The Mountain is You
There is nothing holding you back in life more than yourself. If there is an ongoing gap between where you are and where you want to be—and your efforts to close it are consistently met with your own resistance, pain, and discomfort—self-sabotage is almost always at work.
On the surface, self-sabotage seems masochistic. It appears to be a product of self-hatred, low confidence, or a lack of willpower. In reality, self-sabotage is simply the presence of an unconscious need that is being fulfilled by the self-sabotaging behavior. To overcome this, we must go through a process of deep psychological excavation. We must pinpoint the traumatic event, release unprocessed emotions, find healthier ways to meet our needs, reinvent our self-image, and develop principles such as emotional intelligence and resilience.
It is no small task, and yet it is the work that all of us must do at one point or another.
No Such Thing As Self-Sabotage
It’s impossible to say decisively what self-sabotage does or doesn’t look like, because certain habits and behaviors that can be healthy for one person can be unhealthy in another context.
With that said, there are definitely some specific behaviors and patterns that are typically indicative of self-sabotage, and they usually relate to being aware that there’s a problem in your life, yet feeling the need to perpetuate it regardless. Below, we’ll uncover some of the main signs that you’re probably in a cycle of self-sabotage.
Resistance is what happens when we have a new project that we need to work on and simply can’t bring ourselves to do it. It’s when we get into a great new relationship and then keep bailing on plans. It’s when we get an amazing idea for our business and then feel tension and anger when it comes time to sit down and actually get to work.
Resistance is your way of slowing down and making sure that it’s safe to get attached to something new and important. In other cases, it can also be a warning sign that something isn’t quite right, and you might need to step back and regroup.
Resistance is not the same thing as procrastination or indifference and shouldn’t be treated as such. When we are experiencing resistance, there is always a reason, and we have to pay attention. If we try to force ourselves to perform in the face of resistance, it usually intensifies the feeling, as we are strengthening the internal conflict and triggering the fear that’s holding us back in the first place.
Instead, releasing resistance requires us to refocus. We have to get clear on what we want as well as when and why we want it. We have to identify unconscious beliefs that are preventing us from showing up, and then we have to step back into the work when we feel inspired. Wanting is the entryway to showing up after resistance.
#2 HITTING YOUR UPPER LIMIT
Your upper limit is essentially the amount of “good” that you’re comfortable having in your life. It is your tolerance and threshold for having positive feelings or experiencing positive events.
When you begin to surpass your upper limit, you start to unconsciously sabotage what’s happening in order to bring yourself back to what’s comfortable and familiar. For some people, this manifests physically, often as aches, pains, headaches, or physical tension. For others, it manifests emotionally as resistance, anger, guilt, or fear.
Hitting your upper limit is a really great sign. It means that you’re approaching and surpassing new levels of your life, and that is first and foremost something to congratulate yourself for. The way you resolve an upper-limit problem is by slowly acclimating yourself to your new “normal.”
Instead of shocking yourself into big changes, allow yourself to slowly adjust and adapt. By taking it slow, you are allowing yourself to gradually reinstate a new comfort zone around what you want your life to be. Over time, you gradually shift your baseline to a new standard.
Uprooting happens when someone finds themselves jumping from relationship to relationship or changing their business website again and again, when they really need to focus on confronting relationship issues when they arise or taking care of clients they already have. In uprooting, you are not allowing yourself to blossom; you are only comfortable with the process of sprouting.
It might be constantly needing a “fresh start,” which is often the result of not having healthy ways to deal with stress or struggling with conflict resolution. Uprooting can be a way of diverting attention from the actual problems in your life, as your attention must go toward reestablishing oneself at a new job or in a new town.
First, recognize the pattern. One of the primary symptoms of uprooting is not realizing that one is doing it. Therefore, the most important step is to become aware of what’s happening. Trace back your steps over the past few years: How many places have you moved or worked? Then figure out what is driving you away from each new thing you find.
Next, you need to get clear on what you really want. Sometimes, uprooting occurs because we step too quickly toward what we think we want, only to find that we didn’t think it through and don’t really want that thing very much. Clarity is key, because you’re thinking long-term now. What would it look like to choose one place to live, then build connections there? What would it look like to work at the same place and move up in your position or build your business?
Remember that healing from an uprooting pattern is not about settling for something you don’t want, nor is it about staying in an unsafe or unhealthy situation because you don’t want to move again. It’s about getting clear and determined on what’s the right path for you and then making a plan for how you can thrive, not just survive. When the moment comes that you would typically flee, confront the discomfort and stay where you are. Figure out why you are uncomfortable getting attached to one thing or another, and determine what a healthy attachment would look like for you.
Perfectionism isn’t actually wanting everything to be right. It’s not a good thing. In fact, it is a hindering thing, because it sets up unrealistic expectations about what we are capable of or what the outcomes of our lives could be.
Perfectionism holds us back from showing up and trying, or really doing the important work of our lives. This happens because when we are afraid of failing, or feeling vulnerable, or not being as good as we want others to think we are, we end up avoiding the work that is required to actually become that good.
Don’t worry about doing it well; just do it. Don’t worry about writing a bestseller, just write. Don’t worry about making a Grammy-winning hit, just make music. Don’t worry about failing, just keep showing up and trying. At first, all that matters is that you do what you really want to do. From there, you can learn from your mistakes and over time get to the place where you really want to be.
The truth is that we actually do not accomplish great feats when we are anxious about whether or not what we do will indeed be something impressive and world-changing. We accomplish these sorts of things when we simply show up and allow ourselves to create something meaningful and important to us.
Instead of perfection, focus on progress. Instead of having something done perfectly, focus on just getting it done. From there, you can edit, build, grow, and develop it to exactly what your vision is. But if you don’t get started, you’ll never arrive.
#5 LIMITED EMOTIONAL PROCESSING SKILLS
In life, there are going to be people, situations, and circumstances that are upsetting, infuriating, saddening, and even enraging. There will likewise be people, situations, and circumstances that are inspiring, hopeful, helpful, and truly offer purpose and meaning in your life.
When you are only able to process half of your emotions, you stunt yourself. You start going out of your way to avoid any possible situation that could bring up something frustrating or uncomfortable, because you have no tools to be able to handle that feeling. This means that you start avoiding the very risks and actions that would ultimately change your life for the better.
Healthy emotional processing looks different for everyone but generally involves these steps:
- Get clear on what happened.
- Validate your feelings.
- Determine a course correction.
First, you need to understand why you’re upset or the reason why something is bothering you so much. Without clarity on this, you’ll continue to waste your time mulling over the details without really understanding what’s hurting you so much.
Next, you have to validate how you feel. Recognize that you are not alone; anyone in your situation would probably feel similarly (and does) and that what you feel is absolutely okay. In doing this, you can allow yourself a physical release such as crying, shaking, journaling about what you feel, or talking to a trusted friend.
Once you are clear on what’s wrong and have allowed yourself to fully express the extent of your emotions, you can determine how you will change your behavior or thought process so that you get an outcome that you really want in the future.
#6 JUDGING OTHERS
We all know that gossiping, or judging other people’s lives and choices, is not a healthy or positive way to connect with other people. However, it does far more damage than we realize, as it sets up barriers to our own success. When we set up judgments for others, they become rules that we have to play by, too. By judging others for what we don’t have or because we envy them, we sabotage our own lives far more than we ever really hurt anybody else.
Many people say that you have to love yourself first before you can love others, but really, if you learn to love others, you will learn to love yourself. Practice non-judgment through non-assumption. Instead of reaching a conclusion about a person based on the limited information you have about them, consider that you’re not seeing the whole picture and don’t know the whole story.
When you are more compassionate about other people’s lives, you become more compassionate about your own. When you see someone who has something you want, congratulate them, even if it feels hard at first. It will extend back and open you up to receiving it as well.
Pride is often involved in many of our worst decisions. Sometimes, we know a relationship is wrong, but the shame of leaving seems worse than staying. Sometimes, we start a business and realize we don’t really like it very much or refuse to accept that we need to change or ask for help. In these cases, our pride is getting in the way. We are making decisions based on how we imagine people view our lives, not how they actually are. This is not only inaccurate, but it is also very unhealthy.
To overcome our attachment to pride, we have to start to see ourselves more wholly and honestly. Instead of thinking that we need to prove to everyone around us how perfect and flawless we are, we can imagine ourselves more realistically: as people who, despite our weaknesses, are trying our best. In the end, it looks far worse to hold onto what’s wrong because you care about what others think than it is to let go because that’s what’s right for you. People will respect you far more if you can acknowledge that you are an imperfect person—like everyone else—learning, adapting, and trying your best.
In reaching this mindset, you also open yourself up to learning. By not assuming you know everything or that you need to seem perfect, you can admit when you’re wrong, ask for assistance, and lean on others sometimes. Basically, you open yourself back up to growth, and your life is better for it over the long term.
#8 FEAR OF FAILING
How often do we not even attempt something because we are afraid to look bad or fail immediately?
There is a difference between failing because you are trying something new and daring, and failing because you are not showing up, doing the work, or being responsible for your actions. These are two very different experiences and should be separated in your mind.
As scary as it might be to not be great at something initially, or perhaps even experience a loss, it is even worse to fail by virtue of never trying and always playing small. Failure is inevitable, but you have to make sure it’s happening for the right reasons.
When we fail out of negligence, we take a step back. When we fail because we are attempting new feats, we take one step closer to what will work.
#9 WORRYING ABOUT IRRATIONAL FEARS AND LEAST LIKELY CIRCUMSTANCES
Another very common way that people sabotage without realizing is by preoccupying themselves with fears of worst-case scenarios.
You’re probably familiar with this, at least to some degree: You have a weird or highly unlikely thought that evokes a deep sense of dread, fear, and series of “doomsday” scenarios in your head. You then keep coming back to it to the point that it even controls some part of your life.
Instead of wasting all of your energy trying to control some worst-case scenario, consider what the message of the fear may be and what it is telling you that you need in your life.
If the fear was an abstract metaphor, what would the meaning be? Is the abrupt loss of income a symbol of your desire for security? Is the fear of the future a symbol for not living fully right now? Is the anxiety about making decisions a symbol for knowing what you really want and being too afraid to choose it?
At the core of the things we most fear is a message that we are trying to send ourselves about what we really care about. If we can identify what we want to protect, we can find healthier and more secure ways to do it.