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“Sometimes we self-sabotage just when things seem to be going smoothly. Perhaps this is a way to express our fear about whether it is okay for us to have a better life.” ~Maureen Brady
Have you ever decided to try something new—like getting into a new relationship or doing something that would help you experience success in your career/mission or offer you more vibrant health and well-being—and you were able to follow through for a bit, but then you stopped? Was this self-sabotage? Was it procrastination?
Did you know that self-sabotage and procrastination can be survival mechanisms, and they’re actually our friends? They’re meeting some type of need, and it happens to all of us to a certain degree.
Every behavior we do serves us in one way or another. We self-sabotage and procrastinate for many reasons, and it’s different for everybody; most often it’s coming from a part of us that just wants to feel safe.
The key is working with these parts, not against them, and not trying to get rid of them. When we work with them and integrate them, we experience more energy, and they become a source of great strength and wisdom.
The “symptoms” of self-sabotage and procrastination carry important messages; most often they’re a cry out from our inner child.
Sometimes what we think we want isn’t what we truly want. Self-sabotage and procrastination may be our inner guidance saying, “Hey, I have another way.”
Sometimes we’ve had many disappointments in the past, so our subconscious puts the brakes on and says, “What’s the use, I never win, I always lose.”
If we’re overindulging in alcohol, food, using distracting activities, not doing what we say we want to do, then there’s a reason. The key to healing and shifting that energy patterning is discovering the reasons and what that part of us needs.
We often experience self-sabotage and procrastination when our unconscious needs aren’t being acknowledged or met.
Trying to change the outer and/or push through with positive thinking takes a lot of efforting, and it often wears us out. Why? Because we’re fighting against our own biology, which creates self-doubt, self-judgment, inner conflict, fear, and insecurity. They all play together “on the same team” in that same energy.
Most of our programming was created before we turned seven. This was when we formed our beliefs about who we are, what we deserve and don’t deserve, and how life works.
When we want to experience something new, our subconscious goes into its “memory files” to see if what we want is “safe.” Safety can mean many things—maybe familiarity; or not speaking our truth or sharing our creativity; or using substances, like food, cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol, to numb our feelings and/or keep pain away.
If we’ve had painful experiences in the past that were similar to what we want now, that may be the reason a part of us is procrastinating and/or self-sabotaging. Why? We have a built-in survival system, and when we’ve had a negative/painful experience our protector part will keep that from happening again.
We learn though the law of association, and this gets stored in our subconscious. If, as a child, we put our hand on the stove and got burned, our brain then created neurons that associate a stove with pain, so the next time we got close to a stove we’d remember that pain and we’d be more careful.
Our brain operates the same with physical or emotional pain. The problem is the brain may misinterpret the amount of danger we’re really in by operating on a neuro pattern that’s outdated.
If the experience we want brought us pain in the past or we don’t feel good enough to experience it, we’ll either sabotage it or our brain will provide us with a list of reasons why it won’t happen. (But keep in mind it may not be in your best interest anyway.)
If we found a way to soothe ourselves or find relief through addictions in the past, then we’ll automatically go back to those substances when things seem challenging if we haven’t learned how to comfort ourselves and feel, process, and express our emotions in healthy ways.
When I was a child, my dad constantly told me, “If you don’t do it right, don’t do it at all.” The problem was, in his eyes I never did anything right. He also told me that I wasn’t good enough or smart enough, I would never amount to anything, and I was a selfish human being.
He blamed me for everything that happened, even if it wasn’t my fault, and if I “talked back” or shared how I felt, he either punished me or gave me the silent treatment.
These experiences became my blueprint; I became fearful of myself, everyone, and everything, and this affected me greatly. I ended up disconnecting from my authenticity, and I became a very lost and confused being.
The fear became so strong that if I had a thought about buying myself anything, asking for what I wanted or needed, expressing what I was thinking or feeling, or doing anything self-loving or self-nurturing, I’d self-sabotage, procrastinate, and feel anxiety and a sick feeling in my stomach.
I wasn’t doing this consciously; my subconscious was signaling to me that wanting anything wasn’t safe because I may be punished, abandoned, or even hurt if I did any of these things I mentioned.
As a child I used food for my comfort and safety until age thirteen when I was told to go on a diet and lose weight. At age fifteen I became a full-blown anorexic. Then my new comfort and safety became starving myself and exercising all day,
From that point on, whenever I was faced with new choices or ways of being, I would push them away. I thought I was dealing with the fear of failure or not doing it right, but it went even deeper; I recognized it was really the fear of being punished, rejected, not loved, and abandoned, and to a child that’s the worst experience.
I was stuck in an internal prison, thinking, “What’s the use of living? If I can’t be me or do anything, why even be in this reality?” This led to almost twenty-three years of self-abuse, suppression, anorexia, anxiety, and depression.
My mom used to say to me, “Debra, you always climb halfway up the mountain, then you stop and climb back down.”
This is what many people do: They stop before they even start, or they start something new and don’t continue to follow through, and this is because of our “emotional glue.” What’s emotional glue? Unresolved issues “buried” in us; it’s where our energy patterning is frozen in time, and it’s from where we’re filtering and dictating our lives.
Most often we don’t even know it’s there, we’re just living in the energy of “I can’t,” “beware,” or “it’s just not fair.” And/or we become judgmental of ourselves because we’re not able to do what we say we want to do.
None of our symptoms are bad or wrong, and neither are we if we’re having them. In fact, “creating them” makes us pretty damn smart human beings; it’s our inner guidance asking for our attention, to notice what’s really going on inside that’s asking for compassion, love, healing, understanding, resolving, integrating, and revising.
When I was struggling with anorexia, self-harming, depression, and anxiety, going to traditional therapy and spending time in numerous hospitals and treatment centers, nothing changed. Why? They were more focused on symptom relief than understanding what was going on inside of me.
I was afraid, I was hurting, I didn’t feel safe in my body, I didn’t feel safe in this reality. I didn’t need to be forced to eat and put on weight, that only triggered my traumas of being teased for being fat and unlovable when I was a child.
I would gain weight in treatment centers and then lose it when I left; some may have called it self-sabotage; I call it survival.
My deep-rooted fear about gaining weight, which meant “If I’m fat, I’ll be abandoned, and no one will love me,” was the driver for most of my life journey. All my focus was on controlling my food and weight.
I was numbing and suppressing; I was existing but not living, I was depressed and anxious. I was running away from life and myself. I didn’t want to feel hurt by those negative things that were said to me, so I stayed away from other human beings.
I didn’t want to face the hurt and pain I was feeling internally, especially the fear of being punished and abandoned again; but really, I was doing this to myself. I was punishing and abandoning myself, but I couldn’t stop the cycle with my conscious thinking.
Self-sabotaging, procrastination, and the anorexia, anxiety, and depression, well, they were my friends, they were keeping me from being punished and abandoned. They were keeping me safe in kind of a backwards way.
I wish I knew then what I know now—that in order to help someone, we can’t force them to change their unhealthy behaviors; we need to be kind and gentle and notice how the symptoms of self-sabotage, procrastination, eating disorders, anxiety, addictions, are depression are serving them.
What’s the underlying cause that’s creating them?
What needs healing/loving, resolving, and revising?
What do we need that we never got from our parents when we were little beings? How can we give this to ourselves today?
When we see our symptoms as catalysts to understanding ourselves better and we integrate internally by giving ourselves what we truly need, we’re able to heal and overcome self-sabotage.
All parts of us are valuable and need to be heard, seen, loved, and accepted unconditionally. Each part has an important message for us.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms I mentioned, please be kind and gentle with yourself. Instead of feeling down on yourself for sabotaging yourself, dig below the surface to understand what you’re really afraid of and how your behavior may feel like safety. When you understand why you’re hurting yourself and holding yourself back, you’ll finally be able to let go of what doesn’t serve you and get what you want and need.
About Debra Mittler
Debra Mittler is a warm and compassionate healer with a unique ability to touch people’s hearts and souls. She enjoys assisting others in loving and accepting themselves unconditionally, feeling at peace in their body, and living authentically. Debra is a leading authority in overcoming obstacles and supports her clients by holding a space of unconditional love and offering encouragement, effective tools, and valuable insights allowing them to experience and listen to their own inner wisdom.