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When behavioral therapists work with young kids, one of the things they teach them is to differentiate feelings from actions.
Typically, people run into problems when they can’t separate what it is to feel and what it is to do. They assume that to get rid of a feeling, they have to act on it – as though they can only legitimize it by pushing it out and making it manifest in the world.
If you want to overcome self-sabotage, you have to take the scenic route. You have to go around the back. It is not to force positivity down your throat and expect that one day, it will just seep into you and you’ll be transformed. It is to ask yourself why you would prefer to be negative, and then to take that answer and let it be the foundation on which you rebuild your life.
You have to realize that what hurts you is what helps you – you just don’t know why it’s helping you yet.
When Carl Jung was a kid, he fell on the ground in school and hit his head. He recalls that in that first moment when he got hurt, he thought to himself: “Yes, maybe I won’t have to go back to school now.” He didn’t like school, and didn’t fit in well. From then, he started having sporadic and uncontrollable fainting spells. He unconsciously developed what he would come to call a neurosis. Lisa Marchiano cited this in her article about why victim culture is so popular right now: in a lot of online communities especially, it generates connection and identity, when the premium on those things is both high and scarce.
As Jung himself said: “a neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”
To overcome self-sabotage is to realize that the pain you can’t stop inflicting on yourself is actually a means to an end. Maybe you associate being healthy with being vulnerable, because you had a parent who was perfectly healthy when they suddenly fell ill. Maybe you aren’t writing your magnum opus because you don’t really want to write, you just want to be seen as “successful” because that will get you praise, which is typically what people revert to when they want acceptance but haven’t gotten it. Maybe you keep eating the wrong foods because they soothe you, but you haven’t stopped to ask what they have to keep soothing you from. Maybe you aren’t really a pessimist but don’t know how to connect with the people in your life other than to complain.
The point is that the ways you’re holding your life back aren’t actually holding it back, they are just holding it still. Steady in your sense of love. Firm in your idea of “safe.” Stuck, ultimately, in a small, familiar world.
Behavioral therapy also teaches that what is affirmed and reaffirmed is what persists. Unfortunately, people who are sickest and poorest and most helpless get the most love. Consider this: maybe it’s connection that you want. Your attempts to get people to notice you have fallen flat. But when you speak about your ongoing problems, you get sympathy. It masks as understanding. In that moment, your need for love is satiated.
But it doesn’t last – not forever.
That’s why the nature of self-sabotage is so ongoing: it is to continue to sabotage in deeper and more consistent ways. That is because real connection can’t be faked. Real love cannot be replaced. A neurosis is not a way to really make yourself feel safe, it is a pacifier.
Overcoming self-sabotage means that you have to look at the ways your self-defeating behaviors are serving you, and then do the hard and brave thing which is to figure out how to get yourself the things you really want in the way that you really want them.
This is not easy. This will not happen overnight. Finding good friends and building true financial and mental and emotional stability and a clear sense of self isn’t doesn’t happen just by sitting around and hoping for it. You don’t just decide to love yourself one day and then see the fruits of that decision bloom. Like any good relationship, self-love is generated. So is self-reliance.
Overcoming self-sabotage doesn’t mean you’re going to be the most successful person in the room. It doesn’t mean your going to unleash and inner Einstein and reveal your genius to the world (though of course, it could mean that). Mostly, it just means that you let yourself receive that which you want to ask for – and that you live as you wish to live.
At the end of the day, it is only yourself that you have to answer to. Other people’s opinions fade and shift. We all come face to face with ourselves eventually – the question is always just whether or not we recognize the reflection.