The Baggage Breakdown (Part 1): Self Sabotage
"When things start going really well, its common to self-sabotage. We get used to a certain level of finances, love, success and connection. When we push past that, it’s not uncommon to do something that brings us back to what is comfortable. When things start going well, simply breathe in and accept the discomfort. It will become comfortable soon enough"
"I don't think we should talk anymore."
These were the words I typed into a text and pressed send to an ex several years ago. I was in a hotel room in Ohio because a close friend of mine was getting married. I was up early in the morning with a lot on my mind. My sister slept soundly in the other bed. It had finally dawned on me that if I wanted a wedding of my own, with my own lifelong best friend, I had to let the past go. Those words signaled my freedom; writing those words was my release from my self-induced prison sentence to a toxic situation. My desire to gain "closure", which was really a twisted resolve to exact revenge, kept me engaged in an unhealthy dynamic that needed to come to an end. I was unknowingly holding myself back from the love and growth of my current relationship because I could not let go of the hurt from the last relationship. I had baggage in the form of self-sabotage that was preventing me from getting to my destination.
Recently, my wife (yep, this relationship did in fact work out :) ) and I watched a movie telling the true-life story of young girl who got caught up in a lifestyle that eventually landed her in prison for her entire life. As we watched the movie, there were so many times we looked at her actions and flinched because we could clearly see that they were going to cause her hurt in the end. We could see it so clearly, but to her, the goal was to gain love and create a better life for her family. In her effort to do this, she became entangled in self-defeating behaviors and relationships. She tried to gain money through illicit means so that she could provide for her daughter and be a better mother than her mother was to her. She tried to gain value in being seen as the best in her industry because she had never received validation of her worth outside of what she did for a profession. She accepted a committed relationship from an abusive man, because her child’s father abandoned her and did not commit to her. Each time, she sought to gain what she felt was lost in the past. The baggage of her previous hurt was causing her to react in ways that gave her a counterfeit fix but in the long run was to her loss.
Drama, Drama, Drama
Like the character in this movie, the scenes in our lives often play out with greater drama, so much so we could probably often write our own scintillating best-selling autobiography. In it, we are the tragic heroes who the crowd roots for and understands our missteps because they know our past hurts. But, as with all great stories, there is always a plot twist, that one thing that causes the whole audience to watch on in dismay. Enter stage left, the tragic character flaw, SELF SABOTAGE, the innocuous and endearing trait displayed by the protagonist that will eventually be their undoing.
From the outside in, people can see that it is often we ourselves who are constantly making decisions that are actually the opposite of what we want for our lives. In an effort to heal our hurts, we engage in behaviors that contradict our ultimate goals. According to Ellen Hendriksen, the most common ways we sabotage ourselves is by procrastinating, self-medicating with drugs and/or alcohol, and conflict in relationships that are important to us.
With self-sabotage, it can seem like we're being held hostage – by a lover or friend who is not quite the best for us, or by a bad habit that is destroying our lives, except we stay willingly. No guns, no locks, but we just stay there. It's like Stockholm Syndrome -- the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) - it can be the relationship, the drug, the addiction, or the unhealthy habits we often know are bad for us!
So why do we keep going back? In an extreme example, a number of human trafficking victims, after years of enslavement and abuse and then being rescued, even after receiving services, go back to "the life." Is it because they enjoy being trafficked? Of course not! Is it what they're used to? Possibly. Or is it because they are reacting to their pain by holding on to the situation in hopes that they will find the answer in it? They are not quite sure what it looks like but almost like a sort of OCD, where you believe if you just engage in the anxiety inducing behavior or situation, it will somehow solve the problem of your hurt or pain. We try to fix it, but each time we come up empty, but our mind tricks us into believing if we give it one more try, something will give, something will make sense. The pain will stop.
Risk factors for human trafficking involve elements such as poverty, homelessness, childhood sexual abuse, and family dysfunction, according to the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments. Similar to victims of trafficking, our life experiences can give us such a low view of ourselves that we may feel like we need to accept just anything because we can’t figure out who we are after what we've been through. So you stay with him or her, even though they mistreat you, or abuse you, cheat on you, or make you feel terrible about yourself. You take another drink, or get high again, because on that high, whether due to substances, or the comfort of the familiar (negative thoughts, the same old relationship cycles), you're not having to deal with the negative feelings that come in the aftermath of trauma. The act of self-sabotage, and sense of self-hatred, is often made worse by the isolation that often follows traumatic events. The shame and cover-up causes us to be stuck in a cycle, making it even harder to break.
Baggage and Self-Sabotage
It is important to realize that rarely do we make decisions in a vacuum. If our emotions and reactions go unexamined, we often choose behaviors that sabotage ourselves. Imagine trying to catch a flight with three suitcases plus your allowable carry-on. It’s not a pretty picture is it? And there’s a reason airports don’t allow it; it impedes our free movement within the airport and if everyone got on board with their luggage, chaos would ensue. Just think about trying to put your little carry-on in the overhead storage! This illustration is intended to help us realize that our emotional baggage is much like the physical luggage. And self-sabotage is like showing up late to the airport and going through security with a 12 oz. bottle of vodka to soothe your fear about flying. You might think it’ll help you, but you’re just going to end up strip-searched and missing your flight. You end up defeating your purpose. Rushing ahead to cover up our hurts and soothe our pain without fully evaluating the situation for toxicity, or negative beliefs, or taking time out just to feel and accept our feelings, will in the end cause us to trip over them.
Start Over, Question Everything
A major key to freedom from self-sabotage and other forms of baggage will be to open yourself up to other sources of truth than what you know and to try to see outside points of view from what you are familiar with. Question everything. Challenge the “truth” as you currently know it to be. Be willing to start over. Look into your background, and upbringing, and religious education, or whatever has taught you your worldview. Begin to separate what is actually your core truth versus what is your adapted belief system from your own baggage or that of the authority figures in your life. This is the indispensable tool known as self-reflection.
This isn't a call to renounce your faith at all, but to actually live it out more fully and authentically. There is no religion, denomination, or belief system I have ever encountered or studied that did not have some form of self-reflection, whether it be as an individual, group, family, or organization. You will be shocked at how many elements of past trauma, low self-esteem, or inbred self-hatred attaches itself to your personal beliefs. If you never look at yourself, you will never know who you are. If you never know who you are, you will never be able to stop unhealthy cycles in your life. Understand that the world is full of alternate ways of being. Begin to look at the people who have the qualities you desire; peace, wisdom, self-actualization, etc. and examine what they do. It's the old saying that if you keep doing what you've done, you're going to keep getting what you've got.
The Solution is Not Shame
You don't have to live a life of self-sabotage, but the solution is not shame. It's self-reflection. In my case, I sought to maintain a conflict-ridden friendship that was rooted in my effort to heal my hurt, but betrayed my sense of self and almost cost me my "happily ever after". In that hotel room I decided that I deserve better. I embraced self-reflection and saw some ugly truths about my environment and myself. But I also saw beauty. I didn't see it right away, but over time, with the right people around me, it became increasingly clear.
How to move forward
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