Have you ever noticed yourself making excuses for why you shouldn’t do something positive or meaningful? I wonder if you’ve ever been caught in a cycle of procrastination that leaves you feeling apathetic? I am curious to know about the times you neglect your true-to-the core needs and desires. What about the times you settle for less than? Or, how about those times you hide away, in the dark, those bright parts of you that would otherwise illuminate truth and love in those around you? Have you ever found yourself doing the exact opposite of what you set out to do to become healthier, more whole, successful, a more connected parent, a better budgeter, a more forgiving partner?
Yuk, what is that!?
That, ladies and gentlemen is called self-sabotage and it’s a hairy beast.
How self-sabotage shows up
Sabotage is defined as: the act of destroying or damaging something deliberately so that it does not work correctly…an act or process tending to hamper or hurt…deliberate subversion [a systematic attempt to overthrow or undermine],” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary-Online). Engaging in self-sabotage behaviors or patterns of thought is a way that we act out passive aggressively toward the self.
I did some crowd-sourcing to get some “real life” examples of how people practice self-sabotage. Here are some of the responses I got (exact quotes used, names withheld to protect anonymity):
- “Bargaining with myself to make tasks or goals easier. I try and justify my bad choices and make excuses.”
- “Going to bed too late when I really need more sleep than the average adult just because I’ll ‘watch one more episode’.”
- “It’s strange, but I like to be mad. For some reason, it benefits me by giving me inspiration for writing but completely obliterates any peace and patience I have, which I work hard to attain because I meditate every time I can, god knows how horrible off I’d be if I didn’t do that lol. It also wreaks havoc on my relationships. If I could just let it go (which is completely possible if I weren’t so stubborn) it would make my life easier.”
- “Telling myself I work better under short deadlines to justify procrastination and laziness. Then I run around, freaking out because I don’t have enough time to do what’s necessary.”
- “Being on facebook when I should be getting ready for work”
- “I don’t reach out to people like I should because I feel boring and unmemorable. I know my family cares about me but I don’t feel like I make an impression with most people so I keep to myself.”
Because I see self-sabotage show up in so many subtle, complex and destructive ways in those around me and especially in people healing from abuse and relationship trauma, I decided to spend the last week INTENTIONALLY noticing my own patterns of self-sabotage to become more aware of what exactly I am doing to myself and why, oh why, I struggle with letting self-sabotage go. What I learned was profound. Later, I will invite you to embark on your own self-sabotage exploration.
What, ultimately, is being sabotaged?
On the surface, it doesn’t look like much. So what if we get to work 5 minutes late because we were sucked into cat videos on Facebook? So we don’t meet the deadline, reach our goal, reach out for support as often as we may need – is it really that destructive? Bottom line – yes.
What will we find if push back the curtain and gaze beneath the surface?
- We are damaging and undermining our connection with ourselves
- We are teaching our mind, body and spirit to no longer trust itself
- Our relationships suffer
- We lose the confidence we need to work toward our goals
- We stay stuck. We don’t actually get what we want or need out of life
Why do we do this to ourselves?
Because it is less scary to remain in what is familiar than to leap (or tip toe) out into the unknown. We aren’t going to engage in self-sabotage for aspects of our lives that we aren’t changing, right? As soon as we set a goal, we’re going to want to soothe the anxiety that naturally appears by subtly destroying the goal so we can stay comfortably where we are. But it isn’t so comfortable, is it? Nope!
We have a hard time coping with the anxiety associated with making big changes. So, it becomes a cycle of setting goals and sabotaging them, followed by setting even more goals and sabotaging them as well. And so on…
If you have committed to a process of healing from trauma, then the urge to sabotage your journey will be intense. That urge doesn’t have to take over control of your healing journey!
How do I get this hairy beast off my back?
Observe & Reflect
- Become aware of your own self-sabotage – write them down as you notice them
- Forgive yourself and release judgement – not doing so will invite more self-sabotage – extend grace to your beautifully imperfect self
- Ask yourself the hard questions
- Why am I doing this? What purpose is this serving?
- What feelings am I numbing or avoiding by sabotaging?
- What beliefs or patterns of thought are maintaining or activating my self-sabotage?
- What sensations are going through my body as I engage in these behaviors?
- After I have sabotaged myself, how do I feel, what do I experience, what do I perceive around me?
- Who else might this be affecting?
Ways to repair the connection with yourself:
- Begin to set daily intentions that foster connection and trust with yourself
- Adopt a mindful lifestyle
- Use positive affirmations
- Regain the power by living from a place of specific purpose rather than “auto-pilot”
- Seek balance and harmony between your mind, body and spirit – they function best when they’re in sync
- Clear energy blocks and challenge your beliefs about yourself
Ways to change self-sabotage behaviors:
- Take it one day, step, behavior, thought at a time – set small, actionable goals. It is more tempting to sabotage big, complicated goals.
- Be Accountable: pair up with a trusted friend or family member to keep you motivated and focused
- Practice self-discipline: Commitment plus action. Replace the urge to sabotage with a commitment to yourself. Interrupt sabotage behaviors with actionable steps to stay on track.
That is a big ‘ol list. Take is slowly. Once you begin to understand the function of your own self-sabotage, you will begin to make some brave changes pretty quickly. Let me know how it goes for you!
About the Author
Robyn Mourning, MS, MFTC is the Founder of Metropolitan Counseling and Consulting, LLC. She helps children, teens and families find peace, joy and restoration as they heal from trauma and journey through traumatic grief. She also empowers parents to cultivate authentic relationships with their children through individualized coaching sessions and engaging workshops. Additionally, she collaborates with the community to further enrich the healing process of her clients. Follow Robyn on Twitter & Facebook.