Untangling Self-Sabotage

Do you ever find yourself engaging in destructive behaviors? Acting against your values for a fleeting night of debauchery or a few extra days in bed – sabotaging yourself? I know I’m not the only one.

Why do we do this? Why, when things are going well for a change, is it natural for us to tip the scales in the other direction?

Maybe we’re used to trauma, to bad things happening, to always having something to struggle through – after a while, pain becomes familiar. It becomes safe, even if it isn’t good. And good things can become scary. Good things can feel too good to be true, and, instead of savoring the golden moments, we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to find out what the catch is, the flaw, the actual reality – because things can’t just be great, can they?

I think they can. I think life can go well, and this doesn’t mean that it’ll all turn to shit eventually. I think, if we practice love and kindness and mindfulness and trust, that we can all live great and beautiful lives. And I think we’re all capable of achieving truly incredible things, solely by being our best selves.

It sounds cheesy or fluffy or fake, right? Like cotton candy that’s way too sweet. It looks nice, and you buy some at the fair, but after two bites you’re tossing it out because you can’t stomach the flavor of pure spun sugar. So you buy a salted pretzel or a sausage on a stick, and you balance out the flavors.

And this is self-sabotage – a sick way of balancing ourselves out. Because some part of us knows how incredible we are, and some part of us is terrified of that, of the greatness that lies latent within us. Of the ways we can change the world, of the pressure and responsibility that comes with such power. So we hurt ourselves, knock ourselves down a peg, placing ourselves in negative relationships, drinking excessively, eating unhealthy foods – whatever your vices, the wicked bit of our subconscious finds a way to balance us out. To keep us from achieving our potential. To keep us safe.

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Because greatness is kinda terrifying. Success, that mythical ideal that the world continually chases, can be scary. Because what happens when you get it? What happens when you realize that success is a state of mind, that you have nothing to chase except your own dreams, and that you can be successful whether you’re a cashier at Burger King or a renowned neurosurgeon? Then you’ve made it. Then you’re happy, right? Then you’re grateful, gracious, loving, calm, clear – able to give from a place of wholeness and light and security, able to truly contribute something positive to the world, something that only you have to offer.

But that seems too good to be true, and we’re all conditioned into skepticism, raised to believe that old women who offer young girls lasting beauty and happiness are only out to get them, out to put them into a deadly slumber and sabotage their dreams of true love. But here’s a twist – maybe the witch in all those Disney movies isn’t a separate character from the princess – maybe she’s the princess’s subconscious. Maybe she’s sabotaging herself, too insecure and afraid of losing the joy and the love and the light and the beauty of the fairytale, so she stops it all before it can come true. Before she can be proven wrong. Before she can have it all.

We know the witch is evil, and we know the story always ends with happily ever after – with the witch being defeated and the princess being saved by an external force, journeying off into the sunset. But this doesn’t feel quite right. Because where’s our example of saving ourselves, and where’s our model for living happily ever after? These things are elusive – even Walt Disney couldn’t portray them. So we’re left wondering what will happen when life goes well, dreaming of happily ever after without knowing what it actually consists of, deluding ourselves into believing that it isn’t happening right now.

But this is it. Your happily ever after is your prerogative. The witch is yours for the defeating. She’s not a foe to be vanquished with a single kiss – no, this battle is lifelong. She will always be there, tempting you away from your joy with exactly the vices you crave. And sometimes she’ll win. And sometimes you’ll win. And the happily ever after comes when you accept all this, when you bring grace to the fight and learn to dance with your witch. And over time you learn the steps by heart, your muscle memory takes over, and it gradually becomes easier, and, while you can’t kick her out of the party, she’ll start to realize that you’re a way better dancer than she is, and that you don’t let her shove you around the way you used to. That she’s lost her power because you’ve found yours.

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I don’t think it ever stops being scary. But maybe that’s the beauty of it, maybe that’s the thrill. So lean in to the fear, lean in to your power, lean in to your potential. Let yourself be great. And have a ball.

Love, calm, & care –

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