It wasn’t until recently that when I, Cherise, really began to look at the notion of self-sabotage, that I realized I may not know as much as I thought I did.
In a Facebook group discussion, we were attempting to determine why we felt stuck and not achieving our dreams. The question was asked if we were sabotaging our success? To make sure I was answering honestly, I first looked at the definition for sabotage.
Sabotage: To deliberately, destroy, damage, or obstruct.
Once I saw the word deliberately, I immediately dismissed this as being a personal issue and then questioned if I had been using the word incorrectly in the past. Deliberate? That was a game changer.
Until that moment, I only saw sabotage as the unconscious things we do that get in the way of our accomplishments. You know, like being in relationships with people who take more than they give; leaving us depleted of the energy needed to pursue personal and professional goals. Or maybe, over committing so you routinely wait until the last minute to complete tasks.
So, now the question that begs to be answered is: Are these choices deliberate? Yes and no.
Deliberate: To carefully weigh or consider… unhurried. What is intentional, premeditated and calculated.
Do I carefully weigh my decisions to eat poorly and not exercise? No, not really. Yet, I am aware that these choices don’t lead to good health. I wouldn’t say I intentionally fill my calendar to avoid writing, yet there remains the unfinished book.
Dr. Christina Wilson defines self-sabotage as a behavioral dysregulation that can be conscious or unconscious, “depending on the level of awareness.” In other words, depending on how self-aware you are, you may or may not make intentional choices that counter your intended goals or desires.
When it comes to our mental health, chronic self-sabotage can lead to increases in stress, loneliness, and anxiety. Whether you are dealing with perfectionism, pessimism, or imposter syndrome; feeling as if you are a serial failure can lead to physical ailments. Increases in coronary disease, inflammation, illnesses associated with increased cortisol, as well as substance abuse are just some issues connected to severe self-sabotage.
So, why would anyone intentionally want a life of failures and false starts? The thought is that self-sabotage is repeated because it is somehow satisfied. Let’s think about that, if I believe there is something lacking in me, my not completing tasks support my self-assessment. On the other hand, if I receive praise for “coming through in a clutch,” then my negative behaviors are rewarded and are more likely to persist.
So, what is a person to do?
Become more self-aware: Life coaching, therapy, and healthy support groups are a few ways to help you increase self- knowledge. Finding the right modality or technique could lead to more in depth understanding of why we do the things we do that prevent us from realizing lasting success.
Another way to increase self-awareness is through journaling. Specifically, journaling the connection between behaviors and thoughts can lead to a better appreciation of why we do what we do in certain situations. Journaling can help us silence the inner critic that wants to convince us there is something to fear or avoid. Making these types of cognitive-behavioral connections then leads to changed actions.
Practice mindfulness: By focusing on the “here and now,” we can circumvent what Wilson refers to as the approach-avoidance conflict. That’s the dance of experiencing the dopamine rush of setting goals (the approach) only to put them aside to avoid any threats (even perceived ones) that challenge our self-image.
Mindfulness allows us to make healthy assessments of our current situation without making any judgments or excuses. By staying fully present in the moment we remain grounded in reality. We see things as they are, not as we believe them to be.
Healthy Self-Talk: Most experts on self-sabotage talk about the importance of positive self-talk. Shown to boost confidence and combat negative emotions, positive self-talk is an inner dialogue that affirms and seeks out solutions to challenges. Self-talk that is supportive can lead to being more motivated, focused, and productive.
Positive self-talk includes being aware of when we use negative self-talk. Once we acknowledge types of situations that provoke negative talk, we can then be intentional to replace the damaging messages with ones that are nurturing and bring us closer to our hopes and dreams.
Another type of self-talk is distanced self-talk. It is a third person type thinking that can help us with decisions that normally trigger self-sabotage. Distanced thinking takes a more objective and impartial view of our abilities and needs.
Let’s say you must decide between taking a new job that would be challenging and risky or remain at a job that is familiar and safe. Distanced self-talk is a way of taking a realistic and rational look at your capabilities alongside your long-term goals; one that is more deliberate than intuitive.
Whether your self-sabotaging behaviors happen in your personal life or gets in the way of professional advancement, there are ways to get to the root causes and bring about real change. While I still take issue with the words deliberate and premeditated, there is no denying that patterns of negative behavior and thinking set us up for emotional and physical distress.
Good mental hygiene requires we promote our well-being. As advocates, we may be called to fight systems that obstruct a person’s access to care and victory. This could mean we take hard and deliberate looks at the different ways we get in our own way and thwart our achievements and rewards.