• Daniela Perone, Ph.D.

Self Sabotage: Why do we do this to ourselves?!

You have a goal that you are so passionate about accomplishing. It’s huge. It’s all you ever hoped and dreamed of. So you thought anyway…

Yet, you find yourself procrastinating on your tasks to accomplish it. Or you outright do the opposite of what you should be doing to complete your goal. You miss opportunities. You make excuses. They sound like very reasonable excuses to start with; but deep down you know they are, in fact, excuses. (I won’t even get into examples of these. If you think it might be an excuse, it probably is). You secretly wonder if this is what you really want. But you can’t imagine doing anything else. When you stop to reflect on it, you think, yes, it is what you want. So why all the avoidance? Why do you run interference on what it is you really want?

We know that when we are feeling risk adverse we call that “fear of failure.” The anxiety and fear we have about failing is pretty self explanatory and probably brings up past memories and feelings of shame. Fear of failure is pretty widely discussed. Most people are familiar with it.

You may have heard the term “fear of success” but might not understand it as well. Indeed, it is a trickier concept to understand but one that I would argue is ultimately responsible for self-sabotaging behaviors. According to Carolyn Myss (2002), we all have a saboteur archetype within us. And sooner or later, we are going to bump into it. I believe we are most likely to encounter it when the goal in question pertains to our own empowerment in some way. According to Myss, “The core issue for the Saboteur is fear of inviting change into your life, change that requires responding in a positive way to opportunities to shape and deepen your spirit” (p. 123).

So what do we do? How do we overcome this?

You need to ask yourself these questions: “What will happen if I succeed?” “If I accomplish my goal, how will my life be different?” “Who will I be if I am successful?”

I am going to have a vulnerability moment and share some of my own answers to those questions at a time in my late 20s when I bumped up against my own inner saboteur. Upon reflection, I realized that some of these may have some universality to them. Take a look and share your comments!

1. My relationships will change. Friends/family members may exhibit jealous behaviors. More will be expected of me in my new role.

2. I may limit myself to a niche at the exclusion of other possibilities.

3. I may be scrutinized for something I care about and worked hard on (vulnerability alert!!).

4. I may end up competing with others… and losing (a little “fear of failure” vibe mixed in here too).

5. I may have to choose among seemingly disparate interests that do not relate to each other at the moment.

6. I may have to sacrifice other major life goals (such as marriage, parenthood, etc).

7. I may end up more alone than ever. (This is another potential big one to work through for someone. I can assure you, being on the other side of it, it’s not true. The more true to yourself you are, the more likely you will find your tribe).

So what would success on your goal actually be? What do you want it to be? Give yourself the chance to envision it clearly, without all the obstacles.

You may find that engaging in this process can be incredibly moving and healing. Oftentimes when we feel anxious about something, especially about our own accomplishments, the fears that come up don’t seem all that rational when faced head on. You may even come to realize how much of the self-talk you have been engaging in is the result of some influences from those around you or your past that are just keeping you living small. Don’t allow intimidation by your own success cause you to shy away from opportunities being presented before you. And don’t wait until your back is against the wall, with the risk of losing everything, to harness your power and your voice.

Consider how you think your relationships might change. This could be a big one for some people, especially women. This could also be big for anyone pushing beyond their family’s upper limit of success. In other words, people who are upwardly mobile and moving beyond the highest point of success by any other family member. First person in your family to graduate college? First person in your family to start a business? It is especially hard if you are the first in your family or community to blaze a trail. And few ever discuss the social ramifications of doing so. Consider your place in your family constellation and ask yourself how you think the responses of others (or what you think their responses will be) are possibly affecting your motivation toward your goals.

Who will you be if you are successful? I can answer this one for you. STILL YOU. That’s right. You will still be who you are even if you are a success. So much of the reason we unconsciously hold ourselves back is because we can’t seem to imagine ourselves wearing the big shoes we think we need to wear (they’re bigger in your head than in reality). We can’t seem to fit a successful version of ourselves into our current sense of self or identity. There is some truth to that, to a certain extent. Yes, I know I just contradicted myself. It’s just that it’s a more evolved version of you. It’s the you on the other side of of THIS VERY PROCESS.

When I did this work on myself, I was changed forever. Once I discovered that all the “harmless” procrastination and acts of obstruction I was engaging in was really just my unconscious getting in my own way to keep me from changing my life and living larger (and lets face it, living a little more vulnerably), it no longer had power over me. The old version of me would never hit “publish” on a blog like this. Heck, it never would have started a business in the first place, or even graduated. This is important work. Getting out of your own way means that you clear the way for your gifts to emerge and present to themselves to the world. That’s a worthy cause, don’t you think?

Have you overcome your own saboteur? Feel free to share your story in the comments!

Are you struggling to overcome your own sabotaging behaviors? Please reach out. I am here to help!

Reference: Myss, Carolyn. (2002). Sacred contracts: Awakening your divine potential. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.



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