Behaviour can be labelled as self-sabotaging when it creates more problems than it solves, when it interferes with achievement of long-standing goals and is inconsistent with an individual’s core values.
But if you try to avoid anything that brings up difficult emotions the solution you thought you had found can actually be the fuel that feeds the problem by shrinking your life. Note well, and from the outset: it is not the difficult emotion that is the problem, it is how we respond to it that can cause problems, and what we might call self-sabotage.
Just for the record, the list of possible self sabotages is almost endless because it’s not what we do so much as to what extent we do it, and why.
So what is going on here?
Thoughts, feelings and behaviours judged as ‘bad’ are not wanted, people want them gone, banished.
Here’s the thing though: if you make an enemy of your inner world, if you try to suppress your thoughts, deny your feelings, and avoid or escape from situations that might bring them up, it isn’t going to work well for you in the long term.
The brain is an ideas factory churning out content day and night, and just like social media, there’s an algorithm that shows you more of what you react to.
But the underlying agenda of the brain is broader than social media, it is to keep us alive. It seeks to preserve our existence and to help us make sense of the world.
Yes, it gets in a flap sometimes, it hates embarrassment and humiliation, it fears loss of status, injury and illness, and it presents all sorts of aversive scenarios to illustrate the dangers we face, especially when we step outside of our comfort zone (aka stuck zone). It might hush up for a bit if you keep busy but it doesn’t tend to stay quiet for long.
The brain hates uncertainty, and if it can’t find anyone or anything else to blame it tends to blame us, just for the satisfaction of finding an answer to why we are like this.
So this noisy, imaginative, chatting, fretting, part of the brain is there for a reason – to protect you. But it’s not in charge. Like with social media, you can choose what you pay attention to, you don’t have to scroll through trash all day, and while you can’t stop the feed, you do get to choose what you subscribe to.
And there’s a quieter and wiser part of you in there (the observing self) that can learn to discriminate between useful and useless information, that can direct attention towards what is helpful, useful and values consistent.
Just trying to silence your chattering brain, to suppress it by whatever self-sabotaging means available can be a massive waste of time (procrastinating, perfectionism), energy (people pleasing, distraction activities) and money (substances, gambling).
And it’s a bit like wanting to break up with your Nan because she says you’ll catch a cold if you go out without a hat on. A bit of an overreaction, don’t you think? She’s not trying to sabotage your entire life, she’s trying to protect you from something and she has your best interests at heart.
You just need to grow a bit of space between you and that urge to suppress or avoid uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and understand that you get to decide how best to respond to them. Hitch up your big girl/boy pants, and off you go to do what matters to you.