What a Nice Guy by Phil Torcivia

Monday, June 27, 2011

Self-Handicapping

"Try" is the term used as an advance excuse for failure.

I don’t know if there is a clinical term for this, but I have been finding increasing cases of this mental disorder related to self-sabotage. It stems from a fear of failure, which was probably beaten into the poor soul by hypercritical parents or teachers. What the afflicted does is intentionally put himself at a disadvantage to hedge the outcome. An excuse is prepared before the trial, making it easier to accept failure and deflect accountability.

Here are examples:

The night before an important basketball game, Joe goes out, gets plastered, and twists his ankle. No matter the outcome of the game, Joe is covered. If he plays well, he amazingly overcame adversity and prevailed. If he struggles, oh well, he was injured. Joe can deflect all blame, including self-blame.

Sam, from the other team, has been playing with a sore back all season, but he keeps it to himself. If he plays well and his team wins, great. If he struggles and they lose, Sam has no excuse. He had a bad game. He failed.

Jane schedules a laser peel the day before a first date. Susan injures her knee while training the day before a marathon. Bill tweaks his elbow the night before he’s scheduled to pitch. Jack angers his girlfriend and starts a huge argument the night before an important job interview. Donna botches her presentation because she was up all night with a sour stomach. Harry is caught speeding on the way to taking his real estate exam. Jeff cheats on his girlfriend, who he claims is the love of his life, because he’s worried she’s about to dump him.

I wish I wasn’t aware of it and could accept the excuse and grant the pardon. But, now I know and it frustrates me. I catch myself heading down that path around appointed meeting times. I’ll delay until I need to rush to make it on time. Perhaps there’s an associated adrenaline rush I crave.

Parents must see this behavior from their children frequently. If the parents recognize it, I hope they also realize they are the likely cause. We need to applaud the effort more than the results. If junior prepares and tries his best, fails, and admits only that it wasn’t his day, he deserves more accolades than the gifted kid who lazily cruises to victory. You don’t want to teach a kid to be reckless, but have him take a cue from Rocky Balboa and keep getting up and swinging.

Any children, teenagers, or adolescents who are coddled will grow to become low-ambition having adults. People who employ this strategy come off as cavalier. They’ll always seek handouts, shortcuts, and excuses. They’ll take advantage of their family, friends, bosses, lovers, and new acquaintances. They’ll attempt to perform without adequate preparation. They’ll fail and mope around complaining they have bad luck or were treated unfairly. These people suck the life from those closest to them and won’t stop until they’re called out on it.

If this sounds like someone in your life, you need to let him know you’re aware of what he’s doing, even if he isn’t aware. Tell him it’s unacceptable and unbecoming. Don’t accept his excuse or you’ll encourage his behavior.

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