Hello my name is Heidi and if there was an Olympic sport for Self-Sabotage, I’d definitely be a medal contender in the Procrastination category.
There are many different ways we display self-sabotaging behaviour from procrastinating, over-thinking, assuming, avoiding, self-protecting, control-freaking, over-indulging through to self-criticising. Many of these patterns of behaviour stack on top of each other and before long, we’ve created a giant brick wall that we can’t see over and we find ourselves stuck on one side and what we really want in life on the other.
From the outside, somebody else’s self-sabotaging behaviour often seems quite illogical, but once you view it from an inside perspective it often makes perfect sense. I still often find myself hooked like an addict seeking relief reverting to my emotional drug of choice (procrastination) sometimes on a daily basis. Yet I know full well that I can use my self-sabotaging pattern of behaviour as an anaesthetic, a way of seeking relief as a way of numbing out the uncomfortable feeling of fear that lurks within me. But in the light of day, self-sabotaging patterns are a form of emotional self harm.
Whilst they may bring short-term relief to symptoms, over time they create deeply entrenched behaviours and results in our live which can lead to us feeling trapped within a hand-crafted fortress.
So after days, weeks, months (and yes, ok maybe a lifetime of this pattern) I decided to take a good hard look at my procrastination pattern and ask myself the question ‘how does this behaviour benefit me?’ I sat in silence and waited for the answer, with a sick feeling of dread in my stomach. And there it was….I was using procrastination was a protection mechanism against a childhood ghost story, a fear of getting something wrong/feeling stupid/making a bad decision. I held on to the churning emotion in my gut and asked the next question ‘how did I feel as child when I was told I had gotten something wrong/felt stupid/made a bad decision?’ That was an easy answer, what I felt was the emotion of Shame.
Shame is the underlying hook emotion of the sense of self. Its ammunition hides in the negative evaluation of the self, which fuels the self-destructive belief that there is ‘something wrong with me’. I call it as a hook emotion because just like a fish hook it has the ability to snag anything that touches, from a shark through to a shoe.
Shame is one of the most feared of human emotions, because no-one wants to experience those dreadful internal shame sensations ever again. Our incredible mind/body machine learns very early on how to shield itself from these feelings by developing protection behaviours to keep things and people away from our sense of shame. We will literally guard the shame ghost story that is ‘there is something wrong with me’ like our life depends upon it.
This is where things get interesting, because the ghost stories that we create to protect ourselves are the very stories that we then use to sabotage ourselves. When we aren’t aware of our ghost stories, we believe that what we are experiencing is real. So we go through life focusing our attention/energy on events and people who reaffirm our beliefs. We see what we are looking for and we don’t see what we are not looking at.
When we are carrying around a shame ghost story, then we will unconsciously create events in our lives and/or seek out people who will reaffirm our belief that ‘there is something wrong with me’.
Welcome to the crazy exhausting self-sabotage game of Tug of War. A single player game fueled by a ghost story acting at cross-purposes with itself. A single player game of both self-protection and self-destruction. Literally a nonsense game of Tug of War with yourself.
Regardless of whether we perceive that life is going great or we are doing it tough, when the shame ghost’s start shouting that something is in conflict, self-sabotage behaviour then kicks in to keep our life consistent with what we believe it to be. We act to meet our human needs for Significance, Certainty, Variety and Love/Connection regardless of whether our behaviour ultimately brings pain or pleasure to our lives.
So how do you stop yourself from self-sabotaging, regardless of whether you may be using patterns of thinking that result in behaviour like procrastination or using substances like food, alcohol or drugs to anesthetise yourself?
* Firstly, you have to become aware of the fact that you are doing so. Being aware of your own behaviour is the only way that you are start to transform it. Chances are there will be (or have been) people in your life who provide you external feedback (probably feedback that you don’t like very much) on how they see you consistently behaving. One person’s feedback may be just their opinion, but if there is consistency in the feedback or in the events/people that keep showing up in your life, it’s probably worth some internal investigation.
* Once you are aware of what you are doing, then you have a choice. Do you want to struggle to change this behaviour by taking up the Tug of War rope and attempting to defeat yourself by using your ghost stories against yourself? Or would you rather step away from the Tug of War altogether and instead curiously inquire as to where and how your ghost stories are impacting you and play boo with these ghosts instead?
To stop engaging in your own game of Tug of War all you really need to do is explore why your ghosts are telling you to keep hold of the rope. There are always reasons for everything you do and whilst this may take a bit of digging to bring to the surface, once you understand why you do what you do, you can simply let go of the rope and end your own cycle of construction and destruction.
So how today did I play boo with my procrastination creating shame ghost? Well, by kindly acknowledging both its presence and its well meaning intention (to protect me from my own stress/fear) I can then continue walking along the unpaved path of my life journey, one foot in front of the other.