A powerful question to ask ourselves at any moment is, “Who am I believing myself to be right now?” We have lots of identities – the controller (managing life to be just how we want it to be), the producer (someone who gets things done), the fit person, the successful business person, the together woman, the patient mother, and more.
We tend to cling to these identities and believe that they are us. When our behavior doesn’t match with these small identities, we feel anxious, ashamed and often guilty. Think of how hard it can be to be sick in bed and not in your normal mode of “getting things done.” Most of us can’t stand it!
The identity that causes the most suffering, in my opinion, is the identity of the victim – the self sabotager, a person who hates herself. It’s so important to explore this, because this belief that “I’m sabotaging myself” comes up over and over again when we’re healing.
Here’s how this plays out: let’s say something goes awry. I’ll give you some examples from my own life, two things that happened in the past 24 hours that brought up feelings of “I’m sabotaging myself.” The first – I went online to order tickets for a concert I wanted to see with my daughter only to find out that the concert was sold out. I’d waited too long to order to tickets.
The second example is getting my van stuck on ice and snow this morning while taking my children to school, necessitating a tow truck to pull me out. Not a big deal, right? Except that this is the 3rd time this has happened to me this winter. You’d better believe my mind was spinning with stories of, “Don’t you ever learn??”
So what happens when we believe that we’re sabotaging ourselves?
If we view our behavior through this lens, then every time life doesn’t go our way or we make a mistake, we blame ourselves. We think, “Here I go again, being a victim!” And we suffer. We forgot our goodness and see ourselves as a broken machine in need of repair. We become filled with shame.
The consequence of shame is that we hide from ourselves. We avoid looking inside – and it’s no wonder, if looking inside means feeling the scourge of, “I’m sabotaging myself again. I’m so broken. I’m a mess.” We avoid doing the very things that would help and support us because doing so would mean affirming this identity of, “I’m a flawed, broken mess.”
We also get very tight and small. We become fixated on not making mistakes, becoming tense and anxious, trying to control life and ourselves. We focus our behavior on trying to avoid messing up because we don’t want to feel this tight, shame filled place of, “I’m a victim who sabotages herself.”
By contrast, what happens when we pause, question and release this identity of ourselves as a victim, as someone who hates herself?
A couple things:
1. We’re free to make mistakes.
2. We’re willing to look inside and care for our hurts, rather than beating ourselves up for having them.
3. We can stop blaming ourselves whenever life doesn’t cooperate with how we think it should be.
4. We feel more freedom about accepting life, in all its imperfection.
Whew – doesn’t that sound better? So what keeps us stuck to this identity? Why do we cling so hard to this idea of “I’m sabotaging myself?” I’ll answer with another question:
What would we have to feel if we stopped believing we sabotage ourselves?
We’d have to accept that we can’t control life. We’d have to feel a bit of powerlessness, the inherent impermanence of life. This is one of the hardest things for us to accept as human beings, which is why we have a million different coping strategies to try and feel in control.
We’d also have to grieve.
As long as I blamed myself for not buying the tickets on time, I wouldn’t have to feel the grief and sadness of missing an opportunity to connect with my daughter at a fun concert. As long as I blamed myself for getting stuck in the snow, I wouldn’t have to feel the grief and frustration of handling this hassle.
As Nicole Kidman said in the movie The Interpreter, “Vengeance is a lazy form of grief.” When we turn on ourselves and blame ourselves and hitch ourselves to this identity of “bad, sabotaging person,” we don’t have to feel the grief of loss.
Here’s the thing: I had a valid reason for waiting to buy the tickets – I was saving my money. Peel this layer and there’s even more grief – not just the grief of missing the concert, but the grief of not having more financial margin in my life right now so I *can* plan ahead.
How much of life is grieving? My wise friend Deidre says 50%. This is not the message you get from our culture, the media, and even from many of our spiritual teachers. It’s also not the message we tend to give each other either, as grieving means being vulnerable. For these reasons, grieving can feel lonely – which is why I write about its importance over and over again, to normalize this very human, very mature, very healing process.
We grieve so we can release this idea that we’re flawed, that we’re sabotaging ourselves, that we’re not controlling life “well.” (If you figure out the answer to that one, let me know!) We grieve so that we can find our wholeness again.
In his new book, A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough, minister and therapist Wayne Muller says we need to “trust that we are good and whole.” Indian sage Sri Nisargadatta said it this way: “Self-condemnation and self-distrust are grievous errors. Your constant flight from pain and search for pleasure is a sign of the love you bear for yourself.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Our “sabotage” is a “sign of the love we bear for ourselves.” It’s not proof that we’re bad; flawed; broken. It’s proof, my beloved, you precious, precious soul, that you are human – doing your best to make your way through this human life as we all are.
It’s proof that you have unmet needs, that you’ve been hurt, that you have the opportunity to love these tender hurt parts of you.
If we dropped the story of “I’m always sabotaging myself,” we will have to grieve. We will come face to face with things we wish were different. And we will feel free. Free to cry our tears, to gather our hurts and disappointments to us like a shepherd gathering his flock, and offer them our care. It’s what a famous Shepherd offered when he said, “Come, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.” We rest in our care, in our goodness, in dropping the blame of, “It’s all my fault.”
We feel our grief, our frustration, our sorrow, our pain and offer it tenderness: “I care. I care about your sadness.”
This care, this grief, this lament is what enables us to move on. Instead of staying stuck in frustration about my stuck car, or stuck in grief about a missed concert with my daughter, I’m able to go forward.
I go forward because I grieved.