Did you know there are psychological reasons for self-sabotage? There is absolute truth in the saying that we are our own worst enemy, and self-sabotage manifests all of the darkest thoughts and energy that are trapped within us. The thoughts that run rampage through our minds, uncontrolled, and not managed, are bound to take over and repeat the worst possible messaging that we could ever imagine about ourselves, our loved ones, and the world. Self-sabotage manifests through procrastination, being super self-critical, defaulting to destructive coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol, and other derailing acts.
All of this leads to imposter syndrome.
Oh the dreaded imposter syndrome that soooo many of us, especially a disproportionate number of women, suffer from and struggle with. I remember when I sat in one of my doctoral residency sessions and a professor that was serving as one of the facilitators told us that there would be times when we felt like imposters, that we somehow weren’t qualified, didn’t deserve to be there, didn’t deserve the things we accomplished and earned, that even after we earned our doctorates, we would find ourselves feeling this way. How true indeed he was.
I’ve struggled professionally on and off for years whenever my confidence takes a whooping. When I have slow-paying clients or clients who want to pay me less but expect the highest quality of work, I feel my energy begin to drain. Over the years, I’ve considered shutting down my company more times than I can count. I’ve felt exhausted about the idea of marketing myself and my company to compete with others for projects, clients, and jobs, because with all of that also comes the shrinking feeling that I’m not good enough, I need to gain more experience, if only I had this or that, etcetera etcetera. When our confidence is lacking it becomes much easier to self-sabotage.
There are thousands and thousands of us struggling with imposter syndrome, constantly playing tug-of-war with the voice in our head that says, “No you didn’t and no you’re not” every time you give yourself credit for your successes. How many of you are quick to say that something is “…too good to be true” and you run for the hills to avoid being let down? Rather than see things through you begin to intentionally disrupt the flow, create blocks, drag your feet, and make excuses to not do something.
The idea of finally getting all that you deserve for the hard work and sacrifices you have made, turns into horror because the tape that stays on constant loop in your mind, tells you that you don’t actually deserve it and you haven’t sacrificed enough, and that better you’re looking at isn’t actually better, it’s a facade. So rather than pursue your dream you hide from it. Rather than close that deal you throw a monkey wrench in it and someone else takes the victory. Rather than clinching the gold medal you slow down in the race and settle for bronze. Instead of having the love of your life you settle for the jerk who tells you they’re the best you will ever get.
There was a study conducted in the UK that uncovered that over 80 percent of men and 90 percent of women (who participated) suffer from imposter syndrome but only about 25 percent of those men and women are actually aware of this. In a study conducted by researchers from Harvard Business School and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, women are much more likely to downplay their achievements in the workplace, and more likely to rate themselves considerably lower than men in how well they think they performed on an aptitude test. There was also a study that revealed that women struggle with accepting praise and compliments for their achievements, abilities, and skills.
The knee-jerk reaction many women default to is either downplaying or ignoring the compliment, or on the other end of the spectrum they reply with comments like, “I know” that make them seem over-the-top or too confident, which is translated in the female brain as “you’re arrogant”. Many men, on the other hand, would see it as a compliment if someone called them “too confident” or over-the-top. Just as we have heard plenty of men correct someone who called them arrogant, and in reply the man said, “No, I’m just really confident”. Of course this isn’t all men. When imposter syndrome kicks into warp speed, self-sabotage jumps in the ring for a tag team, and many men fall prey to the attack.
Intrusive thoughts are the culprit. Our mind is our enemy. Below please find a screenshot that may actually reflect your own thinking about how qualified or professionally adequate you think are.
Do you admit to experiencing intrusive thoughts? Do you believe your success is based on your hard work or because of luck? Why do you think you got your job or most recent promotion? Do you worry that one day someone is going to realize you’re under qualified, just an imposter? Do you think that you deserve the praise and compliments you receive at work?
Think about how many of us stay in dead-end jobs and in dead-end relationships because the thoughts in our minds convince us that we don’t deserve better and we’re incapable of achieving greater.
“The source of self-sabotage is part of a common ancestral and evolutionary adaptation that has allowed us to persevere as a species in the first place,” writes Judy Ho in Psychology Today. So what’s hijacking our minds and how is it doing it? Plainly put, just like there’s no difference between good stress (achieving goals or laughing hysterically) and bad stress (experiencing trauma or grief) our minds don’t distinguish between striving for and feeling good accomplishing goals versus running for our lives trying to avoid a perceived threat. These two realms play patty-cake on a seesaw all day every day. However, whenever fear begins to prevail and the flight mechanism kicks in, we start to lean more towards self-sabotage.
Judy Ho said that there are four elements driving this force within us:
- Lack of belief in our self-identity,
- Internalized negative beliefs about our own talents, skills, or abilities,
- A fear of change or a fear of the unknown, and
- A need for control
Imagine all four elements running wild in your mind at the exact same time. I’ve personally experienced it and there’s no words to describe the trauma that you undergo when all of that negative energy comes flooding in. In order to get a better handle on our thoughts and emotions, and how they manifest, we need to look closely at the four elements and understand where the feelings are coming from.
With so many of us working from home, even before the pandemic, imposter syndrome is always a nagging presence in our lives. According to life coach, Rebecca Lockwood, those subconscious thoughts of our inadequacies and state of lack are more likely to culminate and overwhelm us in the isolating environment that our homes create, because we don’t have any counter-active energy from co-workers, managers, employees, to help us break down the negative thoughts. You’re alone and you feel that aloneness, and those bullying thoughts can take over and cause havoc to our minds. That means we have to exercise more positive thoughts and energy into our lives to flex those mental muscles to deviate from our go-to trap door of shame. If that means plastering your work space with positive affirmations, vision boards, and photos that highlight your successes and accomplishments, then do it. We also must ensure that when those thoughts come knocking on our mental door, if we can’t quickly silence them, then we need to get up and remove ourselves from our workspace to clear our mind. It may require a brisk walk around the neighborhood, switching to an activity that requires your mind to do something completely different than the task you were working on, or listening to some uplifting music or messaging. It’s not like working in the office where you can quickly reach out to a colleague and find yourself engrossed by a conversation that distracts you from what your mind wanted you focused on. At home you must be creative with your combat tactics.
how do we attack imposter syndrome to reduce and eliminate self-sabotage?
- Have clear expectations of what you need to achieve and be honest with yourself and others if and when you need help. Shake off that need for control.
- Identify and take captive your negative thoughts and speech: Catch yourself before your mind and mouth run away from you. Remember, it all starts on the inside and spews outward. There is power in our words. And yes my friends, thoughts are things. Catch it, address it, and speak truth to the lies you’re telling yourself.
- Steer clear of the comparison trap: Stop stop stop comparing yourself to other people; heck, stop comparing yourself to your old you, your old accomplishments, and how great you used to be at something a long time ago. Focus on your strengths and if someone else is stronger where you are weak, then leverage their strengths for your team’s success. Don’t sabotage a potentially great thing.
- Flip “Can’t” into “Why Not”: empower yourself by asking yourself “Why not” every time a negative thought tries to hack your mind and tell you that you can’t do something. You can find more powerful words and strategies to counter the nonsense flowing your way.
- Determine how you want to receive feedback: if you’re sensitive to critiques and find them more like criticism, or you find any comment that doesn’t feel complimentary as being a harsh critique, try to establish ground rules. This is especially necessary when feedback comes in writing. Emails and text messages have caused countless explosive arguments. As soon as you can speak voice-to-voice, do so and lead with a desire for clarity rather than assume the worse, and go on attack.
- Have goals and a vision for where you want to go and what you want to accomplish: by having goals or a roadmap you can reassure yourself whenever your mind wants to lead you astray. By seeing that finish line, that goal date, we can pump ourselves up and get our minds focused on the chartered course ahead.
Hopefully this information can help you prepare your strategy for kicking self-sabotage in the butt in 2022. When you finally bury it let me know!
Copyright 2021. Natasha L. Foreman. All Rights Reserved.