Today I’d like you to confront an uncomfortable truth.
First, I’m going to assume that, like the rest of us, you have problems in some areas of your life. Maybe it’s debt; maybe it’s relationship trouble, maybe it’s social anxiety or uncertainty about the future. Heck, maybe it’s some combination of all of them (or even others I haven’t listed.)
There’s no shame in having problems. But there IS shame in not confronting them. That brings us back to that uncomfortable truth I alluded to, which is simply this:
For most of us, our biggest enemy isn’t our parents, the system, or the cosmos. It’s ourselves.
While it’s always more comfortable to attribute our difficulties to outside forces, our own misguided beliefs and behaviors typically lie at the core of what we are going through.
Now, I’m not talking about natural disasters or a sudden cancer diagnosis. There ARE problems that arise through no fault of our own, but I’m not talking about those problems today.
I’m talking about the man who drowns his sorrows in whiskey each night rather than fixing his failing marriage. I’m talking about the woman who, overwhelmed by a recent promotion, deliberately procrastinates and avoids seeking help until she gets fired.
What is self-sabotage?
Behaviors like these are known as self-sabotage. It means exactly what it sounds like: thinking and behaving in ways that harm us.
PsychologyToday.com offers a more precise definition in their article Self Sabotage: The Enemy Within:
“Self-sabotaging behavior results from the same cause, a misguided attempt to rescue ourselves.”
Think back to those two examples I gave you above. Doesn’t their behavior make more sense in light of that definition? After all, we tend to assume that alcoholics are only drinking themselves sick out of ignorance to all the “obvious” consequences…but that’s rarely the case.
This man knows his relationship is going down the toilet. But for one reason or another (an emotionally distant upbringing, a lack of self-awareness, poor communication), he doesn’t know how to fix it. And so, rather than face the constant, gnawing anxiety of this realization, he does the only thing that offers temporary relief: drink.
Alcoholism (though certainly not healthy or desirable) is quite “rational” given an alcoholic’s circumstances and assumptions. When you feel unable to change something painful, temporary relief beats constant anxiety.
Self-sabotage in its non-obvious forms
Alcoholism (though commonly misunderstood) is a somewhat obvious example of self-sabotage. Anyone can look at an alcoholic and conclude that he or she is harming themselves.
But there are less apparent forms of self-sabotage, too. Take the second example of the woman who ruins the promotion of her dreams. She gets her dream job – the one she’s been seeking for years – but it gets off to a rocky start.
Nobody trained her. She doesn’t fully understand her new duties. She can’t get into any groove or rhythm at all. And now, instead of each day being an enthralling journey down the road of her bright future, she comes home feeling exhausted, irritable, and burnt out.
Worse yet, this isn’t some stepping-stone” job that she can “just put up with” until starting her “real” career. This IS her real career – the job she had been staking all her future plans on. Imagine how it feels to get into that position and not feel capable of performing!
So what does she do? She procrastinates. She avoids contact with her bosses (when, in fact, she should be seeking their help as often as possible.) She simply wants to stay out of the way and avoid having a spotlight thrown on her self-doubt.
Like the alcoholic husband, this woman’s behavior is an anxious and misguided attempt to rescue herself. By procrastinating and staying out of the way, she temporarily avoids the pain of being totally out of her element in a demanding new career (and having others witness this.)
Of course, none of these behaviors are rational in the long-term. Left untreated, they will cost the alcoholic his marriage and the overwhelmed woman her dream job. So let’s look at some ways to overcome them.
Five steps to stopping self-sabotage in its tracks
I won’t lie to you: self-sabotage is an intensely personal problem, and no “one-size-fits-all” solution works perfectly for everyone. However, after consulting with hundreds of clients over the years, I have found the following steps to be surprisingly effective:
Step 1:Identify the core problem driving your immediate discomfort. People engaged in self-sabotage often develop tunnel vision, such that the immediate discomfort/anxiety becomes the lens through which they see everything. Yet it’s important to realize that these discomforts are the symptoms, not the problem.
EXAMPLE: the woman unconfident about her new job isn’t plagued by the report she has to turn in by 2 PM. That’s the immediate pain. The core problem is that she wasn’t trained on HOW to do it (or anything else) and thus feels incapable of doing her job as a whole.
Step 2:Free-write about the core problem. Another problem encountered by self-saboteurs is that they have little or no time to introspect on the core problem. It is simply experienced as a day-long thorn in their side, never fully understood or dissected. The fix? Spend a solid hour or two at night (when you are totally undistracted) WRITING about the problem. Write anything that comes to mind: how pissed off you are, how unfair it is, what should have been different, and why.
Don’t focus on solutions at this point. This is your time to express the full extent of your anger or unhappiness that you’ve been repressing.
Step 3:Using your free-write, start devising possible solutions. Pay attention to the things you make you the most unhappy or uncomfortable, the things you wrote down in the free-write. Then, from this list, start coming up with potential solutions. Maybe it’s talking to your boss. For the alcoholic man, maybe it’s couples therapy. Again: just write down the answers that come to mind. They don’t have to be perfect.
Step 4:Sleep on it. After these two exercises, go to sleep. Science has proven that our brains remain hard at work while we sleep, deciphering our toughest challenges and formulating elegant solutions we would never have arrived at while conscious. Resist the urge to come up with “the answer” right then and there and just go to sleep instead.
Step 5:Put the best solutions into action. Once you wake up (and over the next several days/weeks), you will begin to gain unexpected clarity about the core problems that are causing you to self-sabotage. One or more of the solutions you wrote down will start to stand out, begging to be executed. Congratulations! It’s a small step, but you have successfully “shifted gears” from being anxiety-minded to being solution-minded.
Do you want to stop self-sabotage today?Download the Stop Self Sabotage Audio Program HERE