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I have a bit of an issue with the term “inner saboteur.”
Because an inner saboteur actually doesn’t exist.
I used to think it did. I used to think my inner “saboteur” was holding me back from taking risks in life—from applying for that new job, from taking the next step with a guy, from moving abroad, from improving my health. And believe me, I would have endless inner wars in my mind with her.
“Why do you want to see me miserable? Why don’t you want good things to happen to me? What do you have against me?”
And one day it responded.
“I have nothing against you. I don’t want to see you miserable, I want to see you happy. And I want good things to happen to you. But first, I need to keep you safe. I need to protect you. Because I really, really love you.”
You see, there is no such thing as self-sabotage. But there is such thing as self-protection. But I get why it feels like it is sabotage. Because it feels like a right pain in the backside. To clarify, self-sabotage is a set of behaviours, thoughts, words, and actions that hold you back from what you want to do in life.
Take for example, you get an amazing job offer. Consciously, you know this job will be good for you. It gives you better pay, and you will be climbing up the ladder in terms of career. But then you may start to get these thoughts…what if I don’t like the job? What if I don’t have the skills for it? What if I fail at it?
Let’s say you end up listening to these thoughts and decide not to take the job. Damn, your inner saboteur just won. Now you fear yourself. Now you distrust yourself. Now you hate yourself. But if you look more deeply, you will see that really this voice is coming from your subconscious and is trying to protect you—from hurt, from failure, from shame. Your inner “saboteur” thinks it is doing all it is doing in your best interest. It might not necessarily be true, but it is speaking from all your past experiences and wounds.
The girl who is determined to lose weight.
Diana (I’m making these names up) is really determined to lose weight. She has been overweight for many years and wants to feel good about herself and improve her health. However, she has tried hundreds of diets and has worked with a personal trainer and has not gotten any results.
Diana’s inner protector aka saboteur: It’s not safe to lose weight. Your sister was always jealous of you when you were younger. You were the pretty one and that didn’t make her very happy. She even cut your hair off once because you had prettier hair than her. If you lose weight, you will be the “pretty” one again, and that will really piss her off. It’s safer to be overweight.
The boy who wants to stop procrastinating
Lucas has always been a great student but has trouble finishing or even starting tasks. He wants to become more proactive in all his tasks especially when it comes to work.
Lucas’ inner protector aka saboteur: There is no point finishing this task because you are a failure anyway. Anything you do is never gonna be good enough, so what’s the point in trying? Dad was never impressed with all your top grades in school; in fact, he was never impressed with anything. Just give up; it’s better to stay small and avoid criticism. Criticism really hurts—you know that.
The woman who wants to be in a long-term relationship again.
Sara feels ready to get into a new relationship. Her last long-term relationship was five years ago and she wants to give it a shot again with a new guy she’s met. He seems great, but she is scared to take the dive.
Sara’s inner protector aka saboteur: He’s a great guy, but so were all the others. And look how they all turned out to be. You really wanna take this risk? You have bad taste in men, remember. And don’t forget how long you spent crying over Ben; you were a total mess. No, you don’t want to go through that pain again. It’s better to keep things as they are.
As I said previously, your inner “saboteur” acts and thinks in a way it thinks will be of best interest to you. It is normal human nature to want to avoid pain, to want to stay safe. So as tempting as it may be, it’s important to not start an inner war with the inner protector. It does not hate you.
So what can we do instead?
Sit with it. See its nature. Have a conversation with it. Ask it what it needs. Feel its pain. Feel it all the way to its core. Feel the worry, the fear, the struggle. Cry with it. Hold its hand. Hug it. Ask it what it needs. Give it words of reassurance. Love it. It is all the hurt parts of you looking out for you.
It is not working against you. It is working for you.