Many of us are guilty of engaging in puzzling patterns of self-sabotage. We are inspired by joy, ambition, passion and ideas that compel us forward, yet we falter, quit, and come up short when it comes time to follow things through to the end. We knowingly and perhaps even unknowingly sabotage ourselves, our relationships, our career pursuits, and our dreams.
But why? Why can’t we do the work? Why do we doubt ourselves? Why do we lose faith and convince ourselves that meaningful and worthwhile pursuits don’t really matter after all?
Carl Jung, famous Swiss psychologist, explained this behavior through the concept of the “shadow aspect” of the personality. Shadows are aspects of the personality outside the realm of consciousness that are usually developed in early childhood. These shadows can be either positive or negative, but it’s the negative ones that often lead us to self-sabotage.
Jung stated that the shadow is prone to instinctive and irrational psychological projection, in which a perceived inferiority leads to critical judgment of ourselves and others, paralyzing indecision, a sense of emptiness, and of course, self-sabotage. The conscious mind becomes a slave to the shadow, and it can often take a great deal of self-awareness, therapy, education, and personal growth to regain control and avoid the process of descent. This descent occurs when a confrontation with the shadow produces a standstill that hinders moral decisions and makes honest convictions ineffective. It’s no wonder so many of us feel stuck and powerless to change.
The best way to overcome these destructive mental obstacles is to come face to face with your shadow. Learn about it, question it, and discover the root of its motives.
For starters, here are 5 of the most common self-sabotaging triggers:
- Unconscious internalization of negative childhood experiences
- Unconscious internalization of harsh judgment from others
- Lack of security
As we go through life, we internalize our experiences and develop knee jerk reactions in response to similar ones. Negative experiences tend to have a more lasting and prominent effect because they bruise the ego and create harmful thought patterns that interfere with our ability to maintain happy, healthy and productive lives.
Now that we’ve been introduced to the shadow self, it’s time to focus on how to keep it at bay.
Challenge your beliefs.
When met with a negative or self-sabotaging belief about yourself or someone else, it’s important that you explore and question it. Ask yourself if it’s really true or if you’ve simply created a thwarted sense of reality.
For example, is it true that you are cursed with bad luck? Is it true that you are not capable of doing a job you were clearly hired to do? Is it true that people are out to get you? Is it true that all the great men and women of the world are taken?
When you challenge the beliefs of the shadow self, they tend to shrink and lose their power over you. Next time you notice a negative thought or belief holding you back, ask yourself if it’s really true. Chances are, it’s merely a demoralization you’ve been feeding yourself.
Be honest with yourself.
After sabotaging something good, we often feel dejected and frustrated with ourselves, yet continue following the same patterns when another opportunity presents itself. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself how this serves you? Are you truly happy letting fear and insecurity run your life? Radical honesty can go a long way on the path to positive change. Imagine what you would say to a friend in the same position as you.
Adjust your expectations.
Expectation is the root of all disappointment, and a sense of entitlement is the root of all discouragement. Having more than a healthy amount of both of these things, as so many of us do, is an exercise in self-sabotage all on its own. When our expectations aren’t met and our ego is bruised, we react by belittling ourselves and adopting feelings of worthlessness.
You’re pretty awesome and deserve a lot of good things, but the world doesn’t revolve around you, nor do the lives of the people you admire. It’s unrealistic to expect a constant stream of love, attention and validation. If you’re struggling to find those things from life and other people, it means you’re not giving them to yourself.
Seek professional help.
Habits are hard to break – plain and simple. The truth of the matter is that there are many things in life we simply can’t do alone. If self-sabotage is driving you to the verge of madness, take the plunge and seek professional help. A certified therapist can help you get unstuck and develop habits that will help you live the happy and fulfilling life you deserve.
See the good.
Life is full of beautiful moments, both subtle and profound. When you have something good going for you, whether it’s an awesome job, a loving partner, or an opportunity of a lifetime, you must cherish it with every fiber of your being. Don’t wait for the other shoe to drop or believe you deserve anything less than what you’re getting. Make it a priority to recognize and question the choices and thought patterns that keep you from enjoying the gifts and opportunities of life. Otherwise, you will sure miss out on a lot.