A friend of mine suggested revisiting a limiting beliefs exercise. While completing it and journalling around it I arrived at some profound realisations about self sabotage and drew The Self Sabotage Cycle. This is experiential for me and wanted to share here in the hope that it would help others who experience self sabotage and/or are not aware of it.
What is self-sabotage?
Self-sabotage is an extremely powerful and destructive behaviour that is almost always created during early childhood. By the age of 10 we begin to apply meaning to our experiences and thus create beliefs about ourselves which then begin to shape and create our lives. The complexity of this process means, that the fears we hold at the core of these beliefs, then force us to create rules and excuses that become ingrained within us and form our ‘innate’ character. By thinking, behaving and acting based on these beliefs, over and over again, we condition ourselves until the responses become automatic – and we live on autopilot.
We aren’t consciously aware that the actions we are taking and decisions we are making come from a completely dysfunctional perspective, simply because of the meaning we placed on our early childhood experiences.
How do we create self-sabotage?
Self-sabotage is created as a way of ‘protecting’ ourselves during traumatic or negative childhood experiences. As an example, and this will vary from person to person depending on individual experience, an immobilising fear of; making mistakes, being ridiculed, being rejected, being physically or emotionally abused, being disliked and being unloved, is the catalyst for a child to develop a need to create a response that, in their mind, will keep them safe. In this example, that response is to ensure one remains small and goes as unnoticed as possible. The fear the child has is very real; in response to the behaviour and actions of someone close to them and/or to the environment in which they live, but as an adult, although the threat no longer exists, the fear and the need to protect oneself remains as strong as ever.
The child may experience difficulties with interpersonal relationships, but largely; going unnoticed, keeping quiet, not laughing or having fun and playing the victim, does the child little harm. It simply serves the purpose (although on a subconscious, ‘unconscious’ level) i.e. if I act this way I am less likely to; be ridiculed, be noticed, be hit, be rejected, and so on. As the child grows up, however, and inevitably becomes an adult, self-sabotage wreaks havoc on every element of life; from work and finances to all interpersonal relationships, especially intimate ones where trust and commitment is required, health and lifestyle.
What are the effects of self-sabotage?
Where a child’s needs are not met, it can be the case where the adult also experiences addiction. Although driven by a need that can never be met to fill a hole that can never be filled, addiction becomes merely another form of self-sabotage and a useful and wicked resource from which ‘it’ can draw from. Adult life can become tumultuous, chaotic and very painful.
Sabotaging jobs, relationships, finances, health and so on are all common place when self-sabotage is at play. It goes undetected because of a lack of self-awareness and simply not realising where the behaviour stems from and that it is responsible for the life you are living.
How can I be free of self-sabotage?
Not everyone becomes aware of the self-sabotage at work in their lives. However, fortunately, due to the nature of the destruction it can cause and the associated feelings of being stuck (which truly are beliefs and excuses we create) it can lead to seeking a better life and a desire to become free.
Self-sabotage requires mindfulness, patience and loving kindness towards oneself. Bravely delving into the limiting beliefs held about yourself and uncovering the fear that lies at the root of them. The fears are rarely real. The only frightening realisation is that something you were afraid of 30 or 40 years ago is now ruling and ruining your life – keeping you from living the life you desire and truly deserve.
When anything is brought into the light it is never as frightening as it seems. When you can identify the beliefs, rules and excuses, and importantly the fear beneath them, it brings a level of awareness that enables you to notice your actions. Over time it becomes easier to realise the thoughts and behaviours driving the actions that no longer serve you. There will come a point when you are able to see clearly the points at which you are sabotaging something you want to bring into your life; whether that be around work, purpose, money, health or relationships.
Naturally, the most powerful limiting beliefs you hold about yourself are the areas in which you sabotage the most.
By living ‘mindfully’ you are able to choose differently. When your choices are no longer based on fear and fuelled by beliefs that are simply not true, you will find you begin to manifest more of what you want in your life, rather than getting in your own way and receiving more of what you don’t want. The only thing keeping you stuck where you are, is you. Be courageous and make your goal and intention to become free from the cycle of self-sabotage.
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
– Grace Murray Hopper
The Self-Sabotage Cycle
Practising mindfulness brings self-awareness. You will notice a pattern emerging around your self-sabotage behaviour; a cycle – the series of actions that you regularly repeat in the same order.
The diagram below shows the Self-Sabotage Cycle at the point that most people become aware that self-sabotage is ruling (and ruining!) their lives.
Before this time, you will have probably gone through the cycle countless times over many years and most likely, experienced it throughout your adult life to date. The sabotage will often kick in before you have even taken any action. You might get an idea or want to do something or bring about a change in your life, only to ruin it before it even starts. You won’t have even been aware you were ruining it, you were just doing what you do. Life is chaotic, and you constantly change your mind, second guess your decisions and generally run amok with yourself. Self-sabotage is cruel, relentless and plays out in a myriad of destructive ways.
As time goes on the cycle might continue to where you experience some progress and even success, but no matter how far around the cycle you get, you will inevitably at some point sabotage your happiness and eradicate the possibility of getting what it is that you desire.
The stages of the Self-Sabotage Cycle
In any area of your life you may set yourself a goal or intention. You act and find you are making progress. This inspires you and you feel excited to take more action towards achieving what it is you want. You may even achieve some success, and this gives you confidence to work on achieving and realising your goal. It is at this point that you will sabotage yourself. Whether that is convincing yourself it wasn’t for you, distracting yourself to do something else or out and out destroying something or putting an obstacle in your path to ensure you don’t achieve your goal, no matter how big or small it is.
The diagram clearly shows that at the point which you sabotage yourself and thus prevent yourself from achieving your goal and manifesting your intention, the circle is broken. It is symbolic in reflecting the incompleteness and ‘stuck feeling’ it creates within you and your life. The Self-Sabotage Cycle is one where the prize, glory, happiness or whatever you see it as, is missing. In the Self-Sabotage Cycle, once you have sabotaged your goal or intention, you simply start over again with something new. Constantly repeating this cycle can become intense, turbulent and incredibly confusing.
Breaking the Cycle
With mindfulness comes awareness and clarity. At the point which you would ordinarily sabotage your goal and intention (ultimately your happiness!) you simply choose to continue. Often the one thing we need to do is not a gargantuan task or mountainous climb, it is a simple act and, in this case, choosing to take another step forward, another action and believing you can be successful, you are good enough, loveable, deserving and so on. It is in this final quarter of the cycle you have faith and trust you will achieve what you desire.
This completes the circle and by doing this you have become unstuck. You have created a flow in your life. On a subtler level, over time, when sabotage no longer exists in your life cycle, just as the circle denotes, you feel complete, whole and what was missing is now fulfilled. There is no gaping hole to fill and with more confidence in your own ability to create the life you desire, you will become free, to live a happy, healthy, fulfilled life.
[The beautiful featured image in this post was taken through a Monterey Cypress tree overlooking Carmel beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.]