Sabotaging the Self? Who sabotages whom? Do I sabotage myself? Why would I do that?

To me, Self-sabotage is a misleading term. It makes me almost believe that I help myself down the drain! I can imagine, though, how the term came in existence, because to the observer it looks as if I purposely do something that doesn’t serve me, perhaps even harms me. What happens is that something subconscious within the Substitute-Sense-of-Self-oriented System, within my ownPsyche, negatively affects the Quality of Life-level of my living experience.

What I do serves part of myself, but is at the expense of, or to the detriment of, another aspect of myself. That’s the sense in which there is ‘self-sabotage. However, to the outside observer, the part which benefits is hidden, because it is hidden even from the conscious awareness of the person. Thus, it looks (and often feels inside) as if the person simply harms themselves for no apparent reason.  Needless to say, this ‘self-sabotage’ is, to the person’s conscious mind, bewildering, annoying, and perhaps even frightening.

In general, what people call ‘Self-sabotage’ is – from the perspective of this theory – a symptom indicating that the person has an active Substitute Sense of Self –oriented System, which is a psycho-pathology. And, by definition, the presence of that is proof of ‘ a lack of Sense of Self.’ No person in his ‘right mind’ (read: with a healthy Sense of Self!) would do something that harms himself or herself.

Within this theory, Self-sabotage is explained as the Substitute-Sense-of-Self-oriented System kicking back in after the attempt to fulfill or achieve an Ego-Reference has gone very well, so that the Substitute Sense of Self is within immediate sight. The eagerness, apprehension, and anxiety (= Fear of Annihilation) that situation generates causes high stress, which can’t help but end in a downfall from that virtual top of the ‘achievement’- mountain.

In other words, let’s say some situation in life has turned out well, or so it seems. (Please note that I am speaking here only about what can happen for a person who is dependent on a Substitute-Sense-of-Self-oriented System for his or her Self-experience.) What seems to be just a simple event that goes well is latching on to a much deeper level as it is also an Ego-Reference. [What seems to be just a simple matter which is going well in one’s life, is hooking into a much deeper, subconscious level, if it is involved in an Ego-Reference.] It can be anything from a big success, great solo, to a compliment, being asked advice, or just a sense of being taken seriously.

If it is part of an Ego-Reference, then, out of habit (neuro-pathways!) the Substitute-Sense-of-Self-oriented System takes hold of it, to use it to get a Substitute Sense of Self – which, you know by now, is a desperately-desired state, desperate to a life-or-death degree. (= Fear of Annihilation) With that system coming into action (or already being in action) its inevitable companion shows up: fear.

The fear of ‘screwing up’ the seemingly-close success in getting to that state takes possession of a person, causes an overload of the brain, and generates whatever symptom that person usually produces in that situation. For me that was an ocular-migraine. For others, the symptoms generated can be different.

These symptoms interfere with performance, with doing well. Success has been self-sabotaged.

I am merely giving a report here, of what used to happen to me  – until I recovered enough to be able to stay constantly aware that I didn’t depend on the outcome of anything for my sense of Self –  that I didn’t need a ‘Substitute Sense of Self’ to any extent.

I do admit that occasionally it still happens to me, because the Substitute Sense of Self-oriented system is a ‘survival-system’ and thus hard to eradicate. I am a whole lot less worried (or panicked) when sabotaging symptoms of stress show up, though, as I now know where it comes from and how my growing thorough awareness that ‘I am an independent and autonomous person’ can help decrease its frequency even more.

As a few examples of what has the appearance of self-sabotage, but can really be very well explained as described above, I will tell you about a few recurring patterns that showed up in my life: the ‘smooth-floor syndrome’ that ‘sabotaged’ my feel-good-about-Self (Substitute Sense-of-Self), the ocular migraine that ‘sabotaged’ the good outcome of my Ego-Reference of ‘being on time’, The ‘Teasing-thoughts/Solo-syndrome’ that sabotaged my musical performances.

In all of these you will be able to see how the sabotaging of the Quality-of-Life side of the situation was a side-effect of the Substitute-Sense-of-Self-oriented System at work.

Smooth–floor syndrome

When I was a mother with two toddlers, one of my Ego-References was to have the house clean. No toys or clothes on a clean, swept floor. Whenever I managed to achieve that, my husband and I would then (finally!) sit down with a book and spend a quiet night reading, after the kids were in bed. Oh, what a delight!

The bad surprise (eventually predictable) was that I always had ‘blank night’– no sleep – after an evening like that. Somehow that good situation was being used by my Substitute-Sense-of-Self-oriented System as a thing ‘to score’ with, in the game of getting (virtual) parental approval/Substitute Sense of Self. As a result, I didn’t sleep because I couldn’t allow myself to let go of that achieved result of actually feeling-good-about-Self (Substitute Sense of Self).

This is the closest I have come to explaining the link between insomnia and the (subconscious) need to always make sure of having a potential vehicle to earn a Substitute Sense of Self through. The type of insomnia [link to Insomnia] that resulted from this situation was ‘not being able to fall asleep’ in the first place because subconsciously I was protecting my acquired Substitute Sense of Self. Tomorrow I would have to start from scratch, from ‘not-being’, from ‘the state of being annihilated.’

So there are really two possible explanations for the insomnia and in fact the way insomnia manifests itself is different and congruent with the particular fear that causes it. There is the fear/need to make sure of having a vehicle to earn again the next day…which results in waking up too early (like at 3-4-5 AM). The other is the fear/need to hang onto the success of the vehicle that has been successfully used. The stress provoked by the latter fear results in ‘not falling asleep at all.’ These fears are, in this theory, conceptually different, but both are generated by the Substitute-Sense-of-Self-oriented System.


An ‘ocular migraine’ sabotaging the good outcome of my Ego-References of ‘being on time’ and ‘having-no-problems’

One time, on a visit to my mother during my adult years, I had done the errands I had to do, ‘on time’ (with a lot of psychological stress, though.) She used to criticize me for being late and call me ‘egoistic’ when I was late. So being on time was an Ego-Reference for me.  When I entered the room and saw her sitting there, relaxed and not – as when I was late – ready to blame me, an ocular migraine popped up in my head.

The explanation? I had ‘almost made it’ and I almost experienced being allowed ‘to feel-good-about-myself’ (as a Substitute Sense of Self). The stress of desperately fearing a last-minute problem/hindrance caused overload in my brain and produced the vision problem. Then I had to either ‘ignore’ or give into and ‘complain’ about the vision problem. Complaining would ruin the potential good atmosphere, but preserving it was a life or death matter, for fear of annihilation.  Thus, the stress!

In general, I found that in the fear of ‘screwing-it-up,’ ‘it’ is always some part of the Substitute-Sense-of-Self-oriented System. When things were going well in my life, because my Ego-References were generally being successfully achieved, the fear of screwing ‘it’ up (screwing up reaching Substitute Sense of Self) was a continuous companion. It always produced some sort of a hindrance or problem than indeed did ‘screw it up.’ (‘Screwing it up’ was usually a subconscious thought but sometimes a fleeting semi-conscious thought in words.)

Teasing Thoughts/ ‘Solo Syndrome’

During the years that I worked as a professional bassoonist, something used to take place which I call ‘the Solo Syndrome’. Whenever my part contained a (more or less extensive) solo, I, of course, would prepare well for it. Then, the moment I was playing it well, I suddenly seemed to step out of myself and become an observer of myself, ‘teasing’ myself with thoughts as ‘What if you don’t manage to bring this to a good ending?’ or ‘What if you didn’t count well here now?’

Needless to say, it took the utmost concentration – even ‘struggle’ – to effectively bring the solo to a good conclusion, going entirely well. Often, the teasing thoughts caused the quality of my playing to deteriorate. I could have easily always done well if such ‘teasing thoughts’ didn’t weren’t always in the way, sabotaging my good playing.

Here’s my explanation of how this self-sabotage happened.  Partway through the solo, and because it was going well, my Substitute-Sense-of-Self System, with its gigantic Ego-Reference of being a superbly excellent musician, seized the performance for its own purposes, and thus, by activating stress and fear which interfered with the quality of my performing, took the ground (my preparation) from under my feet.

By ‘ground’ I literally mean the ‘ground of my being’ because my ‘being a Self’ had no firm ground within my psyche at the time of my life. It depended on the fleeting ‘ground’ of my latest achievement.

‘Teasing thoughts’ in general are ways to ‘sabotage’ yourself. Even thought anticipating the possibility of having teasing thoughts can be self-sabotage of sleeping well, if sleeping well is an Ego-Reference, as it was for me! When I, during so many sleepless nights, would finally be on the verge of falling asleep, a nagging anticipatory ‘teasing thought’ would come in my mind: ‘What if this thought keeps me awake again?’  Talk about sabotage!

Later in my self-discovery process, I learned that the ‘teasing thought’ itself was the voice of my dependency POPUP on the Substitute Sense of Self. ‘Sleeping well’ would become a performance (an Ego-Reference) to earn a Substitute Sense of Self (or even earn my mother’s ‘benevolence’ of accepting me as non-invasive in her existence, co-operating with her struggle to get her ‘feel-good-about-herself’ as her Substitute Sense of Self).

Overcoming Self-Sabotage

How did I get past all these ways of sabotaging myself, so that my Quality of Life improved? I did it by becoming aware through and through, all of my psyche, all of my subconscious, that ‘I don’t depend on any achievement for my Sense of Self. I don’t need a Substitute Sense of Self at all.’

Reconditioning myself to that belief has helped me greatly, so now I do not find my life filled by these self-sabotaging mechanisms. If you have similar issues, such reconditioning (through exercises I share in the Recovery section here) might help you as well.

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