‘Self-sabotage is unconscious behaviour most of us have in our lives.’ Illustration: Sturt Krygsman

  • The Australian 
  • Self-sabotage and the art of ‘accidentally on pupose’

I love the quote: “He’s the sort of person who can snatch defeat from the jaws of success.” I was thinking how much that applied to me. Though I’m successful in many areas of my life, there are some things I won’t let myself have, no matter how much I want them.

The closer I get, the more I’ll self-sabotage, to my own horror. My worst one is getting fit. The gym has become like a charity I keep giving to.

Recently, I amped up my exercise. Those first weeks were agony. By about week four, I was doing better, and by week six I was flying. “Onwards and upwards!” Not quite. I twisted my ankle during a casual walk. Understandable, these silly things happen. Back to the gym for a few days then “Oops!” — I fell out of a yoga position and hurt my back … hmmm, getting dodgy since I know not to do what I did. Back on the treadmill and “Oops!” — I fell over hanging out the washing and fractured my toe (domesticity is dangerous). Lying there with an icepack on a purple toe I shook my head and said: “Come on, Ruth, are you serious?”

Self-sabotage is unconscious behaviour most of us have in our lives. I know a handful of people who can’t allow themselves to make money. Every time a scheme comes good, they’ll accidentally do something dumb. Some people sabotage their love lives, making an unconscious gesture that pushes away their objet d’amour, even though they desperately crave love.

But why do we sabotage and how do we stop it? Psychologists says it’s partly conditioning: things we’ve been told or shown we can’t do as children. 
Or unexpressed fears: the unconscious mind puts a stop to certain successes. Rather than admit we feel unworthy, or are terrified of failing, we “accidentally on purpose” set ourselves up to ruin things.

To get rid of sabotage is not easy. It requires a two-pronged attack. First we must unpack what we really believe deep down — often modelled on the catchcries we heard from our parents: “Life is hard”; “Be careful”; “Don’t get your hopes up”; “You can’t trust anyone”; or “You’re not the sporty type.”

Second, we must notice patterns. “I keep getting made redundant because they’re all idiots”; “I always have bad business partners who let me down”. If the same outcome keeps happening, it’s wise to look at one’s own part in it. And notice if there’s self -sabotage in our choices or actions, based on our catchcries.

One woman I know kept choosing men who couldn’t commit. The question her therapist asked is one we all need to ask ourselves: “Who is the common denominator?”

For more on self-sabotage, read Life in The Australian on Monday.

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