Dysfunctional self-care would be the things we do to relieve ourselves of our hurt or fear or our anger that ultimately lead to more hurt, fear or anger, etc. An example would be buying stuff excessively on Amazon or another of our favorite shopping places (online or brick and mortar) or explosively venting on the ones we love or trying to manipulate people in order to obtain a specifically desired outcome because we believe that if that outcome happens, our intense hurting feelings would dissipate.
Usually these attempts to care for our wounded feelings are externally focused. Anything or anybody outside of our inner self is the target. We might think, ‘if only I could get THIS, then I would feel better’. THIS could be a new wall color in our bedroom or a specific promise from a lover or a certain pay grade at work or…anything else outside of your own heart that you want. THIS might also include payback to someone who rejected or betrayed or disappointed us. If somebody else changes or something else changes…I would get relief—if only for a while.
People who use porn as a way to find relief from stress or anger are dysfunctionally caring for themselves. A betrayed spouse who obsesses on catching his partner cheating believes he will feel better if he can monitor every phone call and social interaction his wife has and prevent another cheating moment. The belief that if I can show enough rage, scream loud enough or shame completely enough, I can prevent any type of behavior that could hurt me.
Here is the rub: dysfunctional self-care repeats itself. Ask anyone who uses porn or smokes weed or some other life-controlling behavior how they feel soon after his or her latest use and the common answer is ashamed, embarrassed, fearful or worthless. Those specific feelings: shame, embarrassment, fear or worthlessness are among our most painful feelings. Do you see how externalizing our self-care dysfunctionally perpetuates itself? If you use your acting out behavior as a way to soothe your difficult feelings and it leads to more painful feelings, you are very likely to be right back at it again in order to find relief from more pain not less pain.
Was it Einstein who said, ‘doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome is insanity’? Maybe we all have a little crazy in us but trying to soothe our hurt or fear, etc. by doing something that leads to more feelings that need more care really is crazy—we are all strugglers in some way. I also realize the short-term relief that comes from our acting out brings us back to it. It is rather addicting for sure!
Because it is so addicting, it’s really difficult to simply stop on our own. Find some key relationships that can encourage, speak truth, support and/or just be present with you without judging in your struggle. My faith in Jesus and important truth-tellers in my life have provided me many of these. A skilled counselor can help, a wise mentor, Pastor or healthier family member can as well. Reach out! There are people and resources who are equipped to help with such a struggle.