Mending Self-Sabotaging Behavior

by | Aug 11, 2023

For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. – Romans 7:15

As I’ve started reading The Mountain is You by Brianna Wiest, I’ve used it as the opportunity to look at my internal brokenness through the lens of self-sabotage. Self-sabotage can sound harsh, but most of our sabotage isn’t acting violently toward ourselves or purposely causing havoc in our lives. Self-sabotage is simply “the presence of an unconscious need that is being fulfilled by the self-sabotaging behavior… [it’s] what happens when we refuse to consciously meet our innermost needs, often because we do not believe we are capable of handling them.”

Self-sabotage is fixing the symptoms. It’s using tape to hold together a too-broken glass instead of using the time and effort to figure out the best way to mend ourselves back together. It’s avoiding looking deeply into ourselves to understand our trauma and needs so we don’t have to sit in that discomfort any longer than necessary. It’s our way to feel safe by keeping control over the outcome.

You might’ve heard of kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. When put into philosophy, it’s being unafraid to show that we were broken (and that we were fixed). When put into faith, it’s believing that Jesus can, in fact, make us whole again.

When I went through the Workmatters Institute earlier this year, my Faith and Leadership Action Plan revolved around addressing the apathy and cynicism I felt in my personal life that was leaking into my work. Other areas of internal brokenness that WMI participants have addressed include perfectionism, lack of motivation, people-pleasing, lack of confidence/fear of failing, and imposter syndrome. All of these internal areas of brokenness are rooted in a fear of discomfort and vulnerability with ourselves and others. They are coping mechanisms that prevent us from becoming the people God intended us to be. Here are a few common self-sabotaging behaviors people do, as mentioned by West, and ways you can begin to mend the break with God’s help.

Perfectionism: When we’re afraid of failing, vulnerability, or feel the fear of not being able to impress others the way we think we should, we fall into perfectionism. When we avoid our work out of those fears, we’re self-sabotaging. But when we show up and just do it, we can eventually get to a place of mastery where being perfect doesn’t matter because simply doing brings us the joy we thought recognition and flawless execution would bring. You’ve heard the phrase “progress over perfection,” and that’s the best mindset to begin. Start with small work, perhaps a personal hobby like running, painting, or learning an instrument, and then make yourself do it and then do it again and again, even when you’re not good at it. Lean into the discomfort of being bad or unknowledgeable and use that to teach yourself that just doing allows room for joy, creativity, and more meaningful experiences. And then move on to using that mindset with larger projects and at work.

People-pleasing: Are you holding onto the career path your parents set out for you? Are you stuck with a job others say you’re good at, but you don’t actually care about? Are you saying yes to things not in your wheelhouse so your coworkers will like you or think highly of you? When we force ourselves to do things we don’t actually want to do, that’s self-sabotage. We are aware we are not on the right path, but the thought of disappointing someone, anyone, is more scary than the unknown of trying to go down the path we think we should be on. We have to be courageous and create space for discovering what we actually want and need. Placing others’ praise or opinions above God’s is not how we were meant to live our lives. Spending extra time in prayer and with mentors figuring out what we should be putting our time and effort into instead of staying stuck looking for approval or avoiding the fear of disappointing others is a great first step to overcoming people-pleasing.

Lack of confidence/fear of failing: The thought of the potential loss of something we really care about is scary. We convince ourselves that we don’t have the ability to achieve something without even trying and that being wrong or failing is the end of the world. Wiest says it best, “When we fail out of negligence, we take a step back. When we fail because we are attempting new feats, we take one step closer to what will work.” God has given us the abilities we need and will be with us through every attempt and failure as we make our way through life. When we focus our confidence on God instead of selfishly on ourselves, failure and loss will not seem nearly as daunting. Sit with the realization that God will never think less of us for not being the best or for taking 100 tries to achieve a goal.

Whatever your overarching self-sabotaging behaviors are, they will require tremendous courage and faith to address. Sitting in what’s comfortable and familiar will not produce growth. It will not strengthen your relationship with God. It will not meet your quarterly target. It will not improve your skills. When you do not attempt to fix what is broken in a brave and daring way, you will never have a full glass. God will continue to pour into you as he always will, but it will never seem like enough because you are not allowing your glass to be mended.

Ask yourself, “where do I benefit by keeping my life exactly the way it is?” and use that as your jumping-off point for self-reflection into your behaviors. When you take the first step to creating meaningful change and ‘kintsugi-ing’ the brokenness in your life, remember that God is walking right next to you, and he will never leave your side.

Photo of Sarah Wolters

Sarah Wolters

Sarah joined the Workmatters team in September of 2022 as the marketing manager. She was born and raised in Springfield, Missouri and moved to Northwest Arkansas, after graduating from Harding University and spending a year abroad in New Zealand, to stay in the beautiful Ozark mountains.