Can we stop talking about self-sabotage now?
Hello! I’m back after my slightly longer than planned break for the school summer holidays. Every year I learn a little more about how to do the mumming & work juggle over the summer, and this year’s lesson is to assume that anything I can’t fit in during the holidays probably won’t resume until a week or so after she’s back at school!
Still it’s the first September in a couple of years where I’ve not been totally burned out and needed weeks of rest before resuming work, so there’s definitely progress in recognising my own pace and being okay with working with it!
Which brings me onto talking onto the whole self-sabotage thing… and I totally see the irony in the title, and then going on to spend a whole post talking about it!
I don’t want to try to count the amount of time I’ve lost in the past decade or so to trying to combat self-sabotage. It was only with a cptsd diagnosis back in 2018 that I started to understand that perhaps this idea of “self-sabotage” wasn’t really helping me at all. It was pitting me against myself, when actually being a friend to myself might have been the better strategy.
The definition of sabotage is to deliberately destroy, damage or obstruct something, especially to gain an advantage. While there might be parts of us that try to stop us from doing things, which other parts of us actually want to get on and do, I just don’t feel like sabotage is a helpful or accurate way to describe what’s going on. When we’re stopping ourselves from doing things we want to do, we’re not trying to get one up on ourselves, we’re more likely to be trying to look after ourselves and keep ourselves safe.
Personally I’ve come to the conclusion that in my case “self-sabotage” is actually a combination of two things - in part it’s me trying to keep myself safe AND in part it’s just what going at my own pace looks like.
Even though I’m now almost five years on from realising that self-sabotage isn’t the way I want to view whatever is going on, the idea of self-sabotage has still repeatedly tripped me up all these years. It’s led me to put so much energy into trying to overcome and fix things that it’s taken me away from just getting on and doing things.
In the past I used to ask myself “What’s stopping me?” with the assumption that the answer was something I needed to change, and that making it “better” would be a fairly quick process. If it turned out it wasn’t actually that quick, then there was yet another thing for me to work on. Why couldn’t I just fix this stuff and fix it quickly?
These days I ask myself “What’s stopping me?” being far more open to the answer possibly being that nothing is actually wrong, it might be that nothing is stopping me at all, it’s just I’m working on something that will take time.
There are times when I am stopping myself from moving forward with something, and the reason for that is because it doesn’t feel safe. Often it feels that way because of a learned response from lifelong conditioning, or because of something related to the trauma I’ve experienced in my life.
However, before I jump into trying to “fix” whatever it is, I need to check whether it’s something I actually want to change. Do I actually want or need to do this thing? Or is it just that I think I “should” be doing it? And if it is something that I do actually want to do, is there a different way of approaching it that feels safer for me?
Only if it’s something that I really want or need to do, and there’s not a way to do it that feels safer, is there a need for change. And even then I try to remember to look for things I can change about what I am trying to do, instead of looking for ways I can change myself. I find the question “How can I do this in a way that feels safe for me?” helpful, while being aware I might need to accept the answer involves doing something much slower than I want to do it. As someone who just wants to get on with stuff, and really struggles with having patience when I just want to be doing the thing, it can be hard accepting I need to give my nervous system and brain some time to recalibrate to being a bit more okay with whatever I’m trying to do.
It might look like doing the thing in a small way, and when that starts feeling okay gradually doing a bit more of it. It often involves allowing myself to change my mind about how I’m approaching it as I go along. Sometimes it means recognising that right now isn’t the time to be tackling it, and that’s okay as well. We all have different circumstances and priorities, and I’m learning that it’s totally okay to not deal with something right now, even if it’s something I’d like to be able to do eventually.
Earlier this year I was reflecting on why I didn’t yet have a regular routine for contacting potential freelance & licensing clients. I had slipped back into the self-sabotage way of thinking about it, assuming there was this big underlying issue I needed to address. However no matter how I dug into it, there were genuinely no issues, fears or blocks around feeling unsafe, fear of rejection or fear of failure.
Whenever an obvious freelance or licensing opportunity comes up I have no issue sending over my portfolio, hoping for a positive response, but it not being a big deal if there isn’t. Sharing my portfolio with potential clients is one thing my nervous system seems to be generally okay with.
Over the years I’ve been assuming that whenever I wasn’t doing something I wanted to be doing it must be because of fear. It’s an assumption I feel like many coaches slip into and push in their work. I didn’t consider that as someone who has always wanted to do far more than I had capacity to do, even before my chronic health issues kicked off, that perhaps it wasn’t fear, maybe I wasn’t doing something due to my current circumstances, priorities and pace.
With this different perspectives, I realised the freelance and licensing outreach was just something I hadn’t yet had the headspace to build in alongside everything else. The combination of being neurodivergent and living with chronic health issues can make the rest of life one hell of a juggle sometimes. I know that it feels like things are working well in my business when I’ve had time to figure out how to do something in a way that works for me, and then get into a rhythm - albeit a very random rhythm most of the time! However I need to do that one thing at a time. Whether that’s my process for designing patterns, how to build and maintain my Spoonflower shop or developing a process for regularly reaching out to clients. Giving myself the time to let it sink in and feel comfortable, before I have the headspace to move on to figuring out the next thing.
(Which, as a very random tangent, explains why I found parenting so hard when my daughter was a baby and toddler, because as soon as you have a vague sense that you know what is going on and how to work with it, it all changes again!)
Until this year I’ve been so easily side-tracked with quick wins, that didn’t end up being quick or being wins (I have a whole other post to share on that one), which meant I hadn’t prioritised building up routines with the core things I wanted to be doing. However, back in January, I set the intention for this year to focus on doing things that were aligned with where I see myself in future. I asked myself what I would want to be doing with my days once I was established and achieving my goals. I’ve spent the past nine months focusing on that, and one thing at a time creating a sense of structure and routine to make those things easier for me to get on and do.
It’s been another moment of reflecting on how conflicting so much coaching advice out there often is. There’s no end of reminders that you can’t do it all at once, that to build something sustainable you need to focus on one thing at a time. Yet, alongside that, you’re told to focus on things that are going to deliver results right now, and if you’re not then clearly it’s some form of self-sabotage that you need to fix. No wonder it feels so hard to know if you’re doing the right thing when there’s always someone a few clicks away ready to tell you that whichever way you’re approaching things, you’re doing it wrong.
What if instead of self-sabotaging you’re just going at your own pace? Yes freelance & licensing is what I want to be doing, but I want that to be built on a solid foundation of other things. What is that’s a totally valid decision? What if it is just that it’s going to take time?
It feels worth mentioning that going at your own pace isn’t the same as getting stuck in the perfectionism trap. With perfectionism you’re paralysed by things needing to be right and ready so don’t do anything, or you are taking action on things that feel safe & comfortable, yet aren’t actually going to get you where you want to be. It can come up for completely understandable underlying reasons, and sometimes we don’t even realise we’re in it.
Going at my own pace so very often feels like I’m doing things, but the pace I’m able to do them is frustratingly slow, and it can also feel like next to nothing is happening as a result. There are sometimes moments within it all that I feel like something is going to be the tipping point into a bit more momentum, a bit more income, but instead there’s just crickets. With going at your own pace you know that what you are doing is something you need to do to get where you want to be in future, even if it seems like it isn’t getting you anywhere fast right now.
Within yourself you can probably feel the difference between perfectionism, where you’re not doing the things that are actually going to help you get where you want to go, and the feeling of doing something that is contributing to your future but it’s frustratingly slow. If it’s perfectionism there’s a good chance it’s at least partially rooted in wanting to keep yourself safe, and so that’s a good place to start exploring what’s going on.
Either way - whether you’re trying to keep yourself safe, or you’re just figuring out how to do something at your own pace, you’ll find questions to journal on around that in the reflection & journaling questions section below.
I look back and can only imagine where I’d be now if I’d stopped trying to tackle “self-sabotage” a lot sooner. However I’m not about to wallow in regret - now I know better I am doing better, and that doing better is translating into progress. However slow that might be, it’s far better than putting my energy into fixing problems that didn’t exist to start with!
Do you have any thoughts on this post? Share them in the comments below
Thank you for reading this post - below you’ll find related Reflection & Journalling Prompts if you’d like to dig into it all some more.
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Reflections & Journalling Prompts
As much as I hope you find something in my writing that you resonate with, it's always going to be from the perspective of my experience. At the end of some of my posts I'll leave some reflection questions if you'd like to start digging into your own experiences related to whatever I've been chatting about.
These prompts aren't about you trying to fix yourself or be “better” than how you are now. They are intended to help you listen to yourself more, and from that place perhaps make changes that help you work, and live your life, in a way that feels more you. Take whatever feels helpful for you and leave the rest.
They also don't negate the challenges & oppression that you might experience in your every day. It’s important to acknowledge and validate what can make your day-to-day more difficult, and that some things are not within your control or capacity to change and make better.
These questions are for you to reflect & journal in private - however if you would like to share your thoughts please do leave your comments below
Q - What is something you want or need to do that you’re not doing right now?
Exploring it from a FEELING SAFE perspective
Does doing it feel uncomfortable, scary or unsafe in any way? (If not take a look at the reflection questions for going at your own pace)
If it feels scary or unsafe, what about it feels uncomfortable, scary or unsafe? (Is it the action of doing the thing itself? Is it what might happen as a result?)
Is it something that I WANT or NEED to do? Or is it something I think I SHOULD be doing?
Is there the option to not do it? How would that feel? What would be the consequences?
If you do want/need to do it…
If there were no limitations what other ways would there be of doing it? Do any of those feel safer to you?
If there’s not an alternate way to do it that feels safe, what’s one really small step towards it that you could take which would feel doable right now?
Exploring it from a GOING AT YOUR OWN PACE perspective
Why is important for you to do it right now?
How would you approach it if you knew it was okay for it to happen slowly?
How would you do it if you were doing it in a way that was easiest for you?
If you broke it down into individual actions, what is the first thing you need to do?
How does doing it compare as a priority to other things you’ve got going on?
If it is a priority, what other things are you doing that you could put to one side, or do less of, to make more time and headspace for it?
Reflecting on all your answers to the questions above - describe what doing it at your own pace looks like and what is the one thing you’re going to focus on doing next?