Robert Augustus Masters

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Trying and Self-Sabotage

  • May 8, 2016
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If we’re going ahead with a certain endeavor and are cut off from or otherwise oblivious to the child in us as we do so, that child — that indwelling locus of innocence, vulnerability, and prerational attunement — may be activated enough to snare our attention, including interrupting or derailing what we’re attempting to do. There’s no deliberation in this, just raw, desperate need taking over, amped up with supportive rationalizations and related self-talk.


The stop-neglecting-me desire that’s going on behind the scenes and the desire to proceed with our project are two quite different forces, far more oppositional than symbiotic or cooperative, setting up an internal conflict that can knock us off track, leaving us scratching our heads, wondering how this could have happened.


These conflicting forces and their interplay are eloquently encapsulated in the affirmation/protest “I’m trying.” One part of us, out-front and seemingly sincere, is doing “it” while the other part, hidden and seemingly not representative of us, has no interest in doing “it” and in fact probably has some investment in “it” not happening or failing.


To “try” is not to “do.” If I tell you to pick up the spoon in front of you and you do so, I’ll say, “I didn’t ask you to pick up the spoon, but to try to pick it up.” As such trying is self-sabotaging effort. It may sound good, sound sincere, but it is divided, at war with itself.


Trying invites and expresses self-sabotage. All the ingredients are there. Something in us is getting overridden in our trying, being left in the dust or shadows as we proceed. Think of New Year’s resolutions: What’s gung-ho in us about these resolutions obscures what’s not gung-ho in us about such ambition, so that we are pushing ahead like a divided nation, with one part enforcing its will on the other, all but oblivious to the insurrection it is fueling.


Self-sabotage. By our own hand. The far-from-out-front aspect of “I’m trying” usually resides out of our usual sight, with its intention to thwart our progress housed in the more distant recesses in our shadow. Even more removed from our awareness are the origins of such intentionality, featuring the neglected or otherwise mishandled needs of our young — and very young — selves.


Between intention and action there is a gap. Self-sabotage mires us in this gap, all but erasing our footing and rendering us myopic, leaving our better intentions in a confusing mix with our less-than-healthy intentions, flailing about.


It is in this very flailing that we lose our way, swamped by conflicting information. It’s as if we’re suddenly reading three very different newspapers simultaneously, with our ability to discern between them all but gone.


Seeing the wreckage wreaked by our self-sabotage can be quite mortifying. When such shame kicks in, our tendency is to turn away from it, to avoid it, to seek less shame-polluted territories. But when we are not so quick to spurn the shame of having sabotaged ourselves, we have more of a chance to see our internal saboteur up-close, directly feeling what is child-like in it, attuning to that child and its makeup and the key factors that shaped it.


Unveil your inner saboteur and strip it of its rationalizing, and what’s left? A child yearning to be seen and felt, freely given your unconditional attention and care. Without such focus, the efforts of that child to get your attention may submerge, sinking into the shadows, or may fester into attention-snaring behaviors that block or otherwise obstruct our path.


Self-sabotage keeps us small, partial, divided, getting in our own way despite our efforts to proceed. Tripping over our own feet, again and again uprooted until we find truer ground.


Getting to know your inner saboteur really well is an essential step in truly maturing. Our common response to our self-sabotage is that we don’t know how this could happen to us — after, we had good intentions, were doing our best, alibi after alibi — but an uncommon response is needed: To recognize and turn toward our inner saboteur, illuminating it until we see its fundamental components. The child therein — neglected in our pursuit of a particular something — is, however indirectly, calling for us. To not heed that call, that cry, is to increase the odds that we’ll soon end up in the wreckage of self-sabotage.