Self Sabotage: Things We Do That Hold Us Back
We all anticipate the day that our ship comes in, ready to board that vessel of success. We all want to be happy and are willing to grab the opportunity to achieve our dreams when it arrives, right? Well, maybe not.
In reality, we sometimes create excuses to avoid opportunities. Or we quit a task just before the payoff. We start finding faults with our partner when the relationship is on the verge of serious commitment. We turn down promotions at work. We decide not to take the advanced level class that our professors suggest. We get sick on the day of an interview for a job that pays substantially more. We decide that we can’t really afford the mortgage or rent for a better home.
Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Even way back in Biblical times, Jonah tried to escape from God’s call to a higher mission. But you don’t have to spend three days in a whale’s belly to figure out why you keep sabotaging your own chances for happiness.
Fear of Success
Behind your self-sabotaging could be a fear of being rejected if you outshine others. The concept of fearing success was studied in the 1960s by researchers who asked college men to write a story beginning with: “After first term finals, John finds himself at the top of his medical school class.” The male students typically wrote stories about how dedicated and conscientious John was. They said John continued working hard and eventually graduated at the top of his class.
But when college women were asked to write stories about “Anne” finding herself at the top of her medical school class, the responses drastically differed. The female stories revolved around social rejection, describing Anne as an “acne-faced book worm” without any friends. One story said that “Anne will finally have a nervous breakdown, quit medical school, and marry a successful doctor.” Notice how Anne would marry a doctor, not become one herself!
Amazingly, almost all of the women in the study who showed fear of success when they were younger later got pregnant when they were on the verge of career advancement or when their achievements threatened to pass their husband’s success.
Similarly, other research has shown that people who grow up in a lower socioeconomic class sabotage their opportunities to rise to a higher level in society because they do not want to risk losing their family and old friends. The prospect of their friends becoming jealous and family members becoming resentful can be so powerful that they turn their backs on opportunities that others classify as “selling out.”
Moving Beyond Our Comfort Zone
You already know that self-sabotage does not make sense on a logical level, so to beat the habit you must figure out what emotion, most likely a fear, is behind your behavior. Then each day, work on moving out of your level of comfort—taking baby steps at first if necessary—to test if your fear is valid. You might be surprised to learn that people will support you, not reject you. Eventually, when your ship comes in, you can confidently board and know that those on the dock bidding you “bon voyage” will still love and accept you as you journey toward reaching your full potential.
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