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

Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
⁣
But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
⁣
When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
⁣
But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
⁣
What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
⁣
In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
⁣
#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

Pin It on Pinterest