A Saboteur. It sounds like a handsome, romantic, traveling Frenchman. Oh, how I wish it were.
After two decades of shitting on anything good that came into my life, it wasn’t until the past few years that I was able to put my self-deprecating actions into words. Self-sabotage. Education, finances, friendships…sabotaged, sabotaged, sabotaged. Health, romantic relationships, jobs…sabotaged, sabotaged, sabotaged. Although I had assigned a term to my actions, I wasn’t completely sure why this phrase ever came into my life to begin with. Sure, my mother had something to do with it — but she’s out of my life and has been for a handful of years. If she’s gone and I’m here with the realization of my self-sabotage…then why I am still confused? Enter Engel.
A severe negative inner critic (a.k.a. traveling Frenchman) is “an inner representation of the rejecting parent. The negative inner parent or introject lives on in the mind of the adult who was emotionally abused as a child, even when the real parent is absent. The introject embodies the demands the child is supposed to meet in order to gain parental approval” (Engel 127). I’m combing over these words, but I have to admit, I don’t connect with this explanation. I would say that my self-sabotage is my way of externalizing my fear of failure and disappointing others and myself and puts into action the thoughts I have of being no-good and damaged. I need to look into this further.
Perfection = Love
As I wrote in my last post, from childhood through adulthood I was expected to be perfect. Talk perfect, act perfect, look perfect – and “perfect” was defined in the eyes of my mother. Achieving this perfection was for the sole purpose of making her feel better, feel happier, feel appreciated, better her day and her mood and her life. That’s a lot of pressure for a six year old…a fifteen year old…a twenty-five year old. If I wasn’t perfect, which she expressed as the word “good”, then she rejected me with different tactics. As I grew older and my priorities and preferences and needs changed, her tactics changed accordingly as to make my punishment and rejection more severe and painful. With this further reflection, I see that these experiences attribute to my feeling no-good and damaged, and my fear of disappointing others stems from my futile attempts at achieving perfection and goodness as required for my mother’s well-being and her acceptance of me.
The introject “reinforces childhood roles and behaviors that were acquired for survival” (127). Childhood. Survival. My inner being folds over when I read this statement. I feel deep sadness for such a child. Why must a child need to seek survival from the one person who carries her esteem and worth and value in the palm of his or her hand? According to Engel (127), this damn (my word) introject:
- “still threatens to withhold love if the child does not do as he or she wishes”
- “embodies the parental rage toward his or her child for failing to meet his standards”
- “acts from within as a punishing enemy”
- “creates such severe anxiety that it paralyzes, producing such powerful guilt that the person feels totally worthless (shamed)”
- “may cause a person to victimize himself in much the same way that his parent victimized him”
Even though this introject is so, undeniably negative and destructive, I continue to listen to its words. In this chapter, Engel speaks often about trying to gain our parents’ love, which she says is the main reason for listening to one’s introject. I disagree and agree. Let me explain. Today, this year, last year — did I want my mother’s love? No. Absolutely no. I truly believe that I no longer seek her love. What I do seek is that she take responsibility for her abuse and neglect. Now as a child, I, of course, wanted her love and acceptance. I craved it, needed it, cried for it. Her demands and criticisms began cutting me on the inside as a young child, and those wounds are deep and infected today. While I don’t believe I self-sabotage by listening to my introject for the sake of gaining her love today, for many, many years I did, so much so that this mentality is ingrained in my body and mind. A lifetime of self-sabotage isn’t just going to disappear because my present expectations for my mother have changed.
This notion of lifelong sabotage despite present expectations is expressed in the next passage. “The child inside still clings to the hope, however futile, that she will someday be able to gain her parents’ love. Because of this, our inner child clings to childish ways and can cause us to indulge in childhood needs and pleasures while our adult lives fall apart” (129). I feel like I haven’t yet entered adulthood. I am still tending to the unfulfilled needs and wants of my childhood. I am a part of a real, adult world, trying to make mature decisions and live a mature, adult life but this child inside is consuming me. I am still that same sad, confused, angry, needy little girl that I was twenty years ago. Except now, the stakes are higher and there’s more to lose, as is evident by the countless things I’ve already lost.
Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego Mr. Saboteur?
So I know where (my mother) my inner saboteur was created, why (gain mother’s love, acceptance, and approval) my inner saboteur has controlled and still controls my life…but how and when does it show its ugly face? “It doesn’t necessarily come in the form of negative messages that can be heard and identified. You may only be able to recognize its influence by carefully noticing what happens whenever you experience pleasure, love, recognition, or success. It feels threatened whenever you experience these things. Your inner saboteur wants to cripple you, keep you from happiness, or even destroy you. It cannot tolerate your feeling or experiencing anything good. Your inner saboteur will find a way to destroy the moment” (129). One of my mottos throughout life has been “All good things eventually go away”…because in my life, they always have. And now I realize that I was the reason.
New friends, boyfriends, college courses…goodbye. “The way your saboteur manifests itself is usually related in some way to the type of happiness you are experiencing. If your positive experience is feeling loved or accepted, your saboteur is likely to cause you to behave in a manner that will elicit anger or disapproval from the ones you are close to” (129). I ask myself, “What is the one thing, the ultimate feeling, that I crave?” Love and acceptance. I want everyone around me to like me and think I am great and accept and love all of my strengths and weaknesses. What’s more, I want them to communicate this to me, and in a way that I understand. I have an internal sensor for this kind of thing, and when my sensor isn’t sensing, I begin to find fault in others and myself, and destruction ensues.
The example that Engel gives is priceless. “Let’s say that you are feeling loved by your new boyfriend. Your saboteur doesn’t want you to feel loved, so it might cause you to start an argument with your boyfriend. Someone who is finally feeling accepted by a group of people might find herself suddenly behaving in a way that causes the group to disapprove of her or turn on her” (130). Let’s say…oh I don’t know…this is the story of my life. Every friendship and relationship has ended in this exact way. I look around and see enemies everywhere. I see people, friends, boyfriends, co-workers, who want to hurt me, who seek to bring me down and keep me down. I hurt them and get them to kick me out of their lives before they can hurt me. But my enemy is inside. My one, true enemy is the inner saboteur Engel speaks of.
Just tell Mr. Saboteur to shut up, right? “You cannot permanently quiet your inner critic’s or saboteur’s voice by challenging him or telling him to shut up. This helps at the time, but eventually his voice will return. What you need to is replace his voice with another voice–a nurturing inner voice that will substitute the critic’s negative messages with positive ones” (133). Begin to (133):
- “replace your critic’s voice with a positive awareness of your essential worth”
- “your worth does not depend on your behavior”
- “recognize your intrinsic worth as a human being”
- “you are not “an empty vessel who is filled up, drop by drop, with your achievements”
- “entertain the idea that you are already enough just the way you are”
- “you do not need to achieve anything in order to be of value”
This all sounds great in theory, but how do I even begin? Aside from reading the “do’s” over and over and telling myself I believe it, how is any of the above possible? Compassion. “Compassion is the essence of self-esteem. When you have compassion for yourself, you (134):
- “understand and accept yourself the way you are”
- “tend to see yourself as basically good”
- “forgive yourself if you make a mistake”
- “have reasonable expectations of yourself”
- “set attainable goals”
- “make contact with your sense of self-worth”
I must respond to myself with compassion — this is the road away from self-sabotage. I am essentially talking to a child, building her up, encouraging her, letting her know she is loved just the way she is. When Mr. Saboteur chimes in, interrupt him with kindness and understanding. I wouldn’t tell a little girl that she is worthless and ugly and destined to be a failure, so why on earth would I tell myself, my inner child, such things? I am both the parent and the child, and I have control over the relationship between the two. I both set the rules and boundaries and follow them respectfully. As the parent, I love and forgive and accept unconditionally and in all occasions. As the child, I know I am loved and forgiven and accepted, and I reciprocate freely and without fear.
It’s time to send Mr. Saboteur’s ass back to France.