Self - Sabotage - Our subconscious frenemy
Updated: Feb 7
Have you ever got on a roll and worked really hard in the direction of your goals, only to stop short 5 minutes before the miracle? You were just about to break through. Feeling the change. Feeling the shift. You could see the finish line in sight…and you just quit.
We all do things that get in our own way, but self sabotage is a pattern of thoughts and behaviors that cause ongoing problems in your life. Keeping you from achieving your goals and keeping you stuck.
What is Self - Sabotage?
Self- Sabotage is a set of subconscious behaviors we’ve created to keep us safe, but are actually keeping us stuck.
Self Sabotage can look like procrastination, perfectionism, avoiding conflict, or causing conflict.
Many times, the patterns are so ingrained in us, that we don’t even know that we’re doing it.
What’s worse is when we are aware that we are doing these things, but feel powerless to stop or change them.
I’ve spent so much of my life in survival mode…like so many of us do. Fight - Flight - Freeze, is our normal state of being.
Trying to prove our worth by doing more, learning more, working harder, fighting against the odds.
If by chance, things were running smoothly in my life for the moment, I didn’t know what to do. Peace gave me anxiety. I had to invent some chaos in order to feel normal. I needed a problem to solve in order to feel ok.
Anxiety was my default mode. I didn’t know how to live without it.
So, I would create it.
Sometimes that looked like procrastinating on paying a bill; even when I had the money to pay it. Or waiting until the last possible minute to fill out, and turn in paperwork that was due. It’s as if I need that dose of panic ( adrenaline) in order to take action.
Then I would cry about how overwhelmed I was.
I always thought I performed my best in a crisis situation. Which I still believe to be true. Only many times, I created the crisis.
Sometimes, for me, it looked like I was beginning to heal. I’m a recovering addict. I have been working towards sobriety and healing the root issues that have caused me to reach for drugs, time and time again, for the past 20 years. Through support groups, therapy, exercise, yoga, meditation, and finding connection through spirituality, I began to see the shift. Feel the change of transformation. Recognize the healing taking place.
Then, keeping my cravings and obsessive thoughts to myself. I would use. Just like that. The guilt, shame, and critical , abusive thoughts would begin. I hated myself.
We indulge in mindless activities that prevent us from obtaining our goals.
Mindless activities that include binge watching Netflix, Scrolling the internet for hours, and Video game obsession.
Some of the behaviors that we engage in are destructive forms of self abuse. Behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse, binge eating, pornography, smoking, and gambling, create a vicious cycle of addiction that is very hard to break free from. Once you do break free, maintaining complete abstinence from these things is of utmost importance to keep you from returning to that cycle once again.
Avoiding behaviors are another way we keep ourselves stuck in a negative mindset loop. Some avoiding behaviors include constantly showing up late, procrastination, giving up when things get too hard, or not addressing problems when they arise.
If you don’t look at it, it will just go away. Right?
We allow our fears to take over and keep us from moving forward in our lives. Some of these fears are a fear of change, fear over losing control, or a fear of the unknown.
Sabotage occurs when the desire to reduce threats exceeds the desire to reach goals. - Dr. Judy Ho
Understanding the origins of self - sabotage is key to change
Our goals and desires have both positive and negative aspects to them. Setting a goal that you want to achieve, releases dopamine. Then , the avoidance dynamic kicks in to protect you from perceived threats such as change or fear of the unknown.
You now have 2 forces competing against each other.
According to Dr. Judy Ho, author of Stop Self Sabotaging (2019), Self - Sabotage occurs when the desire to reduce threats exceeds the desire to reach goals.
So how then, do we tip the scales in the opposite direction? Stop the inner Saboteur, and continue to move forward in the direction of our goals?
How do we stop Self- Sabotage?
None of these steps are 1 and done. Just like any activity that promotes self - growth, consistency is key! Practice makes perfect! If you take baby steps in the direction you want to go, you will see change!
Awareness and Self - Acceptance
These shadow parts of you…the unhealed parts of you that you feel shame over. The parts that you’d rather keep hidden away, only fester in the dark.
It’s important, once you become aware of these less desirable parts of yourself, that you learn how to be at peace with them.
Begin to understand that these parts were formed in an effort to protect you.
Become ready to shine the light of acceptance on them.
Becoming accepting of these behaviors does not mean that you don’t have the desire to change. It just means that you aren’t adding resistance to the mix. Adding resistance in the form of denial or criticizing and beating yourself up, only adds fuel to the fire, and makes it harder to make positive changes.
Tough Love, shaming yourself, or being hard on yourself, won’t work in this situation. Not for any length of time anyway. You can’t shame yourself into changing for the better. You have to stop your judgment of yourself and begin to understand ,with loving compassion, that these behaviors were born in an attempt to protect you. A little positive reinforcement goes a long way.
Here are some examples:
If you want to start paying your bills on time, you have to understand how putting them off has given you a false sense of safety and security. Because it feels better( in the short term) to have that extra 300 in your pocket just in case.
If you want to stop abusing drugs and alcohol, you must first compassionately understand how it has served you by relieving the stress and anxiety that feel never ending in your brain.
If you want to stop procrastinating, you must be able to see with a compassionate heart how this has kept you from feeling the fear of failure or of success.
Only when you’re able to see how these sabotaging behaviors have protected you and have given you the illusion of safety, will you create space to incorporate new, healthier behaviors. And it’s only when you get that need filled in a different way, will you be able to let sabotaging behaviors go for good.
Here is an exercise to help you make peace with yourself, and begin replacing sabotaging behavior with a healthier choice.
Exercise part 1:
On a sheet of paper, write down the self - sabotaging behaviors that you want to get rid of.
Now, write down all the ways this behavior has filled a need for you.
Behavior: Drug use
I’m a recovering addict. Drugs have filled so many different needs for me over the years, that it’s a hard habit to break. And even harder to keep it broken.
It has helped me to relieve stress.
Comforted me in times of soul sadness.
It has given me a boost of motivation when I needed it.
It helped me relax and rest my overworked mind.
Your only goal to achieve , with this part of the exercise , is awareness.
For the next part, you can choose to write this down, or not. I feel like writing it helps me to connect with emotion more.
Look at the list you created, and infuse it with compassion.
That would look something like this:
I am not a bad person because I’ve used drugs. I was an abused child, who felt silenced. I was a little girl with no healthy coping skills. I was left alone to figure out a way to feel better on my own. I did the best I knew. Drugs gave me a sense of comfort in an unsafe world. They helped me feel more connected. They helped me calm down my mind…which was always on overdrive. I felt more in control of my emotions. I felt less angry, less sad, and less scared. You are ok now. You are loved. You are enough. You don’t have to be afraid anymore. It is safe to let go.
I had to be able to view my behaviors with the eyes of compassion in order to make the shifts that were necessary to stop reaching for things that were harming me, in an attempt to feel better.
Now that you’ve spent some time showing yourself some compassion, create a second list.
On this list, write down some alternative behaviors that fill the same need.
Relieve stress. -Some things that relieve stress for me, other than drugs and alcohol , are: Yoga, Meditation, Running, Hiking, Cleaning my house, Dancing…
(you get the picture)
Comfort in times of emotional pain. -Other things that bring me comfort are: A hot bath, a cup of hot tea or coffee, calling and talking it out with a good friend ( vulnerability)...
A Boost of Motivation -Getting my heart pumping through exercise, Mel Robbins 5 second rule, taking action despite how i’m feeling ( usually just starting is enough to build up some motivation and momentum)
Relax my overworked mind - Watch a movie, journal, play with my grandkids…
We only do things because we believe that they will make us feel better. We only want certain things because we think we’ll feel better after having it.
So, wouldn’t it make sense, that if we could create the feelings that we want to feel , through healthier habits, that we could then let go of patterns that were no longer serving us? Feels true.
Unfortunately, there is no change that will take place without continued practice and commitment.
So, choose a couple of the alternative behaviors that you wrote down in Part 3, and get to practicing.
Make time everyday to relieve stress by dancing, doing yoga, hiking…or any of the
other alternative behaviors that you’ve written down.
Make time to call a friend and be vulnerable. Take a hot bath or drink a cup of hot tea to give yourself a dose of comfort.
Build up your reserve of positive coping skills that bring you closer to the emotion that you want to feel. That way, when you're faced with situations that bring on anxiety, and trigger that fight - flight - freeze response, you have other things to reach for to soothe yourself. You will be less likely to fall back into your default mode.
Just like depositing money into your savings account - over time, you will have grown a nice cushion.
You are building better habits. You are rewiring your brain. You are creating new neural-
If by chance you do resort back to your comfort zone (which you will for a while), it’s ok.
You will be more aware of it now. You will show yourself more compassion now. And you
will continue to grow, change, and evolve.
If no one told you today…YOU ARE ENOUGH!
Light, Love, and Happiness,