Why We Love Self-Sabotage and How to Stop It

french friesFor most of my writing career I’ve struggled spelling names. I had no problem writing Bryan instead of Brian, transposing letters, and even managed to call Chris – Christ.

Sometimes I’d get lucky and get it right. But compared to other words, names have had more than their fair percentage of mistakes. By something like a 1,000 percent…

Knowing that spell check wouldn’t catch the mistakes in names like it did in the rest of my words, I would even go over the text twice, three times, and still not see the mistakes.

Afraid that I did screw up after all, I’d dread for my stories to come out and important people finding a new version of their last name in print. I’d feel horrible, my editor would hit me with a paperweight (no, but close), and then the cycle would start all over again.

Finding creative ways to sabotage yourself is rewarding and exciting. If it’s a midnight run to the fridge for ice cream, it’s screaming at your spouse that you hate their shirt and expecting them to like going out with you. If it’s not painting your toenails before putting the socks on, it’s checking Facebook when you should be working. It’s drinking beer after wine. Now that’s just plain stupid.

Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D.  says that self-sabotage is a form of passive aggression towards self. “In self-sabotage you “act out” internal conflicts by first moving toward a goal–then retreating from it.  “I can do it” is offset by “I can’t do it.” “I want it” is overridden by “No, I don’t want it.” “I deserve it” countermanded by “I don’t deserve it.”

If self-sabotage is your game, you’ll:

–          castigate yourself for shortcomings

–          experience guilt and shame for sins never committed

–          routinely snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

–          let others what you, unconsciously, feel unworthy to accept yourself

It’s the conflict between the child and the adult part of you, where the child brings all the shortcomings of your childhood and programs instilled in your subconscious. Dr. Seltzer recommends to identify what in your past is calling for resolution and to comfort the inner child.

I got to thinking about this and realized that for years, the teacher who taught us how to write also repeated at just about every class that both collectively and individually we were destined for “selling beer at larjok (a free-standing beer stand serving the perpetually drunk).” In other words, we’d never be able to do anything productive.

The most common mark I got was 4/2, where 4 (B) was for contents and 2 (F) for spelling.  So not all was lost on the thought front, but my chances for learning how to mix washing powder into beer to make it more sudsy were still pretty strong.

The good news that the class was every day.  For four years. That was a lot of writing.

So what I experienced as an adult and what became the root of my self-sabotage was probably related to the Imposter Syndrome – a belief that at some point everyone would know that all you’re good for is selling beer.  Compounded with natural sloppiness and a struggle with details, it was magic.

The Imposter Syndrome is when you feel like you’ve really been faking it all along and whatever success you had is due to good connections, blue eyes, plain luck or anything other than your work.

At some point, your true lack of expertise will be exposed, and the more successful you are, the more people will know. That’s a scary thought.  Much easier to sabotage yourself so that you’d never have to go through such stress.

Researchers suggest that the following can help:

–          Redefine competence. You don’t have to know everything but you’re smart enough to find who to ask.

–          If you got a seat at the table, you deserve it.

–          Stop seeing everything as a test. Remember what you bring and enjoy the ride.

–          Talk to your inner child. What is that it is afraid of? Give them comfort and love.

–          Find a way to celebrate your successes without being obnoxious and be sincerely excited for the successes of others.

I still can’t spell names. Maybe it has nothing to do with anything, and I’m just sloppy or dyslexic, or it’s a combo of multiple factors. At some point I just started to cut and paste them from reliable sources, and things got better.

But then I switched to peanut M&M’s and fries, and gained four pounds. Still working on that.


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