Are you getting in the way of your own happiness? We take a closer look at what it means to self-sabotage. By Rebekah Kendal
You meet a new guy and he’s just perfect. He treats you well, makes you laugh, and would even like to lunch with your parents. Somewhere between your idyllic first date and that lunch with your folks, however, things start to unravel. His laugh starts to kind of annoy you, he uses way too many exclamation marks in his texts and, let’s face it, no one is genuinely that nice all the time.
Perhaps it’s just as well you noticed these things now, before things got too serious. Before it all got messy. Before you became too vulnerable. After all, sooner or later he would just figure out that you aren’t perfect yourself, and then where would you be?
The stories we get stuck in
‘You know you are self-sabotaging if you feel bad about yourself; when shame tends to hang around as oneof your favourite emotions,’ explains psychologist Pippa Solomon. ‘Feeling bad can be a defence mechanism we use because living fully in our potential, being loved and feeling happy is very scary. We may prefer to live in a little shame because its familiarity might feel safer to us.’
According to Pippa, self-sabotaging behaviour can take many forms in a relationship, but it is usually behaviour that increases disconnection such as withdrawing, avoiding, or being highly reactive and critical. ‘We all struggle with our own sense of inadequacy and unworthiness,’ she explains further. ‘Self-sabotage is deeply ingrained in our human make-up. We often tend to default to what’s not working or what we’re not getting and then we get stuck in that story, feeling inadequate in some way. It takes a lot of hard work to challenge our negative view of self and to foster a more compassionate relationship with ourselves.’
Pippa points out that by blaming yourself for the perceived ‘failure’ of every past relationship that didn’t last, you reinforce those patterns of self-sabotage. ‘Blame has a judgemental and negative component to it, which implies a deficiency of sorts. Where the power really lies is responsibility. It’s where we choose to look at ourselves and see where we struggle, but love ourselves anyway because we under-stand that we are all growing, learning and evolving.
‘It’s good to take responsibility for a self-sabotaging story like “we should be able to have a lasting relationship, otherwise we must be unlovable”. This story is not true. It is only an idea, a perception, and one that needs to be challenged. Being either in or out of a relationship doesn’t protect us from our own feelings of un-lovability. It’s up to each of us to work on having a good and loving relationship with ourselves. Relying on others for our sense of worth puts a lot of pressure on relationships.’
The unworthy saboteur
Many of us fall into the trap of thinking that the way another person loves us reflects our lovability. One of the main problems with this, says Pippa, is that people have vastly different ways of expressing their love. So, although one person may see gifts as an expression of love, another might crave physical touch or quality time. A different way of expressing love can sometimes be mistaken for a lack of love.
‘Many people in relationships get caught up in a negative, painful view of themselves, which they keep affirming with all the evidence they find in the way their partner relates to them. Their partner may not be amorous enough, share roles and chores, or pay enough attention. When we take the behaviour of our partners personally, internalise it and link it to our worthiness, then we are self-sabotaging.
‘It’s our stories that often keep us stuck. The common story about how unworthy and unlovable we are just isn’t true. We have to change the way we treat ourselves; often the way others treat us then also changes.’
Breaking the pattern
It’s easy to justify and find seemingly logical reasons for why you behaved in a certain way. A nifty trick you can use in assessing whether you have been self-sabotaging is to imagine you are observing someone else’s behaviour. Pippa recommends asking yourself the following three questions:
• Why do I do what I do?
• Why do I think what I think?
• Why do I act the way I act?
‘It’s good to have answers to these questions. It helps you to get to know yourself, and when you start knowing yourself and why you think, feel and act the way you do, then you have more choice. For example, just being aware of shame – that feeling of being bad, a failure or inadequate – you can suddenly have more choice because you can decide whether you want to feel bad about yourself or whether you are really bad at all. Awareness gives you more choice about how you want to be. In a relationship, we are not just relating with another, we are also relating with ourselves.’
So, stop giving that hypercritical voice free rein in your head. Instead, try to invite in the timid little voice that allows you to make mistakes, cheers you on when things are going well and encourages you to continue when you face a setback.
‘The relationship we each have with ourselves is so essential. If we’re being kind and nurturing towards ourselves, it’s much easier to set boundaries and make certain we are getting what we need. The beginning of loving yourself is self-compassion.’