The Winding Path

Counselling Services provided by Barb Zacharias

November 2022: Self-sabotage

Posted on Nov 24, 2022

November 2022: Self-sabotage

I have been trying to recapture a blog idea that formulated during one of those half-asleep moments; but now it eludes me. The subject matter is retrievable, but not its significance—that a-ha moment. And given today’s reading, maybe that in itself is significant.

The concept from today’s reading was along the lines of going with the flow and being open to a plan not of my own making. So many thoughts are twisting and knotting in my mind about missed opportunities and following God’s Will. How to untangle the mess to make sense of it?

Maybe I’d better start with yesterday’s conversation with a client and work from there. It was a conversation about being scared enough by an amazing opportunity that it impacted the decision- making process. None of us have ever been there, right?

The discussion led to the different types of fear such as the fear that protects by stopping us (looking both ways before crossing a street). Then there’s the fear that results in proceeding with caution. The worst kind is the fear that spirals into immobilizing anxiety. In case you are wondering what to do when experiencing fear (which is your friend, not your foe), the basic steps are to: 1) validate the fear (acknowledge what you are feeling and allow it to offer its message); 2) self-soothe (calm the amygdala to allow higher functioning parts of the brain to come online); and 3) assess. What kind of fear am I feeling? What is the message? And what will I choose to do with that message?

In a nutshell, what we choose to do can either set us up for success or self-sabotage. I excel at the latter. And talking with this client brought to mind more than one incident of my own self-sabotage, but one in particular from when I lived in the Yukon.

When I first moved to Whitehorse, I had almost completed a Bachelor of Arts degree—which I finished by correspondence (back before distance education was what it is today). I am not sure if this moment of self-sabotage came before or after that. I am trying to recall all the jobs I had when I stepped onto the stage of the Whitehorse employment scene. To begin, I had a temporary job working for a friend of my brother in his sign making shop. And then I worked for a day care for a bit. I had also applied for a teacher’s aid position for the government program that educated special needs children.

It was while I was working at the day care that I heard from the teacher’s aid position which they didn’t offer me. They offered me a full-time teaching position which scared the pants off of me. I told them I was working for the day care. Their response was if that didn’t work out to let them know.

Well, it didn’t work out; but I didn’t let the government position know. My confidence was shattered by how the day care job ended. Not that I had enough confidence for accepting a full-time teaching job. I was too intimidated by that and really didn’t believe I could do it. I also denied myself the opportunity of finding out. Besides, surely there was an applicant more qualified than myself?

I let my response to fear self-sabotage rather than set me up for future success (whether at that job or elsewhere). I wasn’t in any danger (protection fear); and I was ignorant of the proceed-with-caution fear. So I did what I always did.a I gave anxiety full control over any higher functioning parts of my brain. Of course, I didn’t understand any of this back then. I only knew I was terrified; and my brain processed every fear as that of potential danger and requiring protection. I also didn’t know anything about anxiety at that time. And it would be at least a full year before I took baby steps toward managing depression.

I haven’t given that missed opportunity much thought over the years holding firmly to the belief that it was the wisest course of action given my inexperience. Failure wasn’t an option, you see. My sense of self was far too fragile to fall flat on my face trying something new. Looking back, I likely could have done the job. I never bothered to find out the details to consider if it was truly do-able. Nor did I have anyone in my corner to suggest I explore it.

My modus operandi was to fly under the radar. And taking a teaching job was not consistent with that belief system. Fear of the anxious kind dominated my decision-making process. So where does the will of God enter the picture? Well, it’s like this. I was raised in a fairly conservative Christian environment. Not as strict as some, but not as open minded as would have been healthy. It was also an abusive environment which this blog is not about.

But following the Sovereign Will of God was entrenched into my thinking (or lack there of). It was a passive obedience rather than an active one. I had to wait for direction (which seldom came by the way). It was also dangerous to bypass the will of God. Apparently there was a script I was to follow that I never got quite right, which meant every decision I needed to make had to first be considered whether it was the Will of God or not. And one didn’t want to fall out of God’s will by making the wrong decision!

It wasn’t until much later in life that I learned the will of God was fairly easy to follow. Love God. Love yourself. Love your neighbour. It was a matter of principle and life values, not specific direction. But “back then,” following the will of God was a matter of life and death. Decision making fell under the fear of protection. Danger was everywhere.

Learning to make decisions based upon embracing the gift of who I am took a lot of reconditioning and practice. Now, I see that long-ago teaching offer as an opportunity to shine that I missed. But my psyche couldn’t tolerate the risk of failure. I still struggle to make decisions that allow myself to shine. Just putting a sign on my fence to advertise my counselling services is anxiety producing.

I have lived in fear my entire life. It’s very hard to emerge from that shadow. And the irony is, it’s very scary. 😊 But if I allow myself to go with the flow, aware that a higher purpose is at work—in a gracious way, not a demanding one—then I can set myself up for potential success. And failure does not mean a death sentence; it’s a redirection of personal resources. There is no definitive plan I am to follow and “get right.” Life (and the Universe) is more fluid than that.

So what is your self-sabotage go to? The imposter syndrome? The not-good-enough shame message? How about not being deserving? Fear of failure, or its counterpart, fear of success? Pressure to perform? Living up to expectations?

What would it be like to shine? To own your particular set of gifts and limitations and work with them rather than against them? Remember, success isn’t the absence of failure, it is the forward momentum in spite of them. Sally forth, my fellow travellers, sally forth.


  1. Loved this blog! Again, so well written and thoughtful. I recognize times I used self-sabotage because I didn’t believe I was good enough. And fear? It certainly has been a factor informing or hindering (if I allow it).

    • Thanks Wendy! 🙂

  2. Hmmm… my self sabotage has been the projection of false confidence. When I think of the times I pulled a Hindenburg because I was all hat and no boots, as the ranchers say, it’s because I wanted to please and fit in. Those were values my family stressed so I did my best to fulfill them even when situations were clearly beyond me. In many ways my bipolar freed me because when you have any serious mental illness the expectations others have for you pretty much go down to zero, leaving me an opening to forge my own way. I’m not saying I don’t go back to false confidence but I try to save it for critical situations like dealing with bosses and the like. I still get burned on occasion, but at least it’s for something meaningful.

    • Loved your word imagery of the Hindenburg and the rancher’s reference to all hat and no boots! I wonder if false confidence is a gender socialization thing? I haven’t met any female clients with that issue, that I’m aware of. Go in guns blazing without ammunition. But that can also be framed as “fake it ’til you make it.” Personally, I’ve never been a fan of that adage. I’ve had to put on a brave front, certainly, but to convince others I’m okay. I always knew I wasn’t okay. 😉 For me it was wearing a mask. Put on a good show, but inside a mess. I’ve since learned how to take care of the inside so that it matched the outside. True definition of integrity. Part of my job is to help people sort through their fragmentation to become integrated beings. Nothing to do with rightness/wrongness. Everything to do with consistency. And I always had to hide my mental illnesses (which got diagnosed later in life). I never “got away” with anything! So I hid. Deep inside myself. Its like two sides of the same coin. Both coping strategies are a projection of the false self (false confidence or a false front). I think both of us have gotten to know our True Selves which is much more freeing even if we do feel trapped in our chronic conditions at times.

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