Self-Sabotage: Overcoming Our Inner Saboteur

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The battle of overcoming self-sabotaging behaviours is a challenging one as the enemy lies within

Ah, self-sabotage. We have met many times as I am sure we will again. There is no greater guilt than the one felt when we fail at the hands of our own behavior. The broken relationships, the missed opportunities, the goals never met, and the wellbeing of ourselves hindered, because of us. The added weight of the realisation that we were the ones who orchestrated our own misfortune is damn near crippling and difficult to recover from. Yet, we continue to prevent ourselves from reaching the heights we feel we deserve.

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Or, at least, those we assume we deserve. The fact of the matter is, self-sabotaging behaviors stem from internal beliefs that likely tell a completely different story than the ones, at the surface, we tell ourselves. It’s this dissonance between what we think we want and what at our core, our conditioned beliefs say we want, that leads to us falling short of our goals. Let’s start by looking at what exactly this cognitive dissonance is.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance proposes that people are averse to inconsistencies within their own minds”- Psychology Today

Essentially, we don’t like moving against our internal beliefs. Doing so creates mental and physical discomfort that we are then motivated to resolve either through changing the internal belief or the behavior that is challenging the belief. A choice in either direction aims to restore equilibrium between what we do and what we believe. Unfortunately, internal beliefs are much harder to change than our behaviors. Otherwise, we would all have high self-worth, but that is not the case. Beliefs, after all, stem from experiences that accumulate over a lifetime to form who we believe ourselves to be. It is much easier to revert back to an old behavior than to challenge our beliefs with a new behavior that causes us discomfort.

We as human beings are wired to fear uncertainty and are notoriously stubborn in holding onto our beliefs. After all, being certain you knew where to find food, where to avoid predators, and where to find shelter, was a valuable tool to have in order to ensure our ancestor’s safety and survival. Those who tip-toed around uncertainty were more inclined to fall and die, literally. Naturally, our brains adapted -quite annoyingly- to hold onto beliefs we believe to be true and resist those that we deem untrue. Again, there is a certainty found in our perceived true beliefs compared to those that we believe to be untrue.

Humans also love being in control. Control means a certainty. Lack of control means uncertainty and therefore risk of danger. Holding onto what you believe to be true is beneficial as it allows you to stick to what you think you know best. The fault in the system, of course, lies in the fact our internal beliefs are often skewed and inaccurate. Being made to feel like you are worthless as a child will result in you believing you are worthless in adulthood. That does not mean it is true.

Cognitive dissonance then is simply the internal conflict we face when we try to act out against a deep-rooted belief. It’s the equivalent to our ancestors wanting to go into the forest to see what they could find only to have internal conflict over the possibility of being eaten by a hungry tiger. Of course, they don’t know for sure they will be eaten -there may be treasure!- but either way, they’re inclined to avoid the forest out of fear of uncertainty and a desire to be in control. It’s much easier to stand back and stick to what is known than to face the discomfort of going against a belief AND then having to deal with the possible repercussions of failure. It is true, they might be eaten alive but they may also uncover their heart's desires.

Unlike our unfortunate prehistoric ancestors, in the 21st century, many of us don’t face the same life-threatening dangers that are associated with uncertainty however, our minds haven’t evolved to recognise this. Instead, we still assume that uncertainty = true harm. In order for us to succeed, we must challenge our limiting beliefs and move through the dissonance of our minds, save reverting back to old ways and sabotaging our goals. We must create new beliefs.

Who We Wish to Be vs Who We Believe We Are

Its key to make note of the difference between who we believe ourselves to be and who we wish ourselves to be. This is where self-sabotage runs awry as many don’t recognize that they have internal beliefs creating dissonance in their minds and holding them back.

For example, an individual may assume they are worthy of love but self-sabotage their relationships as their inner beliefs tell them otherwise. Likewise, someone may procrastinate kickstarting their dream job because they hold an inner belief that they will not succeed. Others may pursue a career path but stop due to the cognitive dissonance that appears from the internal belief that they can’t possibly be the person their job requires them to be -hello, imposter syndrome! -.

In all cases above, an internal belief conflicts with who they wish themselves to be. They take one step forward only to be pushed back when confronted with the discomfort that arises from stepping outside of what they believe to be true. We must begin getting to know ourselves. Our true selves. Warts and all.

Knowing Yourself

The overriding point here is, we must become aware of our internalized beliefs so as to recognise when we experience dissonance in our lives and move through it, not away from it.

As I said prior, it is easy to fall back into old behaviors and much harder to change your inner beliefs about yourself. That doesn’t mean it’s not impossible. There will be fear associated with the unknown, there will be loss of control as you steer away from what you believe to be true, there will be resistance, but this is the path we choose to succeed.

Self-sabotage is allowing our conditioned beliefs to run our lives. Beliefs, bearing in mind, that we likely did not choose for ourselves. They stem from our upbringings, trauma, and societal pressures. Just because we believe something about ourselves, does not mean that it is true. Remember that. Just because you have a voice telling you you cannot succeed does not mean you have to listen to it. Forge a new path, create a new belief.

This path is not easy. The uncertainty and resistance that will appear as dissonance as your behaviors contradict your beliefs will be uncomfortable. However, this is the only way through. Developing self-regulatory techniques to calm the mind and neutralize the nervous system are great ways to alleviate discomfort in order to pursue onwards (see breathwork, meditation, tapping, etc).

Bringing light to our vulnerabilities, to our wounds, and ultimately, to our core beliefs, shines a light on our inner saboteurs. The battle between who we wish to be and who we believe ourselves to be becomes a whole lot easier when we know what we are actually fighting. The issue with self-sabotage is that many people are unaware of what, and who, they are fighting. That being their hidden selves.

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Above The Middle

Joe Gibson. I created Above The Middle as a place for all things psychology, neurology + personal development. Follow for frequent articles.