The Alchemy of Healing: Moving Through Self-Sabotage
Self-Sabotage is complex and multi-faceted. It’s also something everyone has done, to various degrees, in their work, relationships, and love, whether consciously or unconsciously. So many humans self-sabotage and most aren’t even are they are doing it. There’s always a compelling and on the surface level often times logical reason people have for their self-sabotaging behaviors. At one point or another, we can relate to the various situations that trigger humans to self-sabotage. Maybe you purposefully will pull or run away from a relationship that you feel excited about. Or, perhaps after leaving a toxic relationship, you are finding yourself anxiously overthinking and reacting out of that wounding in your next one. Maybe you are cheating to control the level of commitment or emotion you are giving to your partner. Maybe you are purposefully not taking that learning course or career opportunity you know you want to because you don’t want to be disappointed and the possibility of failure feels daunting.
Think about how self-sabotage has been present in your life. What situations have you been in where you’ve felt you might have engaged in self-sabotaging behaviors? What were you trying to protect yourself from? What outcome were you trying to avoid? What did you potentially miss out on by doing so?
Liberation from Shame
Understanding that identifying with the idea of sabotaging yourself can produce shame is key. What you are actually doing is following the autonomic impulse to stay within what is familiar. New is unknown. It’s something that has never been done before. A new pattern is being built oftentimes with no prior framework. It can be both liberating and terrifying to ask ourselves what it might look like for us to live in complete expansiveness.
Shame is a body response driven by the frozen state of the nervous system when its survival response is activated. This part of your nervous system shuts down and immobilizes your energy. This shows up as a disconnection from yourself and also your environment and presents itself in both the mind and the body. This system shutdown is an attempt to bring yourself back into a state of regulation, or harmony. It is a protective response when you are feeling emotional overload and are extended past your current capacity.
If that feeling of shame occurs often enough without being harmonized by connection and belonging it becomes an ingrained pattern, and a new neural pathway is formed with the framework of shame activating it.
Your behavior, the one that produced the intense feelings of shame, actually makes sense when you observe it through the layer of your nervous system. Defensiveness may present as a very real way of coping when shame is being experienced and you may argue, blame, or criticize others to not feel it. You may leave vulnerable situations or avoid what you’re afraid of failing at. You may overgive and appease others in a situation that triggers this survival response or experience feelings of powerlessness that lead to a nervous system shutdown.
The problem isn’t shame. It’s allowing your nervous system to notice and begin to show radical amounts of compassion where shame resides, easing yourself out of that freeze state. When you can begin to cultivate a relationship with your shame that is based on love, when can more easily identify when you are engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors and begin to shift the internal narrative that manifests in the way you choose to respond.
As you examine those narratives and patterns, approach yourself with gentleness. This can be a deeply uncomfortable process especially if you aren’t used to sitting and reflecting. If you want to break the cycle and start something new, you first have to notice the patterns that you unconsciously seek. Bring them from your unconscious, into your consciousness. Be gentle with yourself because this process comes up as we cycle through life in different ways at various times. The beauty and radical unconditional love that results from this re-patterning is wildly expansive. You are cultivating a relationship with yourself and in that discovering that you possess the capability to determine what your life will ultimately be. In understanding our patterns and narratives that prevent us from experiencing libration.
Work with Your Body
As much as the process of re-framing self-sabotage occurs in the mind, it also happens just as much in the body as well. Your survival response is just as much a state that occurs in your body as well as your mind. Work with your body and not against it. You are never going to get to where you want by bullying yourself into doing it. It just doesn’t work that way. Your body has done a tremendous job of getting you to exactly where you are today. Part of not avoiding discomfort means learning to cultivate a relationship with your body that is centered around safety and unconditional love so that we don’t continually go back and forth away from our bodies in order to find safety.
When you want to change your patterns, you need to first self-regulate your nervous system. This means finding ways to calm down and feel safe so that you can make clear choices. When you are feeling overwhelmed, it can be helpful to engage in activities that help to calm down your nervous system. These activities include breathing exercises such as breathwork, progressive muscle relaxation and body scanning, and lastly meditation. You can also co-regulate with nature and the people around us, by spending time in nature, connecting with others, and receiving support. You can work with your body to rewire the way you respond to new people, relationships, and situations.
Part of observing without shame is to pay attention to your body's signals. When you are feeling threatened or unsafe, your body will give you signals. These signals may include muscle tension, sweating, or a racing heart. Pay attention to these signals and learn to identify what they mean.
What would it look like to explore the idea that your body is safe to reside in?
Notice the Patterns
Once we have regulated our nervous system, we can then acknowledge what we desire. This means being honest with ourselves about what we want, and not letting our old patterns get in the way. If we want a wildly expansive, loving relationship, we need to remember that we want it, and then notice the old patterns that are holding us back. We can then choose a new way to take action, such as setting boundaries, communicating our needs, and being vulnerable.
The same is true for wanting a community that is reciprocal and enriching. We need to remember that we want it, notice the old patterns, and then choose a new way to take action. This might mean putting ourselves out there, being open to meeting new people, and being willing to take risks.
We can think of this process as a cycle of Awareness → Re-Alignment → Action. We become aware of our old patterns, we re-align ourselves with our desires, and then we take action. We can repeat this cycle over and over again until we create the life we are commanding for ourselves.
It is important to cultivate compassion for what was. This means forgiving ourselves for the mistakes we have made and letting go of the old patterns that no longer serve us. We can also take action on what can be. This means believing in ourselves and our ability to create the life we want.
By doing these things, we can teach ourselves, moment by moment, that we deserve it all. As we step deeper into our authenticity, we further recognize our power. The more we recognize our power, the more our reality begins to shift around us.
What would your reality look like if you allowed yourself to know that there was nothing holding you back?
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