It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Or is it?
The holidays can bring up joy, gratitude, and love in many of us.
But they can also spur feelings of loneliness, self-loathing, and shame.
A few months ago, I posted a poll on my website’s Facebook page that asked readers if they wanted to hear more more self-love or self-sabotage. The latter acquired significantly more votes.
Why is that?
My hunch is that most people struggle with an element of self-sabotage.
So let’s break down what this really means.
When I’m giving lectures at work, I usually pose these simple prompts:
Raise your hand if you tend to throw a wrench into your life, often without provocation, when everything is going seemingly well.
Almost everyone raises their hands.
And raise your hand if you actually flourish in crisis or chaos.
Again, almost all hands go up.
Thus, proving my point. Most of us, whether we struggle with addiction or not, tend to find more difficulty operating in a place of stability and contentment than we do operating in a place of chaos and drama.
We tend to spend our days waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop. Dr. Brené Brown identifies this as “foreboding joy,” an act that we subconsciously engage in by anticipating something horrible happening instead of allowing ourselves to be grateful and content in the present moment.
So why in the world would we sabotage something good?
It seems counterintuitive, but it actually makes perfect sense.
Self-sabotage, whether we are aware of it or not, enables us to feel a semblance of control.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever ended a relationship for fear of the other person breaking up with you?
Raise your hand if you’ve started an argument because you thought the other person might be mad at you?
Raise your hand if you purposefully didn’t try as hard as you could because the fear of failure was actually less than the fear of the unknown? Of doing well? Of succeeding?
Once again, I have.
I’m currently in the early stages of a relationship. I’m head over heels for him. It’s exciting and fun and terrifying and a bit surreal. Some may call this the honeymoon stage, but I feel like I’ve ripped off my rose-colored lenses long ago.
Also, for the first time potentially ever, I’m not really too invested in what other people think (an actual miracle for someone with as many people-pleasing barriers to authenticity like I had. Thanks, therapy).
I can absolutely spot residual thought patterns in the confines of this relationship;
I don’t deserve happiness, what if it doesn’t last, what if I let myself get hurt again, how can I allow myself to move on from my old life (especially my dog, Bear), what if I haven’t really changed and I keep self-sabotaging, what if he’s too good for me, and what if I’m not enough?
But I’m able to be honest about these thoughts. I’m able to spot them, talk about them with friends, allow him to see my vulnerability, and step through the fear. Leaning directly into the fear, I replace those thoughts with:
I do deserve love. I am just as worthy of love as anyone else. I am a wonderful person and I have so much to offer. If it ends, I will still be okay. I’d rather be vulnerable and authentic now than try to cultivate an inorganic relationship. I am enough. I am whole. I am love. I am light. I am taken care of by the universe.
Holy moly. How quickly that removes the fear.
And when the fear is removed, the urge to throw a bomb into something good is removed.
And I can be present and happy without guilt or shame for feeling love.
Real, raw, uncontaminated love.
If you’re not new to my blog, you’ve read this line again and again:
“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
-The Perks of Being a Wallflower
That means we also accept the job we think we deserve. The friends. The family relations. The salary. The toxicity and gossip. The standards we set for ourselves. The way others treat us.
Essentially, we accept the life we think we deserve.
This is the key to preventing or moving through self-sabotage.
If I truly don’t believe I am deserving or worthy of love, I will sabotage a good thing.
If I feel like an imposter at work, a fraud pretending to get by under the guise of being an adult, I will sabotage my work life.
The secret is not that we need to change our surroundings to meet our needs.
We need to continue to grow into our ideals internally so that we can get it through our stubborn heads that each and every one of us deserves goodness. Deserves love.
When I was in a relationship with my British ex-boyfriend, I had not done this kind of work on myself. I didn’t truly internalize my worth. He was incredible and had infinite love to provide in the relationship. The issue wasn’t him.
After 3 years and almost getting engaged, I shut down emotionally and ended the relationship.
At the same time, I quit my job with nothing lined up.
In hindsight, I can see this self-sabotage as clear as day.
Today, I am grateful for that emotional bottom. I no longer question why it all happened. It led me to take action and grow in the ways I absolutely needed to. It took years of working on self forgiveness and moving through shame and guilt.
But at the time, I felt like I was in a free fall. I couldn’t possibly comprehend why in the hell I would “mess up my whole life" overnight. I was lost, confused, terrified, and numb.
The reality is that I couldn’t accept his love.
I couldn’t accept that I was in a career that would allow me to help others.
I panicked and I ran, both internally and externally.
I picked up my bags and moved to a new town. I realized quickly that moving wouldn’t change anything until I looked internally and did the difficult work of sorting through past pain.
When the urge to self-sabotage rears it's ugly head into my psyche, I can see it for what it is today. I can look directly at it and think, “no thanks.”
Or as Ariana Grande says in her new song, "Thank you, next." (I will forever be a 13-year-old, internally).
Similarly to any addiction, self-sabotage is insidious. It can creep in and hijack our mind, telling us all of the reasons to run. Whether it’s a relationship, a job, a friendship, or any life circumstance.
We need to cultivate change by watering the roots - not watering the leaves, as the Buddhist author Thich Nhat Hanh says.
I have lived so much of my life trying to water the leaves.
To make everything look good on the outside.
To put on enough masks and disguises that no one will know I’m internally lost and afraid.
But that’s not who I am today.
I get to wear my flaws on my sleeve. I get to speak from the heart and be unapologetically myself. I get to let others into my circle with selective vulnerability; keeping that circle small enough that I know I am safe.
We need to forgive ourselves.
We need to love ourselves.
When I asked about self-love vs. self-sabotage, it was somewhat a trick question.
They are inextricably intertwined; one cannot exist without the other.
For me, I can’t truly love myself until I acknowledge my shortcomings. Until I breach the walls that block me from being aware of my self-sabotaging urges. I can't love selective parts of myself. I need to accept and embrace all parts. The destructive part, the rebellious part, the impulsive part, the passionate part, the 13-year-old girl who still loves One Direction part, the therapist, the sponsor, the sponsee, the friend, the girlfriend, the dog-mom (kinda), the introvert, the extrovert, the inner child, the inner adult. All of me.
And I will not act on self-sabotage if I continue to water the roots. If I continue to do this work – which is sometimes fun, sometimes painful, but always beneficial.
Raise your hand if you’re going to self-sabotage today.
Thank you, next.