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.

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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

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
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
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.

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During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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"We’re pretty sure that when you say no to something it’s because you don’t understand why it’s so important to us. Of course you’ll need to say 'no' sometimes, and if you do, let us know that you understand the importance of whatever it is we’re asking for. It will make your ‘no’ much easier to accept. We need to know that you get it. Listen to what we have to say and ask questions to understand, not to prove us wrong. We’re not trying to control you or manipulate you. Some things might not seem important to you but if we’re asking, they’re really important to us.❤️" 
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#neurodevelopment #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting

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