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  • Writer's pictureDayna Sharp, LCSW

Self Sabotage

Self sabotage is an unfortunate pattern of holding yourself back from your goals. Some people may stop themselves before they can really even try. For others, when they get oh so close to meeting their goals, they may do something to disrupt their progress. It can be hard for anyone to follow through with their goals. But why would anyone do such a thing intentionally?

Self sabotage: What is it? Why do we do it? How do we stop? Read on to find out!

What's Behind Self Sabotage?

Most commonly, fear and self-doubt lurk are lurking behind attempts at self sabotage. Sprinkle a dash of perfectionism, a little "black and white thinking", and you have a perfect recipe.

The most important thing to realize about self sabotage is that there's a part of your mind that really wants to achieve a particular goal. But there is another part, one that you might not even be aware of, that is very scared to achieve that goal. A great way to understand self sabotage is through the lens of Internal Family Systems, a therapeutic modality designed by Richard Schwartz.

The Internal Family System: Exiles

The theory goes that when we are alone with too much feeling that we don't know how to cope with, we kind of cut that feeling off. So we might grow up with an "exile"--born in childhood--that holds powerfully distressful feelings and carries the burdens of unrealistic explanations that were created in attempt to make sense of the world around us when we were too young to realistically understand it.

If our parents weren't available to us--maybe there was a high conflict divorce, or substance abuse, for example, a child is likely to believe that the stress in the home was their fault, that they themselves have somehow failed at getting their parents love, support and attention. In such an instance, this part may have been exiled, or cut off, so that the child and later adult, can live their lives without the pain that the exile carries.

The Internal Family System: Protectors

In addition to the Exiles, we also have parts that were created to protect us. Schwartz likens the protective parts to "Fire fighters"--they sweep in when the pain of the Exiles is at risk of being felt. "Fire fighters"might look like emotional eating, drinking alcohol and other substance use; they could look like anger or aggression. Whatever specific strategy they use, their job is to keep the Exile and its feelings away--in the name of protecting the balance of your Self.


The problem, of course, is that the strategies that your Fire fighters use to protect your system often get in the way of our hopes and dreams. The parts of your mind are at odds with one another--there is no real balance, because your Self is in a state of fear and protection.

Hopes and dreams may in fact trigger the pain of the exile--a Fear of failure, of unworthiness, of incompetence, of being alone...When these kinds of fears are triggered, our protectors, the "Fire fighters" jump in automatically--saving us from the feelings, but ultimately sabotaging our hopes, confirming the very burdens that our Exile holds.

How to Stop Self Sabotaging

Sometimes patterns of self sabotage are obvious, and other times, they are hard to recognize. Working with a good therapist can help you to recognize patterns of self sabotage and to understand them, so that you can end the cycle. This is what the work may look like:

Getting to know your sabotaging part:

What does it want to say?

In what circumstances does it come around?

Is there anything that happens in your body just before it comes around?

Is it trying to protect you? Can you practice gratitude for its work?

What is it protecting you from?

Getting to know your Exiles:

What do they want to say?

Can you comfort that part of you? Find compassion for it?

Unburden it--free it from the unrealistic sense it made way back then?

Cultivating a balance between the parts of yourself.

Recognizing the dreads that may come along with the hopes--and sitting with them.

Ending Patterns of Self Sabotage Can't Happen By Yourself

Like most change and growth, healing from patterns of self sabotage happens in the context of a trusted relationship. Getting to know your different parts of yourself requires a sense of nonjudgmental curiosity and a good therapist can help you to cultivate just that! At Creating Space Counseling and Wellness, you will discover a therapeutic relationship that you can count on, feel safe in, to explore all the parts of yourself...and to grow strong enough to reach your goals and fulfill your dreams.

Call today to get started! 856-281-1664


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