For a while now I have been focused on my clients’ struggles with self-sabotage. We seem to present ourselves with more obstacles than every other person, system and institution in our lives combined.
When I first mention it to people, they frequently self-identify unhesitatingly. “Oh, I definitely have that problem – I am my own worst enemy!” They are aware of a pattern of blocks, breakdowns and disruptions, and they are aware that they are playing a significant role in creating them, but that’s about it.
What I have seen is that there is tremendous benefit to be gained from understanding and working with this dynamic in our lives. It starts with becoming better acquainted with the “Saboteur.” I find it very useful to personify it, like the inner child – one of many personalities inside me that plays various roles in my life. One I can learn to recognize and incorporate.
There is almost always a lot of room for growth in this area because we are used to feeling alienated from and frustrated by the Saboteur. We are not eager to align with our ineffectiveness, negativity and bad choices.
We may not understand why or how the Saboteur operates in our lives, but we can at least start by identifying the results of its handiwork. Perhaps you recognize some of these typical examples?
- You get to the end of the day and wonder why the one thing you said was a priority didn’t get done, and you’re not sure where the time went.
The Saboteur is masterful at luring us into unconsciousness, where we are highly susceptible to distraction, avoidance and losing focus.
- You take an action or make a choice and look back later and wonder what you were thinking. Not only was it not productive, it created the opposite of what you said you wanted.
The Saboteur can make a stupid idea seemed temporarily smart or use a new, exciting, smart idea to distract you from following through in completing the current project.
- You can’t shake that voice that shows up at the worst time saying, “Who do you think you are? You’re not ready for this/not good enough/not able to do everything that needs to be done. You’re already hopelessly behind on this one project and there are five others you never finished and the house is a mess and the dog needs to be walked, and you haven’t done laundry in so long that you’re not going to have anything to wear tomorrow for that meeting you’re not prepared for.”
Hypnotizing ourselves with repetitious negative perceptions of the self and the situation becomes a well-honed habit. These anti-mantras then run on autopilot without our being fully aware of them or their pervasive and corrosive effects.
- You can’t get a handle on the part of you that keeps getting overwhelmed by an avalanche of ideas and possibilities. Or getting lost and stuck, confused about how to move forward. Or procrastinating and letting things pile up, till you feel hopelessly behind.
Creating situations and states (overwhelm, confusion, hopelessness) that drain our energy and make progress feel impossible is a Saboteur specialty.
The Saboteur leads us to conclude that we are lazy, untalented, unfocused and unworthy. In a sense it takes us over and convinces us that it is right: you can’t get where you want to go, you have no control of your situation and you may not really have anything of value to offer the world.
When defined in this way, it is relatively easy to see that we are engaged in self-sabotage. But it leaves us wondering why we would do this to ourselves – what’s the point? Fear of success? Fear of failure? Personality flaw? Low self esteem? To begin to answer this question we must revisit our definition of what the Saboteur is or, perhaps more accurately, what it does.
In our next episode I will get into more detail, but for now I would like to offer two new versions. The Saboteur’s job is:
1) To protect you from change by removing choice
2) To collect information about where your blocks and breakdowns are so you clarify what needs to be addressed in order for you to go to the next level.