Sabotage – An Inside Job

I work in clandestine realms. Shadowy and furtive by nature, I orbit in the background, the underbelly of your mind.

You will not see me coming.

I’ve infiltrated the velvet ropes and I have free reign over your unconscious landscape. I roam pathways and corridors that even you don’t know exist.

You cannot hear me coming.

I am suspicious of change and progress. I detonate, undetected, as soon as I feel threatened. I live parasitically inside of you.

You will always be caught flatfooted.

My networks are savvy, tactical, and coordinated.

You will not smell, feel, or anticipate my presence.

I am relentless and I am unpredictable.

This is an inside job.

Do you know who I am?

I am sabotage.

__________________________________________________________________________

Coming to work with me is voluntary. No one is court ordered. You can come and you can go. People show up because they want to. They want to feel better. They want to perform better. They hunger for change.

And yet, for so many of us progress and change is achieved slowly, if at all. Most of the people I work with, be it in therapy or in my consulting business, have had long periods of time stuck in defeating patterns that are not reflective of their effort and desire to achieve change. In fact, nowadays, as I shift increasingly towards working in the realm of performance consulting and positive psychology, people come in with a good deal of information on the topic of peak performance and optimal psychology. They are well read, they listen to all the right podcasts, and they “follow” all the sentinel leaders in this increasingly popular field.  And yet, progress still eludes them.

So the question for me shifted from “how” do we change our behavior to what are the sources of stagnation?  Why can’t we just simply will our way towards change? How come we can’t take a pill and make it all better? How come we can’t “learn” or “study” or “understand” our way towards insight and growth? What’s getting in the way of a more linear progression line?

Universally I have found sabotage at the epicenter of this disconnect between desire for change and our ability to make it happen. Our patterns of sabotage impact our ability to leverage our suffering, to use friction to achieve lasting behavioral changes and emotional shifts. Sabotage keeps us orbiting endlessly around self-defeating dynamics. We can’t outrun it. We can’t trick it. The fix isn’t downloadable. There is no app to hack it. This is an inside job.

Sabotage is a universal human trend. It doesn’t matter if you work with me in therapy, consulting, or other venues of self-examination, sabotage is one of the primary dynamics we will observe. It is at the core of a lot of the self-defeating, self-limiting aspects of our behavior. Addiction, relationship problems, business performance, anxiety fueled processes, enabling, co-dependence, and a lot of the personality disorders I see in my line of work are all fueled by aspects of sabotage. With sabotage, it’s you against you.

Sabotage, while its impact is enormous, it is always stealth. Sabotage operates unconsciously. It is subtle by design, that’s how it gains traction in your life.  Sabotage doesn’t announce its arrival.  There is no Jaws music playing in the background as sabotage spreads itself out over your psyche’. And here’s the other thing, sabotage is unique in each person. That’s why you can’t hack it. It’s too diverse, too unique, like a fingerprint. You can’t copy or mimick your way out of sabotaging patterns. 

But it’s there. And we can find it if we know what to look for. We can cast light on the feelings, behaviors, and thoughts that fuel a quiet riot of your mind. Like I said, sabotage doesn’t announce its arrival. It hacks your motherboard quietly, painlessly, while you are sleeping. It is both patient and has a hairpin trigger. It’s highly adaptive and prone to shape shift. Sabotage, like fear, often appears in those pockets of our ego where we are most wedded. Part of its warfare is that you cannot actually find the source of your own ruin. Until you uncover your covert patterns of sabotage, your demise will eternally be an inside job.

Sabotage is so effective that it is part in parcel of your greatest strength(s). They are woven together, bonded as a pair. This is one of the ways it operates unconsciously; it hides in broad day light, tucked on the underbelly of your personality assets. You aren’t looking for it because to do so would mean to begin to examine even those aspects of your psychology that “work” for you. Most people don’t willingly do this kind of analysis. A lot of people live by the motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Rarely has someone walked into my office requesting to examine his or her sabotaging patterns. Most people come in looking to “feel better” and maybe to address some specific symptom, let’s say anxiety. What they don’t realize yet is most psychiatric symptoms are, at the core, merely a byproduct of much more complex psychological and neurobiological phenomena. My experience has been that deeply unconscious and firmly rooted patterns of sabotage are routinely at the epicenter of what infringes on our ability to make lasting changes in our lives.

I know. I know. You are thinking, as you always do, so what now? What can I do to “fix” these dynamics?

Trust me when I say this, I wish I was the kind of shrink who could give you a 5 step process, a to-do list, that would yield the results we are looking for. I wish I believed in those kinds of approaches, the ones that outline a few nicely organized steps you can take to change your behavior. Viola, it’s all better.

But I am not and I do not have that for you. Again.

What I can offer is what I have done from the start on this site; I can offer you an opportunity to become still and steady inside yourself. Learn how to just simply be present in your own skin and bones. No phones, no apps, no ipad, no tv, no music, no sound. Nothing. Just start to become comfortable in the discomfort of stillness.  You can call this mindfulness, meditation, etc. etc. I don’t have a horse in that race. What you call it is irrelevant as long as you do it.

Do this every day for 90 days. Attempt to do 10-30 minutes.

Break it up.

Do it all at once.

Dealer’s choice.

But do it.

As always please don’t try to “find” the time.

It’s not lost.

You must create the time.

And here’s the thing, do it especially when you least want to. Stay in it when it’s hard. That’s the early indications of feelings and emotions that will give us “data” for our work together. Those feelings, the ones that make it uncomfortable to sit still, the ones that make you cringe, that make you reach for the phone, grab the drink, light up the joint, search social media, all those behaviors are fueled by a psychological process. We need to get “under the hood” of those feelings and to do so, you must first create the ability to simply be still and observe your interior world. This is where you get really clear and really honest about your own bullshit, the ways in which you stunt your own progress. I repeat, this is an inside job.

Trust me, I know this is hard. I know it is easier to close this blog out and go back to the ones with those neat and tidy lists. I am more human than otherwise. I suffer from all the same self-limiting and self-defeating crap that plague our specie. I’m no guru, trust me.

But the truth is that just this task, the request for you to be still in your own skin and bones, will bring you to your knees. It’s the hardest thing I have ever asked of my clients. It is the one thing that every single person resists. And yet, it is the only thing that truly yields results. Without this muscle, all other efforts toward change will be moot.

After the 90 days, if you are still interested, genuinely curious about how and where you sabotage your own growth, call me. Or call someone in my line of work. That’s when you’ll know you are ready.


About the Author: Dr Sarah Sarkis

Sarah is a licensed psychologist living in Honolulu, Hawaii. Originally hailing from Boston Mass, she has a private practice where she works with adults in long-term insight oriented therapy. She works from an existential psychology vantage point where she encourages her patients to “stay present even in the storm.”  She believes herself to be an explorer of the psyche and she will encourage you to be curious about the journey rather than the destination.  She emphasizes collaboration, partnership, and personal empowerment.

She approaches psychological wellness from a holistic and integrative perspective. Her therapeutic style is based on an integrative approach to wellness, where she blends her strong psychodynamic and insight oriented training with more traditionally behavioral and/or mind/body techniques to help clients foster insight, change and growth. She has studied extensively the use of mindfulness, functional medicine, hormones, and how food, medicine and mood are interconnected.  Her influences include Dr.’s Hyman, Benson, Kabat-Zinn and Gordon, as well as Tara Brach, Brene’ Brown, Irvin Yalom and Bruce Springsteen to name only a few.

Please visit her website at Dr SarahSarkis.com and check out her blog, The Padded Room

3 Comments

Jenny/Shiroe

I really like this article. I am a student who just started my Bachelors’ (I have my Associate’s) but I am also 43 and well-studied in what I term “spiritual psychology.” The kind of practice Dr. Sarkis writes about is the kind of practice I would like to have when I finish my degrees.

Reply
Sue F

I did bring me to my knees but if I hadn’t done anything about it a few years ago I would still be the blubbering, people pleasing, co-dependent person that I had been. It’s hard to look at yourself, to really look at yourself but I had got to the stage where I just didn’t know who I was anymore. I felt like a puppet and somebody else was pulling my strings. I had no boundaries, I could not say NO to people and I felt like a doormat. Lots of reading and research about my family of origin. I was curious as to the why’s. The first book I read was “Whose Pulling Your Strings” by Dr Harriet Braiker. Game changing for me.

Reply
Rob S

Wow !!! This will go down as one of those ‘reads’ that is actually more beneficial than anything I’ve previously read. I can so relate to the Sabotage thing, but like most people fail to understand how it ‘lives’ within our psyche. This explanation was brilliant. Thank you.

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This