CONSIDER "YOUR BEST INTEREST"
By Steven T. Padgitt, Ph.D.
One of the issues often presented by clients in psychotherapy is
reflexive or conditioned behavior, thoughts, and feelings which
seem to have a life of their own. That is, they tend to occur
automatically and without any conscious intent. If these
behaviors, thoughts or feelings are healthy and adaptive the
automatic quality is welcomed. On the other hand, if such
behaviors are self defeating or self destructive, there is cause
for alarm and reason to change them. The change in self defeating
personal styles consists of reshaping them such that the
maladaptive behavior or style is replaced with an adaptive one.
Fortunately, people have the capability of evaluating their life
experience and making decisions about creating permanent change.
While it is clearly not easy to alter automatic ways of being and
acting, it is ultimately easier to make such change than to
continue over a lifetime with self defeating action and the
personal pain it causes. One of the key elements in structuring
such change is questioning what is your best interest? This simple
question is helpful because it can help disrupt a long conditioned
pattern and bring it to consciousness, hence rendering it
To exemplify this consider Janet who, in psychotherapy, discovered
that she tended to engage in ongoing self critical internal
dialogue that served to stimulate old negative childhood thinking,
feeling and responding. Through the course of our discussion in my
office it became clear that this kind of internal response system
was not productive and resulted in her feeling worse about herself
rather than better. In addition, it only served to diminish her
self esteem and promote no end of self defeating and self
destructive life experience. We explored and came to understand
the origins of her self defeating pattern and this allowed her to
feel less resistance to change. Next, she was able to stop her
negative internal dialogue when it began, and replace it with the
simple question, What is in my best interest? Once she was able to
regularly catch herself, in the beginning of her identified
pattern, and use this simple question as a tool, she was able to
make a change in her self critical automatic response pattern. She
found that changing the old conditioned responses became a matter
of repeatedly asking the question, "What is in my best interest?",
evaluating the origin of her self defeating impulse, answering the
question as to what was in her best interest, and replacing the
maladaptive behavior with a new, adaptive and productive one.
Often there is a negative parent-child quality to self defeating
behavior, thinking and feeling as there was with Janet. Just as
often the maladaptive sequence results in destructive self
criticism and inevitably diminished self esteem occurs.
Interrupting an unwanted automatic behavior, thought or feeling by
questioning what is in your best interest facilitates an
adult-adult kind of internal dialogue. The adult-adult self talk
is logical, rational and nonjudgemental rather than impulsive,
irrational and harshly critical. It also eliminates self
degradation and internally self critical statements. By examining
this question, understanding the origin of the conditioned response
sequence, and finding the answer to what is in your best interest,
you are left with a present day and healthy response. This
enhances self esteem rather than diminishing it and allows for more
positive life experiences.