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  • Rebekah Wright

Ask a Therapist: On Self-Sabotage

Q: I don’t know why I keep sabotaging myself. How do I get this under control?

A: Self-sabotage is a common struggle that often gets a bad reputation, but do we even know why we do it? Or how it happens? Most often, we would simply blame ourselves and then move on with our life, however, sometimes self-sabotage can be a stubborn habit to break.

If we boiled down self-sabotage, it could be seen as an internal conflict between opposing parts of ourselves. Usually, it's one part that wants a “good thing” and another part of us craving a “bad thing” that ends up being the thing we cave into. It’s not uncommon for this pattern to result in subconscious conclusions like: “I have no self-control,” “I’m disgusting,” “I’m stupid,” etc. So imagine how many unconscious messages we’re giving to ourselves if this is a habit that occurs regularly. No wonder we believe these things about ourselves and continue to engage in the “bad thing” that started the self-sabotage in the first place.

The previous breakdown is based on the assumption that we are succumbing to a “bad thing.” But what if we took away the “bad” label (or at least for a moment to think more about it)? What if the part that we think is sabotaging us is trying to help us? So before the binge eating, extra drink, casual hook up, or one more lie happens, it probably tried to help you for a split nano-second. Maybe it tried to help you feel less anxious or sad, numb the pain, ignore the past, or make you feel connected. However small that moment of effect is, it’s there. And while we typically remember the overpowering guilt, shame, and regret after this effect wears off, in an albeit broken way, a part of us was trying to help that hidden vulnerable part feel less terrible.

The moment you see how the part you hate is not so bad, you can create enough space for compassion to enter. Compassion is an effective remedy to shame. Shame is the deep dark hole that pulls you down into choices that hurt you because you believe you deserve the hurt. But if that part that sabotages you is trying to help you, maybe you don’t deserve to be hurt and therein lies some hope which happens to be another remedy for shame.

So if sabotaging is just misguided help, we can use more resources to help us feel those tough feelings instead of shaming ourselves for the sabotaging choice.

If sabotage is your habit and the journey to healing looks too overwhelming, reach out to a therapist to help guide you along the way.

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