the insidious nature of self-sabotage

photo by Jennifer Santaniello

hang tight — this is a long-winder post below! don’t get lost…

self-sabotage: none of us is a stranger to it. it “happens” differently for each person. and in this regard, talent or intelligence as commodities are actually irrelevant — because the cure for self-sabotage is one thing and one thing only: vulnerability. let me explain.

vulnerability is needed to open ourselves to experience any kind of recognition of authentic self. it strips away the layers of autopilot that cover the authentic self with (false) “protection”. for me, vulnerability means a few things: going to therapy (not easy to look at things that disappoint us about ourselves, rage us about our past or personal injustices, etc), trying new things (even a new exercise like yoga, pilates, marathon running, martial arts, etc.) and meeting new people (when I live nearly full-time in the philosophical and spiritual realms it can be challenging to go and have a “basic” conversation that is outside of my typical flow/verbiage/thought process). for example, I recently had dinner that was comprised of very “normal” conversation with some very corporate people. this was not for work. and when the question came up directed at me which was “so, what kind of hobbies and interests do you have?”, I felt challenged. wow! if this were 20 years ago, I would have had answers, or at least answers that I felt I could give. it’s a very normal question, too. but my challenge was to answer the question without going down some esoteric path that is just still not relatable to many people. if I’m being completely honest, part of me felt like a loser for pausing so long to answer it, but then I later realized that my life is really 99% work and perhaps I need to stretch that 1% where I feel vulnerable. perhaps I have focused too much (or all) of my being on life’s purpose and mission, keeping myself safe in “what I know”, and while I don’t regret a moment of it (it has taken me very far very fast in terms of what I want to contribute to this planet), the fact that that question made me feel vulnerable grabbed my attention to let me know that I have been too much in my comfort zone somehow (even though I feel like my work pushes many comfort zones constantly! if this even makes sense). what I realized is that by accepting feeling vulnerable and not trying to ignore it or cover it up in some way, I can grow — which will keep me further away from self-sabotage. and I will explain how.

when we are focused on growth, prompted only by acceptance of vulnerability, we are OCCUPIED; the unconscious mind that operates on old cassette tapes from prior decades starts to WAKE UP. these cassette tapes are the very unseen/unheard — until after we sabotage ourselves — pattern-repeaters that disrupt us from moving forward in life. when we are occupied because we are expanding, and vulnerability is the KEY, ALWAYS, to expansion, the unconscious mind which is full of bad “safe” patterns gets disrupted. the first way that it gets disrupted is in that the unconscious mind serves to actually help us AVOID vulnerability. so, when we actually walk STRAIGHT into it (vulnerability), we have already started to disrupt that loopty-loop track that it is ingrained in, in order to “protect” the ego/self. yes, whether “good” or “bad”, that unconscious mind and the ego adrenaline that courses alongside its commands actually serve to protect anything that is familiar to us. this obviously creates a huge problem when what is familiar to us is really bad for us. lots of us learned things out of pure survival when we were 1 day old or 7 years old or anything in between or beyond, just to survive. we may not remember these things. in fact, we often DO NOT remember these things — because we were in a state of pure survival! base level survival doesn’t engage in conversation — it just survives. this is why I continue therapy. there are things that have been too dangerous for my mind to remember. but, in order to move toward and THROUGH vulnerability, and into my full expression of myself, I have no choice but to remember. and it’s very chicken and egg, because that very remembrance actually surfaces each time I disrupt the patterned unconscious mind with vulnerability.

we all do it — we “keep ourselves safe” with the things that make us feel safe. it is why many corporate people only socialize with other corporate people. it is why certain socioeconomic brackets only socialize with similar socioeconomic brackets. we are constantly avoiding the unfamiliar, because it is uncomfortable. however, avoiding discomfort and therefore shunning vulnerability which is the only key to actual inner (hence outer) growth is by definition the insidious nature of self-sabotage. I will go into greater nuanced detail with an example or ten from my own life.

I recently had a session with a prior patient named Alexis. she came for my new year pop up dedicated to past patients. I love and adore her so much. her initial session with me was one of my favorites. I mean, I could truly say that nearly every session I have done is my favorite, and I remember each session like it was yesterday. but each is unique unto themselves and Alexis is absolutely unique and special. hence her session which also provoked a piece of me. before we began the table work during her session, we touched base on so many fronts. similar to what I always talk about with people — in terms of what holds them back from moving forward on whichever front, tangible or intangible. I was telling her that the morning of her session, in fact the night before it, I was awoken by a very strong urge — an urge to “take action” around a particular matter involving a group of people. the urge was strong, and there was an element of negativity to it. a number of years ago, I worked with a company that I became gravely disappointed in. I had witnessed extensive abuse of helpless persons, and I was horrified — at the time, I took immediate action, reported it, documented everything, and did all that I could. though I took all of the action that I could, I have been awoken over the years to traumatic memories of this experience. each time this happens, I have to ask myself the same question again: did I do all that I could? the answer is always yes. however on the day that I was to see Alexis, I was awoken with rage and pain over what I had experienced with this company a number of years ago. the feelings were so intense, that I actually woke up with the intention to somehow expose this company. my mind was extremely occupied with this seeming guidance to act. the intention seemed and felt so very loud, and I was having a hard time rationalizing “where” this drive was coming from. was it an actual intention? or was it something else? what I would later ask myself, — the most important question perhaps — was, “is this my unconscious mind bringing me self-sabotage? to distract me from the positive things in my life? is this an old pattern somehow?”. the reason that I did not INITIALLY — as in the morning of this “insight” — ask myself whether it was self-sabotage, is because I could not tie it to anything. in the past, self-sabotage occurred for me (or so I thought) only AFTER something wonderful happened in my life. let me explain my personal patterns of self-sabotage (as well as an example of a former patient’s personal pattern of self-sabotage) first, to give you an idea as to particulars and “format” of my self-sabotage —

as I said earlier, self-sabotage is created for us and resides in the unconscious mind, and is simply an attempt to REPEAT patterning that we survived upon. whether that was a “good” or a “bad” thing. for me personally, since I could ever remember, life began and went like this: every single birthday, holiday, award ceremony (I was an accomplished athlete as a young person), play, job interview, first date, graduation or otherwise should-be “celebrated” event in my life was completely destroyed in the most horrendous way (each and every time, right up until January 2017, in fact — at which point I was then already doing it “to myself” after the onset of my adult years on bizarre auto-pilot “self-protective” patterning). it was destroyed with physical and emotional and psychological trauma/abuse, danger, punishment and rage from those who were supposed to take care of me. there are too many examples to give, and I will give a few, but in short, I was never ever allowed to celebrate myself. in fact, my life depended upon NOT celebrating myself or achieving anything. so over time, I learned how to damage any potential opportunity for myself — not because I wanted to or was even conscious of doing so, but because my body and mind (unconsciously and sometimes consciously), from a pure adrenal and survival based level, equated personal achievement or celebration with pure danger or destruction.

brief examples: I do not remember one holiday or birthday of mine during which, immediately before, during or immediately after, I was not a hysterical mess/in tears/punished (often sadistically) for some reason. the reasons eclipse me, because usually there were none. the hypervigilance of knowing that anything positive or special would be met with consequences is still in my body, and I work to shake it out. I won’t go down the rabbit hole of digression with who/why in terms of how this happened. but I was always a mess during said “special” times. nearly all of my first days of school each fall, including most notably with actual clear memory my sophomore year in high school, were met with a red and swollen face because I had been crying for hours endlessly and I was completely sleep deprived. this is how I was supposed to start my first day at school. the shame and humiliation I felt all around was unchartered. it was worse than having special holidays or birthdays met with the same, because at least with those I knew everyone in the room or I could hide from people. the first job interview I ever had when I was 15, the person driving me there was drunk and swerving all over the road. I hopped out of the car briefly, but got back in because I felt guilty for the person who was committing the crime (this is how brainwashing works). when I got to the interview, I was totally spaced out, again red-faced with tears, obviously because I was traumatized. somehow I got the job (because someone close to me knew the hiring manager). ironically (or not), the very last day of this job, which was just 3 short months later, the person who drove me home from it was completely intoxicated again, and I once again feared for my life while in a car. it was almost too perfectly fit around my first job, which, by the way, I was fired from. why was I fired? well, perhaps everything in my body said “ruin this — ruin this”, based on the very loud messages I had received prior, even on my way to the actual interview. not consciously, of course, was my experience of ruining this opportunity ahead of me. I simply seemed to follow — like a robot — the meridian lines of my body and mind. I recall leaving that job in the middle of the day to go explore another part of the location’s grounds with someone who worked in another department. I didn’t let anyone know, I just went, and when I came back I was fired for doing so. I was living up to all that I was “trained” to do, and I did not realize that at the time. other examples; my very first boyfriend at 15. I cared for him. a whole lot. more than I would for anyone else for years. he felt the same. while immersed in the chaos of my home and training ground at that time, I overtly sabotaged that relationship. I hung up on him repeatedly via phone, I acted crazy when he was driving us, taking the steering wheel and swerving us off the road for “fun”, and I ignored his offering of love and a deeper relationship. of course he stopped wanting to see me. this left me heartbroken for 2 years, and I could not date for those 2 years. in high school I was approached by a photographer for quality modeling and head shots, which would have given me work. I instead gave the opportunity to a friend. that same month, I was offered a day-time runway job by a NYC agency that would have paid my car insurance and other bills I was responsible for. I never showed up for the run-through. I felt too guilty since it was clearly not ME my parents were pushing to be the model, but rather my sibling. I recall being filled with shame and humiliation as the director of this agency was trying to hire me the last time I went in. I felt inherently afraid of achieving anything, making money, or shining. when it came time to apply for colleges, I didn’t care if I went or not. but it was in my upbringing that I would go, and I was lucky to go. but because I didn’t care about a future or plan for one, I was totally blase about applying for college. I randomly applied for the first two that were suggested to me, and bypassed a number of schools or other routes that would have been great opportunities for me. to boot, I barely attended class in high school, was voted most least likely to be seen, and I almost never studied. I acted like an airhead in school (the opposite of what I was) to satisfy my fear of ever being credited with respect or achievement. again — I was following some subconscious protocol. highschool graduation itself was a drama, focused 100% on others and their drama, not me. I ended the night in raging tears, as I would my college graduation as well — because nothing positive was ever allowed to exist for me without the absolute opposite…hell on earth. there was hell to pay for happiness, and hell to pay for celebration, and hell to pay for anything that took me into who I was to become (my soul’s purpose) — an autonomous being. after college, I took a job out of state and began dating someone back home with serious mental health issues (ok to my credit he seemed fine at the time, at least on paper, but it’s not surprising that I was following what I knew). during my second month on the job, both he and the person who used to drive me drunk to my first job came to visit me. you might guess that I lost my job in the new city. I either showed up late, or had to call in sick too many times, due to the drama visiting my apartment, which really meant I could not “show up” for myself or others. my past could not escape me, or I could not escape it. you get the picture — anything good that was ever on the table for me was a massive threat to all that I had known: ruining good times and good opportunities for myself was deeply rooted. my association with anything good was simply danger. fast forward —

I spent years underachieving as a result, but perhaps more concerning, self-sabotaging around very specific subjects: accolades, recognition and opportunity. or base level growth. the “how” in my case, is specific and I have outlined it here. and yes, it is devastating and irritates my skin even while writing about it. but the thing is, we each have this — in one form or another. maybe not in my form. but thematically, on a chemical level at least, it is all the same. I’m not suggesting that we were all encouraged to self-destruct in the face of what should be welcomed and celebrated, like I was. but, we have each received some kind of message of LIMITATION in order to survive. whether it was from a social group, society, TV, our neighbor, our family, or otherwise. I know that we all have this, because I see it over and over in my practice, with some of the most successful people on our planet!

for example. John Doe works for an incredible company. he makes millions of dollars. he had a relatively stable home life as a child. however, as some do, he had a relationship with his father that he did not believe impacted him negatively (until he discovered his self-sabotage in his own work, via our session together) when it actually did. John is a top producer at a major firm. however, he feels a constant fear of failure around losing money for the company. since he is very smart and well-liked, he never loses his job, but he lives in a constant state of fear around “letting his boss down”, and never quite makes it to the “next level” with the company. he realizes that in order to go to the next level, he can’t feel this feeling anymore. but where does it come from? we can’t change it unless we can find it. the same way I have to constantly make associations between my past and present. in our session, I explain that he is in constant self-sabotage mode, on a daily basis, as an ego adrenaline response to the past. he looks confused. “how?” he says. I illustrate the pattern in which he learned at an extremely young age that his father left the family after the divorce and that he was the cause. John’s constant fear of failure at work is produced actually by his own fear of vulnerability — he has not yet been willing to “go there” and see that he is not actually responsible for the family’s/company’s dynamic. seeing that he is NOT the cause, requires vulnerability, because without it he is otherwise locked in a pattern of survival. this causes a pattern in John where he insists on gripping this fear in his heart at work where he unconsciously blames himself in advance for letting down his boss and company, because he has to repeat an old belief where it was internalized that he is responsible for the fate of a human infrastructure (family). giving up that belief is very scary for John. his inability to see that his childhood family dynamic was NOT his fault is caused by ego adrenaline, because when we are children, we assume responsibility for that which is too complicated to process psychologically. we actually HAVE to assume responsibility, at a young age, for that which we can not process psychologically, or otherwise risk annihilation (death) of the ego because it feels too unsafe. death of the ego actually mimics death of the physical body — it is that primal. this is a very insidious process. John is still doing this old cassette tape playing at work, because letting go of responsibility is just “too risky” to the part of the mind that is committed to it. just like it was for me. because we could not control it. and so we had to commit to it as our own. and now we are just hitting repeat with anything that resembles that experience. so, as we sit in our healing session, we discuss what the trade-off might be associated with, with ending this self-sabotage aka ego adrenaline coursing from the unconscious mind. if John is to let go of this, and he stops worrying about losing the company millions of dollars, and instead says “fuck it” and loses the company millions of dollars and is “ok” because he can finally admit that it is not his fault (i.e. his father leaving the family was not his fault), then his boss fails to become his father and he can effectively “give up” this old conditioned pattern. and he can make it to the next level. and so with my CBT method and conversation, we fix this together, and John shatters his own glass ceiling.

the above is a basic example. it illustrates what the mind does in response to stimuli that mimics an old experience. but what about this — what about self-sabotage that occurs in the ABSENCE of any tangible stimuli? this takes me right back to explaining my recent session with Alexis. when I woke up the morning of her session, and I had such a strong “intuition” to put my energy into exposing (again, just on a more public level this time, which would bring negative attention my way — quite the old pattern indeed) a company that I experienced as having corruption, for the first time I paused before taking action around such a thing. I then had a novel idea, which I shared in Alexis’s session: what if, for the first time in my life, my impulse or compulsion in response to stimuli was actually taking place BEFORE the stimuli? so in my case, the stimuli as I expressed was/is anything that is positive/loving/notable in my life, typically centered around achievement. what if, this time, I was feeling the impulse or compulsion in direct ADVANCE response to what was COMING my way? I quickly considered the fact that perhaps our brainwaves and natural intuition is so strong, akin to a dog sniffing a tornado, that this time I was picking up on something wonderful coming my way and ruining it in advance. wow. what was I to do next? first, I was to pause. just pause. and everything about my session with Alexis and what we spoke about with regard to her, validated that need to pause and “just see”. I could hardly believe (but I believe it now!) that perhaps our spidey senses are so strong that we self-sabotage before we even believe that we have had the ability to do so. the next thing I did was sit with the feeling and the SPACE that came with NOT reacting to the impulse, perhaps veiled as guidance, and feel it. do you know what it felt like? it felt glorious. it felt like pure love. it felt exciting. this is the space that was always meant for me before broken furniture was thrown into it by others and I had no control over it. I saw that I didn’t have to throw my own broken furniture into it anymore. it was in that space that I KNEW something incredible was coming my way, and perhaps for the first time ever, I would not be on auto-pilot to damage or ruin it. sure enough, a few days later, an incredible opportunity came my way. one that I won’t ruin. because……..vulnerability…

I won’t ruin it, because I have decided to replace my old cassette tapes with careful, willful vulnerability. instead of following “insight” that has me following up on and walking INTO the grave mistakes and injustices of others, when it is NOT my responsibility to do so, as I was feeling in regard to the company I had that experience with (very similar to my youth, ey?), I have decided to distract my unconscious mind with something new: new things, new people, new places, and the unfamiliar in general. because if I can do this, if I can replace my old comfort of sabotage with vulnerability, the meridian lines around my unconscious mind are re-routed and have to work even harder to stay stuck. but this can not be done if we are not challenging ourselves in order to break up the survival mode of the ego adrenaline and unconscious mind. so this is what I am doing: going to therapy, continuing to make old disappointing connections to my past that liberate me, and challenging myself with the unfamiliar and uncomfortable. even on the most base level. we don’t need to look far to find something that can challenge what we are accustomed to, even on a day to day 3d note (people, places and things). like, how about even taking a new route home from work to change up the familiarity ingrained in the body’s gps? I know that if I can keep this up long enough, and continue to feel vulnerable enough, my patterns won’t get the best of me. because my corrosive patterns will be weaker, and my being will begin to get permission to survive upon something new.

I see self-sabotage with the most talented people on our planet. friends. former friends who were once friends but so poorly sabotaged themselves to the point that I did not want to include their lack of consciousness or strength around being vulnerable in my life anymore. and these are the same people who do not understand why “some people make it, and others do not”. some people make it, not on their talent, and not on their hand-outs — but on their willingness to be vulnerable — over and over again. this can ONLY be found in unfamiliar territory. so, I offer you this question today: what are some of the scariest things you can do in order to diversify your routine? I told you some of mine: venturing out into the great abyss of the more basic and regulated world and immersing myself in it (because hey, my purpose is mainstream, and nothing can get me away from that, not even my unconscious mind), flexing muscles I have not used in a long time, or ever. I have kept myself safe the same way that we all do — by sticking with what I know because it gives me a sense of who I am. but what about who I am NOT? because who I am NOT, any longer, is the person who distracts themselves with other people’s mistakes in order to avoid my own happiness.