You know that feeling when lots of good things are happening and you wonder when something will go pear-shaped? The worry creeps in… our minds start to find problems where there aren’t any…
For some reason, once the initial celebration or joy has passed, we can feel pretty uncomfortable with life going well.
This is when our frenemy, self-sabotage, comes to visit.
Acts of self-sabotage can be large or small. It might look like binge eating after realising you’ve lost some weight. Like landing your dream job and going home and picking a fight with your partner.
For me, it looked like getting lots of coaching clients and feeling extremely happy and then having a sudden urge to be in a cave with a lot of food and a good internet connection.
It was SO puzzling, for about a day. Then I realised what was going on. Self-sabotage. So what lies behind self-sabotage?
The Upper Limit Problem.
Gay Hendricks coined the term ‘Upper Limit Problem’. He writes ‘each of us has an inner thermostat setting that determines how much love, success and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy’. When we hit that upper limit, we self-sabotage to bring us back down to a level we are comfortable with.
It sounds crazy, but we are often more comfortable with the status quo than something better.
The upper limit is usually set in early childhood, based on the values and beliefs of our families and communities.
It’s time to shine a light on what’s really beneath it all.
There are five key ways that we undermine our successes in relationships, career, health and life in general.
They are all based on false beliefs that feel true.
1. We are fundamentally flawed.
People will find out that we are talentless, annoying, stupid and unlovable. It’s only a matter of time, so let’s not give them a chance.
It’s basically imposter syndrome but throughout any and every aspect of life.
2. We will be abandoned or disloyal to significant others if our lives go really well.
This is the fear that our loved ones will ultimately reject us if we succeed in areas that they have failed in or that they disapprove of.
This fear is built on family rules and guilt.
3. More success, bigger burden.
This belief tells us that the more we succeed in our lives, the bigger burden we will become, which links back to fear of rejection and isolation.
A classic area that comes to mind is success in looking after yourself with food intolerances. For those of us who can’t just eat anything and everything, the more we succeed in self-care, the more we can feel like a burden to those around us.
We all know this one pretty well, especially in Australia with Tall Poppy Syndrome. There is a pretty strong cultural norm – don’t shine too bright or no one will like you. You’ll be insufferable!
But more than that, this belief says that by shining bright you will make others look or feel bad. We react to these thoughts by dimming our lights or by stopping ourselves from enjoying our success too much.
5. Fear of pain and loss.
I’m adding this one to Hendricks’ list, as in some areas of life the transformation that is beckoning us comes tinged with fear about future emotional pain and loss of identity, status, income and relationships.
Fear of pain and loss comes out in people frightened of becoming parents, those undertaking a serious spiritual evolution, wanting to change careers or following other passions that push you from your comfort zone.
Hendricks outlines a range of clues that you are self-sabotaging:
· Blame and criticism;
· Getting sick;
· Hiding significant feelings;
· Not keeping agreements;
· Deflecting (e.g. ignoring compliments).
So what to do?
First off, calm your body and get out of fight, flight or freeze mode. Take 10 deep belly breaths to clear your head and get your hormones humming a happier tune.
Then be in your body. Feel your feet on the floor, bum on the seat. Try to notice one thing you can see, touch, taste, feel and smell.
Next, get curious and engage with what’s going on. Often the easiest way to get to the bottom of things is to talk with someone you trust or to write down what’s going on. Think about the different reasons for self-sabotage and see what clicks in your body or resonates with you ‘it feels true’.
Lastly, accept how your subconscious is trying to protect you, be kind to yourself about it (laugh even!) but don’t believe the fear.
Fear's message is basically, STOP IT!
To paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert - fear will always be in the car with us, but it does not get to choose the radio station or the snacks, it does not get to give directions and most of all, it does NOT get to drive.
So go on, say hi to the fear, love it for it's good intentions and then get back to living the life you want!
If you'd like fantastic one-on-one support in overcoming self-sabotage and living the life you yearn for, drop me a line! email@example.com
Add in the comments what your usual form of sabotage is and how you handle it!
I'd love to journey with you.
P.S. For those of us feeling inspired, it might be time for some old-school tunes and a sing-along. Take it away Bachelor Girl!
Hi, I'm Dr Lara Corr, life coach and researcher in work and wellbeing. I coach successful 30 and 40 somethings who want more fulfilling or bigger careers but doubt themselves and their options. I help them get out of their own way, find direction and go for what they really want.