Help Your Clients Stop Self Defeating Behaviors

As a therapist, one of your primary responsibilities is to help your clients overcome their self-defeating behaviors. These behaviors are patterns of behavior that people engage in that ultimately prevent them from achieving the things they desire. While they may provide temporary relief or pleasure, they ultimately lead to dissatisfaction and disappointment. Here are some strategies that you can use to help your clients overcome these behaviors and live the lives they want.

1. Identify triggers and patterns

The first step in helping your clients overcome their self-defeating behaviors is to identify the triggers and patterns that lead to them. These behaviors are often deeply ingrained and can be difficult to recognize. Encourage your clients to keep a journal or log of their thoughts, feelings, and actions when they engage in these behaviors. This will help them identify the patterns that lead to them and give you a better understanding of their thought processes and behavior.

2. Challenge negative self-talk

One of the biggest obstacles to overcoming self-defeating behaviors is negative self-talk. This is when clients speak to themselves in a negative and critical way, which reinforces their negative behaviors. Encourage your clients to challenge these negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. For example, if a client thinks, “I’m not good enough to accomplish this,” encourage them to replace it with, “I am capable, and I can succeed.”

3. Break down goals into manageable steps

Many people engage in self-defeating behaviors because they feel overwhelmed by the enormity of their goals. Encourage your clients to break down their goals into manageable steps. This will help them stay motivated and focused on achieving their goals, rather than feeling overwhelmed and giving up.

4. Encourage self-care

Self-care is essential for overcoming self-defeating behaviors. Encourage your clients to take time for themselves and engage in activities that promote self-care, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones. This will help them maintain a positive mindset and stay motivated to overcome their negative behaviors.

5. Use positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for helping clients overcome self-defeating behaviors. Encourage them to reward themselves when they make progress, no matter how small. This will help them stay motivated and committed to their goals.

6. Practice forgiveness and compassion

Finally, it’s important to practice forgiveness and compassion when helping clients overcome self-defeating behaviors. These behaviors are often deeply ingrained, and it can take time to overcome them. Encourage your clients to be patient with themselves and to practice self-compassion. This will help them develop a more positive self-image and stay motivated to achieve their goals.


Helping your clients overcome self-defeating behaviors is a challenging but essential part of your role as a therapist. By using the strategies outlined above, you can help your clients identify their triggers and patterns, challenge negative self-talk, break down goals into manageable steps, encourage self-care, use positive reinforcement, and practice forgiveness and compassion. These strategies will help your clients develop a more positive mindset and achieve the goals they desire.


FAQ 1: What are self-defeating behaviors?

Self-defeating behaviors are actions or habits that prevent individuals from achieving their goals and lead to negative consequences. These behaviors can include procrastination, negative self-talk, self-sabotage, addictive behaviors and more.

FAQ 2: How can I help my clients overcome self-defeating behaviors?

To help clients overcome self-defeating behaviors, it is important to first identify the specific behaviors they engage in and the underlying beliefs that drive them. Strategies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, positive reinforcement, mindfulness, and goal setting can all be effective in addressing these issues.

FAQ 3: How long does it take to see progress in reducing self-defeating behaviors?

The length of time it takes to see progress in reducing self-defeating behaviors can vary depending on the individual and the severity of their behaviors. However, with dedicated effort and support from a therapist or counselor, clients can often begin to see positive changes within a few weeks to a few months. Consistent practice, patience, and a willingness to change are key factors in achieving success.


1. Schmitz, S., Johnson, C., & Mayer, B. (2016). Self-defeating behaviours in psychotherapy: Strategies for change. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 46(1), 45-53.
2. Neff, K. (2016). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. HarperCollins Publishers.
3. Marlatt, G. A., Donovan, D. M., & Kivlahan, D. R. (1988). Relapse prevention: Maintenance strategies in the treatment of addictive behaviors. Guilford Press.