I invite you to choose any week in your life and ask, “who is the main saboteur of my dreams?” As for myself, it is me. That’s fantastic news. The main obstacle to my fulfillment is within reach. The proximity with my self-saboteur allows me to explore, embrace, neutralize, and even harness it to my advantage. Would you like to meet yours?
What is self-sabotage?
Self-sabotage is not self-hate, avoidance, lack of character, or weak will. Beneath most self-sabotages lies a legitimate desire. It is an infantile disruption of the present for the illusion of a better future. For instance, if I desire to travel the world but am afraid to leave my job, I may get fired and pack my luggage. The problem is that the steps toward satisfaction ruin the objective I have tried to accomplish. I may spoil the trip worrying about my livelihood.
Similarly, I once coached a bipolar college student who messed up her credit. Working together, we discovered that she desperately wanted to find work. Her self-sabotage resulted from believing that nobody would hire her. By sabotaging her finances, she generated a crisis pushing her to apply for jobs and feel productive in life. Once we identified the desire and explored options, we devised a healthy approach.
The key to sabotaging the saboteur is 1) spell out your wishes. 2) envision a positive pursuit. Otherwise, you will self-sabotage to force yourself into pursuing your dreams in an unhealthy manner.
The good news is that self-sabotage reveals our wants and needs. Self-sabotages are unhappiness compasses that deactivate life’s autopilot. Self-sabotages well analyzed generate an opportunity. They are maladaptive paths to potentialities.
I suspected my mental illness for years but was afraid to find out. I ended up committing costly self-sabotage. My unattended mania got out of control. I impersonated a police officer, was arrested, fired from my job, and was ridiculed by the media. What did I gain? I was hospitalized, diagnosed, medicated, and got a chance to have a healthier life. Self-sabotage saved me. But I still wonder how much easier the journey would have been if honesty and proactive change had replaced trauma. Take a piece of paper and write two dreams or two things that are causing you unhappiness. Envision positive paths forward.
Don’t tell me that story
Your self-saboteur talks to you. It disguises itself like a trusted advisor in your inner narrative. It convinces you of a mismatch between achieving your goals and your persona. How can you deactivate it? If, for instance, you experience schizophrenia and feel inadequate and paralyzed, you must revisit the early opinions, misinformation, fears, and stigma you learned about your condition. You can rewrite your narrative from a place of growth, perspective, and strength. No more saying to yourself, “I have OCD; I will ruin the night with friends. They will laugh at me. I would rather stay home” Think about “character development.” You develop your story. I know that paralysis is less threatening. That’s why self-sabotage is such a seductive anesthetic. You must take risks to fulfill your potential.
Though counterintuitive, research shows that we possess a limited tolerance for happiness. Our brains favor security over risk. Certainty overpowers potential joy. Sabotage is a mechanism by which we protect ourselves from excessive risk-taking. It is cautiousness on steroids. Self-sabotage is a guardian at the gates of happiness. Our challenge is not to wait for change until the change becomes the less comfortable option. Engage instead in purposeful adaptation. Change by choice. Don’t let your mental illness become your companion. The most uncertain life can become a way of life. What can we do to increase our life satisfaction if there are happiness constraints? The key to happiness is adaptation. We, humans, are limitless stretching entities. Happiness, to stick, must entail an escalated process. We must endow the Self with small doses of happiness, allowing for sustained adaptive growth.
Every self-sabotage responds to a belief. Some may torpedo promising projects because their parents envied the successful neighbors at the childhood dinner table. They developed a sense of inferiority. Some may have learned that suffering is righteous and redeeming. I may not want you to read my blog because my grandiosity convinced me that social media is all crap. Name your beliefs. Assess your principles, views, and ideologies to curve self-sabotage.
Sometimes illness becomes so scary that we decide to self-sabotage in anticipation of defeat. You would rather fail by design than endure uncertainty. We intentionally create pain to have the illusion of control. Self-sabotage is turning on the fire extinguisher before a fire ever ignites. Fear fans that fire. We must understand that Self-sabotage is bad preventive medicine. Self-sabotage may momentarily release us from anxiety by providing a sense of empowerment. But it will leave us with many broken pieces.