Understanding Self-Sabotage

The ‘Accidental’ Outcome of Parts of Self Working Across Agendas

Understanding Self-Sabotage

The ‘Accidental’ Outcome of Parts of Self Working Across Agendas

We do not leap out of bed in the morning, excited to discover the ways in which we can prank, thwart, disadvantage or harm ourselves. Nobody sets out to wilfully stuff themselves around. Nobody. Ever. Not even you.

It is true however that in a myriad of ways we end up in situations where we tread on our own toes; do things that don’t serve us well; repeat harmful patterns; squander opportunities; set ourselves back; or outright cause ourselves damage. In these circumstances we may find that we no longer make sense to ourselves. We may be frustrated or bewildered by the things we are doing, or the things we cannot bring ourselves to do. We may berate ourselves for what feels like self-sabotage.

The problem with the term ‘Self Sabotage’ – is that it offers no explanation for our disparate motivations, and no way of intervening to align them. It only provides us with a direction to point a finger of blame, which is of course, back on ourselves. This self-blame then only serves to compound our pain, suffering and burden… And around we go again repeating familiar patterns.

You may say, “But surely I need to take responsibility for what I have done!” And of course this is true. Blame and responsibility-taking do not go hand in hand. We can take responsibility for exploring the motivations underpinning what seems like wilful self-sabotage. And take responsibility for aligning what is currently misaligned. To do this, we need to seek to understand, rather than seek to apportion blame.

How Do We then Understand Self-Sabotage?

In my experience the most useful way of understanding ‘self sabotage’ is through the lens of our ‘Many Selves’ or Emotional Parts (see my article : One Body, Many Selves –What We Can All Learn By Understanding Structural Dissociation).

When Parts of us, all nested in the same body, are not able to align around shared goals: our progress towards goals is thwarted. When Parts cannot cooperate or reach agreement: we feel conflicted or stuck. When Parts are taking action or fuelling urges which are in direct conflict with other Parts of us: we feel out of control and confused. When Parts are doing things which harm our body or expose us to risk: other parts feel scared or hostile.

When we have a mis-aligned, hostile, or distressed inner world –‘self-sabotage’ is a collateral fallout of this. ‘Getting in our Own Way’ is not intentional, but the accidental fallout of our inner chaos, unresolved conflict between parts, or lack of competent leadership of all of our parts. Self-sabotage is the symptom, not the cause.

Working To Address Self-Sabotage

Within this framework, the therapeutic task is to:

  • Become aware of the many ‘Selves’ or ‘Parts’ connected to unhelpful or unsafe behaviours
  • To become curious about the function and history of these parts: Where did they get the job they are continuing to perform?
  • What set of circumstances compelled them to take this job on?
  • Cultivating a shared awareness across Parts of the intention, and ‘secret history’ of Parts connected to unhelpful or unsafe behaviours.
  • Creating safety: Working with Parts engaged in unsafe behaviours to cease or redirect these actions
  • Identifying conflict or misunderstanding between parts (for example – which ‘Selves’ have been undermining or causing pain to some of the other ‘Selves’)
  • Repairing relationships and cooperation between all Parts of Self.
  • Reinforcing Self-Leadership skills for the ‘Self’ which needs to be the one in charge of co-ordinating parts. See article on Self-Leadership
  • Updating the role of Parts. How can these Parts perform their function, SAFELY, COOPERATIVELY, and in a manner which SERVES shared goals.

If this approach seems to resonant with you and your therapy goals, please book an appointment today with Ainsley Salsbury at the Brisbane Harmony Centre.