We sometime wonder why we keep getting into the same troubles or have problems in changing our behaviors. This is a complex issue requiring that you take time to examine your behaviors in different settings.

Self Sabotage happens when we try to come up with solutions using an “incomplete formula”: Our frantic attempts to change our past, how we talk to ourselves, and the childhood roles we unconsciously live by.

Freud and the Repetition Complex

Sigmund Freud talked about how we make efforts to solve past unresolved problems. In our efforts to find solutions, we tend to “repeat the past with the same mistake” in hopes that we can solve/resolve it. Others, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, call this “the definition of insanity” – an attempt to do the same thing over and over again, faster and faster, with the same result and no solution.

We get stuck in a cycle that is an attempt to change our personal history, but little progress is made in doing this because we continue to do the same things. Creative attempts to do things differently are avoided in favor of the “tried and true.” This compulsion becomes almost addictive, insuring the continuation of the same cycle and the same behaviors.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

We all have stories that we tell ourselves which help to navigate the future. We develop these stories early in life, modifying them along the way, about how we will live our lives. These stories give us direction and help to guide us through life.

  • If our stories are positive and optimistic, we have good feelings about ourselves.
  • If our stories are negative and pessimistic, without hope, then we end up feeling depressed.
  • If our stories are ones which portray a lack of belief in success, then we end up stopping ourselves from being successful.

Our Childhood Family Roles

Although we do not usually think about it, how we “fit” into our family shaped our approach to life. Each child in a family relates to each other differently even though they may not know it. Some of these role we assumed as children in our family include:

  • The responsible child
  • The peacemaker
  • The lost child
  • The family mascot
  • The helpless child
  • The baby of the family
  • The spoiled child
  • The parent to the parents
  • The servant
  • The shy child

Roles are many times “quietly assigned” in the family to each child. At other times the family will “inform” a member of “what they think of him or her” in negative terms. This then becomes “the way one perceives themselves in life.”

These roles shape how we relate to others, to mates, and to peers. They also unconsciously shape our identity about ourselves. We carry these roles with us into the future, even though we are not always conscious of how we have been shaped by our early years.

How Self-Sabotage Works

Self-Sabotage is something that happens when we are working hard for something that we want out of life, but our childhood roles are still calling the shots. This unconscious way of handling and reacting to life ends up interfering in our goals in a grand and unexpected way.

We work hard to accomplish all that we can, only to “blow it all up” just as we are about to reach the end. This can be something we’ve been working towards for a long time (e.g., going to college, only to drop out with just one year left) or just beginning to grasp (e.g., starting therapy to change one’s life, only to start forgetting appointments and to ultimately avoid going all-together).

The common theme is that we are “doing well” until we actually gain momentum towards achieving our most important goal. This Success-Fear Syndrome is tightly related to our childhood roles. We either end up fulfilling the ultimate call of our “childhood role”, or we stage a revolt and take a stand against being stuck in our childhood role for so long. Either way, we end up sabotaging the very results we are working so hard to achieve.

Being aware of this pattern is the first step. You can’t change what you don’t recognize. At the same time, you can’t judge it, otherwise you will short-circuit your progress. Notice, identify and label – no more, no less – until you get the hang of it. Change comes later; practice and identification first.


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