Sabotage: Feeling Good about Feeling Bad

By Ken Wells - 10/27/2020


Series One: Blog Seventy

“I decry the injustice of my wounds, only to look down and see that I am holding a smoking gun in one hand and a fistful of ammunition in the other.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

I played one year of football in high school. It was my senior year. It was memorable for all the wrong reasons. We were bad—not just bad but pathetic. If Charlie Brown were playing and Lucy was the coach, you’d want to place your bets with Charlie’s team. We had a 300 lb. ex-NFL player for a coach who was not as inflated as were the expectations that year for our football team. I had never played organized football prior to that year. Other guys on the team were not much better. We printed 20K “Go, Go-9-0” bumper stickers- one for every person in our small town, signifying a perfect season. We accomplished the goal—backasswards! We went 0-9. Our closest game was our first with a school that was about half our size. From then on, we considered ourselves having a good game if we stayed within 3 touchdowns of all the rest of the schools we played. We seldom scored a touchdown. Whoever it was that crossed the goal line, stood there in a trance. There was no dance in the end zone. It was like what am I supposed to do next? Even when we did good things, we would talk ourselves out of it with a series of penalties that sabotaged all reason for hope. 

Self sabotage is a common undermining experience in recovery from addiction. Most addicts experience thoughts of recovery likened to the experience with football that was just described. Euphoric pink clouding fuels inspiration with motivating beliefs of “I got this!” only to be crushed in debilitating defeat with an addictive binge. Addicts often feel uncomfortable with sobriety. Not using seems too saintly. Leaving old patterns is like leaving old friends. Oddly, it can feel like betrayal! Successful sobriety with accompanying peace and calm begin to feel boring without the chaos of out of controlled living. Frequently, I listen to addicts share that it feels familiar, even good to feel bad. There is a certain companionship and camaraderie with self destruction. Rock bottom is a surprisingly comfortable place to lay your head. Looking up from the depths of another low often seems a lot safer than wondering when you’ll fall again. Falling feels awful. Addicts can willfully shoot themselves in the foot to protect themselves from confronting their own shortcomings.  Micromanaging others, passive-aggression, chronic lateness, and perfectionism all undermine the stability of sobriety. Some addicts can even argue that these traits are strengths and not weaknesses.  Yet, they prevent the addict from blooming sobriety and serenity. 

Here are a few considerations that can be helpful in working through self sabotaging behaviors.

1. A zero sum mentality fuels self sabotage.

Life perspective is damaged when we reduce our vision of people in the world to winners and losers. Mohammad Javad Zarif observed “if you look to the international scene over the past many years, we haven’t been able to resolve many problems and many crisis, because we have approached them from a zero-sum perspective. My gain has always been defined as somebody else’s loss, and through that, we never resolve problems.” Self sabotage is empowered when I adopt this mentality which reduces life to winners and losers. When you define the essence of life as either winning or losing, you set yourself up for self sabotage. When being a winner makes someone else a loser, life becomes “us” versus “them”.  We become like crabs in a bucket, any of which could easily climb out, except that others will claw the one climbing out over and again, securing that none escape. A zero sum mentality will reduce the self-confidence of others who succeed with envy, resentment and conspiracy. It will sabotage the success of the other. Sobriety is not about comparison or competition. There is enough sobriety for everyone to experience and the depths of serenity have yet to be mined to exhaustion. Only short sighted perspective sabotages the reality that each person is an unrepeatable miracle of the universe. 

2.  Overcoming self sabotage will require that you love yourself.

Shame undermines self-love. When you go against your values and hurt others you sabotage loving yourself. You set in motion the operation of self sabotage. Hating yourself for hurting others only activates the self-sabotage of continuing the same hurtful behavior toward self and others. It forms a wicked vortex that cripples with self destruction. This contributes to the reason addicts struggle to tolerate happiness without self sabotage. They don’t love themselves. Addicts become wired to the attitude that any reason is a good reason to hate yourself. Addictive ruin seals the deal. This is the most difficult challenge for every addict— to love YOURSELF – NO MATTER WHAT the outcome or behavior. You don’t beat yourself up to a better place. But, you can love yourself into a new reality about life. The sole factor that determines long term sobriety and deepening serenity is when an addict learns to love him/herself unconditionally. This is not a black or white experience. You practice moving from hating yourself, to hating and loving yourself, to loving yourself predominantly by learning to transform self-hatred to self-love. It happens when you give yourself some time, stop wallowing in the mud of misbelief, embrace affirmation and ignore the critical voice that sabotages your destiny. This will require ongoing conditioning. There is no shortcut. 

3.  Mistaken beliefs will fuel self sabotage.

Your shaky sense of self sits on a foundation of mistaken beliefs. You cannot be intimate with yourself when your head is full of crap. You have to stalk your mistaken beliefs. Know them like the back of your hand. Make friends with them. If you learn to respect them, they will teach you how and where to love yourself. Don’t bullshit yourself. When a mistaken belief is activated, listen to what hurts that makes the mistaken belief operational. Then address it with gentleness and affirmative belief about yourself and the situation at hand. Practice reframing the negative cognition into inspirational insight and positive affirmation. The art of reframing the negative into something positive is often overlooked by those in recovery. It helps to take what is and make it work, simply by the way you choose to think about yourself. Most mistaken beliefs do not go away but they can be managed and transformed into empowered belief that overcomes self sabotage. 

4. Give up the story line of Victimization.

The truth is that we have all been victimized in the world we live. It is not helpful to minimize and ignore this reality nor does it create resolution to wallow in the throes of resentment, disappointment and holding a grudge toward those who have the power or have persecuted with their agency. Sometimes the victimization is complex and requires an ongoing clarion call toward action and systemic change for healing and transformation. Yet ultimately, overcoming personal/collective injury will require that you give up the story line of victimization in order to address self sabotage. Giving up the storyline does not mean you pretend that the violation never occurred. Giving up the storyline is accomplished when the injury is recognized and then you who have been victimized grasp self-empowerment to address those who have injured and demand negotiating wants, needs and expectations for healing and respect. When this healing is enacted, you are able to take what is and create meaningfulness in living. It does not mean that I accept domination and control from another. Rather, it suggests that I refuse to give my power away to another’s insensitivity, as I power my way into a new reconstruction of reality and transformation with confidence and equanimity. The hegemony of another is overcome by the embrace of your own power that changes the story line from one of victimization to one of recognized empowerment and efficacy. We are bound to feel anxious as we leave behind old notions of our unworthiness. The challenge is not to be fearless, but to develop strategies of acknowledging our fears and finding out how we can allay them.

Sabotage is a common thread experience that ties us all together- People who want to lose weight, get a degree, exercise, run a marathon, make peace with relatives, drain the pain of childhood trauma often wallow in self sabotage. Many people stop short of attainment because they listen to the voice of self sabotage that tells them they do not deserve results of successful completion. It can be more familiar and comfortable to sit with victimization than it is to give up the storyline and live life free of addictive demand, resentment, grudge and victimization. Self sabotage can be like going to the candy store to pick out any candy that you would like and walking away with a sack of horehound candy. It’s bitter and hard but it’s what I am used to. Inner peace will be achieved when you stop looking for something to change on the outside and you create change in perspective on the inside. 

Recent Articles

Subscribe and thrive.

Subscribe to receive the latest stories, thought leadership, and growth strategies from PCS therapists.

© Psychological Counseling Services