only when it morphs into that defeating MoFo called self-sabotage that it starts to become a negative. With self-preservation, many of your past insecurities and previous relationship experiences/baggage have been addressed and worked on. You are utilizing your new found self-reflections to make healthier decisions for yourself. You feel good about prioritizing your values and do a better job managing your expectations. With self-sabotage you really haven't worked past your insecurities and perhaps relationship baggage of the past still remains unpacked. You end up running from potentially good matches and/or becoming susceptible to feigning connectedness with partners that are either not good for you or who aren't in it for the same reasons. And that is no bueno. Bottom line: being open, available, and up for new experiences is of course a crucial part of navigating the dating world, but there's nothing wrong with also being smart in matters of the heart!


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