Growing Past Self-Defeating Behavior


KathyPoolerBrighterToday, I welcome Kathleen Pooler as the first of my readers to comment on critical issues relevant to my novel, A Fitting Place.

Kathleen is a retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir and a sequel about how the power of hope through her faith in God has helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments:  domestic abuse, divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.

Based on insights from her own life, Kathleen addresses the challenges faced by those, like my protagonist Lindsey, who come of age at mid-life rather than in their teens or early adulthood.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin

I haven’t met Lindsey, Mary Gottschalk’s protagonist in her upcoming novel, A Fitting Place, yet, but I already know we have a few things in common.

We both had self-defeating behaviors that kept us from living our lives fully and happily. I share my journey through these behaviors in my current memoir-in-progress, Choices and Chances: My Jagged Journey to Self (working title).

A Fitting PlaceTruth is stranger than fiction so I feel the advice from my own lived-experience may help Lindsay.  I have no doubt she is faced with overcoming her own self-defeating patterns.

What will it take for Lindsey to break the cycle of her own self-inflicted pain?  I only have to look at my own story to find the answers.  If I could sit across from Lindsey, I’d share my story with her.

I’d tell her that after years of mismatched choices and broken dreams, I finally figured it out:

  • Clinging to the familiar, the path of least resistance, kept me locked in unhealthy patterns for years. I was “safe” but the choices I was making were not in my own best interest.
  • Willingness to accept my role in perpetuating the pain takes courage. If I own my faults and failures, I can also own my successes.
  • My self-defeating patterns were repeated until the pain of holding on outweighed the pain of letting go.
  • Self-forgiveness was the first step in healing my past hurts. It helped me to move forward and make the changes I needed to make.
  • When I was willing to face my part in creating my own pain and forgive myself for pain inflicted upon myself and others, I could clear the path and move on to a life of peace and fullness. I have a choice. It’s like being in a prison cell with the door open and continuing to sit there. I can take a step outside that prison cell anytime.
  • When I look beyond an obstacle to see the lesson it has in store for me, I accept obstacles as part of my life.
  • I can be in charge of shaping my own attitudes.
  • In breaking my own cycle of pain, I can focus on all that I have to be grateful for, finding the support I need and nurturing my soul.
  • Once I am able to look honestly at myself, accept the role I have played in outcomes, and forgive myself, I am free to live life on my own terms.
  • Once I find this freedom, I can honor my own story, continuing to hope—never, ever giving up.

Hope matters.

Lindsey, the choice was mine all along. I can be empowered to create my own happiness, avoiding any future self-defeating behaviors. I have gone on to live a life of peace and joy, on my own terms.

I hope the same for you and I am looking forward to hearing your side of the story.


Kathleen’s experience is relevant to all of us, but I welcome points of view based on other experiences.  What advice would you give Lindsay on facing and overcoming self-defeating behaviors?


Kathleen blogs weekly at her Memoir Writer’s Journey blog: and can be found on Twitter @kathypooler and on LinkedIn, Google+, Goodreads and Facebook: Kathleen Pooler

One of her stories “The Stone on the Shore” is published in the anthology: “The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys From Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment” by Pat LaPointe, 2012.

Another story: “Choices and Chances” is published in the mini-anthology: “My Gutsy Story” by Sonia Marsh, 2012.



  1. Mary,

    It is an honor to be your first guest on your series about Lindsey. I’m anxious to read about Lindsey and how she handles all her self-defeating detours. Thank you for this opportunity. I am looking forward to this discussion as well as to your series.
    Best wishes,

    • Mary Gottschalk says:

      It is an honor and a delight to have you start the reader side of this discussion forum. And thanks for sharing your insights with Lindsey and with all of us. We are fortunate indeed!

  2. Kathy,

    Our childhood beliefs, which we form by observing the behavior of significant others, so often give rise to sweeping generalization, gross exaggeration, false assumptions, and strong prejudices – these types of responses are self-defeating in that they’re conditioned rather than mindful. The trick is, indeed, to understand that we always have a choice in how we respond to people and events. I applaud your courage – confronting the past is never easy, and acknowledging the need to let go of behavior that no longer suits you indicates great wisdom. Thank you for so graciously sharing the lessons you’ve learned.

    Mary, I’m excited about your novel, because I respect authors who write stories in a mindful way. I think we’re all going to learn a lot from Lindsey.

    Best to you both,

    • How true, Belinda. We are programmed to respond in certain ways until we realize those ways do not work for us. Therein lies the power of choice; to know ourselves enough to break the patterns and strike out on our own. I appreciate your keen insights that always seem to make so much sense! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I’m excited about Mary’s novel , too and all we will learn from Lindsey. 🙂
      Best Wishes,

    • Mary Gottschalk says:

      Belinda … I agree with you that Kathy has articulated, in a very moving way, the challenge we all face in getting past those unproductive behaviors that stem from childhood. I have long believed that getting out of your comfort zone– whether you choose to step out, as I did when I went sailing, or are forced out, as Lindsey is–is key to meeting that challenge.

  3. Kent Zimmerman says:

    Great insight! In some ways it seems so simple. If we could all remember we have the freedom of choice, and that it is up to us to use that freedom.

    • Thanks for your comments, Kent. I agree, we all have choices. It’s what we do with those choices that matter. And , of course , hindsight is always better. It seems like we learn the most from all those wrong choices or at least , I did! I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your thoughts here.

    • Mary Gottschalk says:

      Kent … thanks for stopping by… we are fortunate to have so many choices, but I agree with Kathy that we sometimes don’t know which choice is best until long after. It took me 20 years to really understand why the choice to “give up” my career in New York City was the right one … at the time, it often seemed (to me and to others) to be high risk and not altogether responsible!

  4. What a wonderful post, Kathy. You could have been writing about my own struggles of many years. Some in particular resonated: repeating self-defeating patterns until the pain of holding on was greater than the pain of letting go and the necessity of self forgiveness. I wonder if there is any way to see and realize this in the moment – before it gets so bad? Or must we all live through it all and only come to the light of realization later?

    • Hi Carol, Thank you! In response to your question, I think sometimes the greatest lessons can come from the most painful part of our lives. Maybe pain helps us hone in on our “teachable moments” , the full awareness of which may come years later? Kind of like, if I knew then what I know now. Whatever it is, I’m happy to be on the other side of it!

    • Mary Gottschalk says:

      Carol … another perspective is that “failure is your friend” … that you so often learn the most about your strengths and weaknesses when you have failed. It’s never fun, but with the right attitude, it’s always useful in retrospect.

  5. Kathy, Such a great post. I’m with you all the way on this. We always have choices. What holds us back is simply fear, which is not always a bad thing. Fear keeps us from being run over by a mac truck or being eaten by lions or tigers. But sometimes we just have to stuff it in our back pockets and proceed to find our way in what is so often a maddening world. We need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open our hearts and minds.

    • Mary Gottschalk says:

      Joan … thanks for stopping by. Fear is such a powerful motivator, but it often works against our best interests when it stops us from learning new ways of looking at life. And the sad part is that all too often, fear of change prevents us from recognizing that the world is changing around us.

  6. So true, Joan– “we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open our hearts and minds”, always a risk but the only way, it seems to tackle that fear. Thanks so much for stopping by.

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