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  • Writer's pictureThalien Colenbrander

SELF-SABOTAGE - a losing game

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

I watch you scold yourself for buckling when the going gets tough. For doing that thing…again. You’re pushing forward, but at the same time an invisible hand from deep within is pushing back with equal force. The how-to books on your shelf represent a growing to-do list, not advice you’ve followed. Not consistently, anyway. Who knows, maybe you just suck at following advice. And yet, at times, you feel the craving for change clawing at your very soul.

Could self-sabotage be the name of this prison game? And the shame fuelled by repeatedly doing A when you know you should be doing B, the lock on the door?

Brianna Wiest wrote a brilliant book on self-sabotage called The Mountain Is You: Transforming Self-Sabotage Into Self-Mastery. Her definition:

“Self-sabotage is when you have two co-existing but conflicting desires. One is conscious, one is unconscious. Until you find a way to meet the unconscious, conflicting need, you’re never going to be able to move forward with the conscious one. When you try to muscle through regardless, you make it worse as the fear arising from the unmet unconscious need grows and self sabotages even harder.”

You are repeatedly tripping up, not because you have no willpower. Not because you are weak. If anything, you’re resilient as hell. You’ve thrown yourself under the bus enough times to make a dog whinny, and still you’re reading this, trying to connect the dots. Trying to figure it out. The thing is, if you absolutely knew what you wanted, you would do it. People have done incredible things for millennia. It's not that they have so much more willpower than you. It’s that they have no inner self sabotaging obstacles holding them back.

"Someone with half your IQ is making 10x as you because they aren't smart enough to doubt themselves." — Ed Latimore

So what could all this self-sabotaging be about? In my recovery program for binge-eating, I learned the acronym BINGE. Because I’m Not Good Enough. It struck a painful chord. This negative belief about myself I conjured in early adolescence caused me such anguish, I used food and fretting over weight and diets to dull that pain. It wasn't long before food upgraded into a means to deal with all sort of emotions, from mundane boredom and loneliness to intense frustration, social awkwardness and fear. I was just a teen who didn't know how to help myself in a healthy, sustainable way. And honestly, I had zero incentive because at the time, my disordered eating wasn't my problem it was my solution. And why change a winning formula, right? Lacking the skill to work through emotions in a normal way, I kept resorting to my old fix far into adulthood and still sometimes do. We become what we repeatedly do, and I had become ill-equipped to self-regulate in a normal, healthy way. I was painfully aware of this adding a thick slab of shame-icing to my intricately layered cake of self-defeating practices (it wasn't just food).

Emotions were threatening, overwhelming, unbearable. I wanted control and thought I had it but as it turned out all I ever had was anxiety. The more I retreated by (ab)using food, the lower my tolerance level for discomfort became, my orbit shrinking with every spin of the vicious cycle I was perpetrating. Small = Controllable = Safe. And that was my first priority: to feel safe. Most if not all self-sabotage mechanisms have Safety as the core objective. And oddly enough, suffering, if it's that familiar, home-brewed variety, can feel just about the safest thing we know.

“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.” ― Rumi

Pause here and consider: How does this relate to the obstacle(s) you have set in place to thwart your own path? It may not be food for you, and the repercussions may manifest very differently. But we all have that obstacle, that pattern, that's blocking us in one way and serving us in another. Serving us in our quest to play small, for example, so that we don't take that bold step into the centre of our lives and truly inhabit and own our agency. In her book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles", Marianne Williamson puts it like this:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I don't know about you, but I feel that 'power, glory and light' in my bones, and it often scares the shit out of me.

Can you name your self-generated obstacle? It's liberating even just naming it, to acknowledge its existence. Sometimes we don't even want to admit to ourselves, because we think admitting it automatically means we have to change it. And sometimes we just aren't ready to let it go. And that's OK. I really mean that. This is your life. You get to decide when you're ready. Not because some self-help book said you should 'let go'. Fuck that. There's nothing shameful about holding on to your pain. This pain, while hurting you now, saved you once upon a time. So please, show yourself some mercy. My God, we are just human. So, from my heart to yours, know that you don’t need to do anything right now. You just need to make peace with the truth.

"You don’t need to do anything right now. you just need to make peace with what's true." — Lissa Rankin

When you feel willing to loosen the grip around your pain just a tiny bit, try this. Every time you consistently are running into this block that's holding you back from exploring your potential, ask yourself:

  • Why would I want this struggle?

  • Why am I attached to this struggle?

  • What is it about the things I’m trying to pursue, that part of me doesn’t really want?

  • What am I believing in this moment?

When you start asking those questions, you will find out some truths about these goals. About yourself. And it is the truth that unlocks us. Self-generated obstacles, addictions, bad habits - called it what you will - are created with intent.

So what is your intent, dear one?

If this resonates, you may be interested in joining my Healing Habits Retreat from 21-26 January 2023 in Spain. Together, we'll explore how to relax the grip of self-sabotage and heal the suffering of harmful habits. Sign up before December 15th 2022 and get a €100 discount.

Love, Thalien xx

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Matthijs R Colenbrander
Matthijs R Colenbrander
Nov 23, 2022

When you mention "the glory of God" what is your meaning of God? God as referred to by the various religions, or what?

Thalien Colenbrander
Thalien Colenbrander
Nov 23, 2022
Replying to

Hello :) I don't think Marianne is referring to a religious God in her quote, and neither am I. From a spiritual perspective (one that I support) the word God simply points to the power of life: the intelligence that underlies existence, flows in our every cell and that makes for the interconnected of all things. The 'glory of God' then, is celebrating that inextricable connection and recognizing we have full access to this power (humanity itself being an expression of this power!) to reach our goals. The poet Rumi hits it right on the head with his “You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the ocean in a drop”.

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