Why do you stay in a toxic relationship? Why do you neglect your health? Why do you eat junk, not move, not sleep, smoke, drink? Are you trying to kill yourself?
What is it that keeps driving you to make obviously poor decisions?
It’s self-sabotage. It’s nasty. And I don’t understand it.
Maybe we sabotage our lives because we see some glorious and noble sacrifice in the act. As if sacrifice gives us purpose, meaning.
Perhaps we do it because we think that without random, unplanned behaviour, our lives would be grey and dull. We do it to instill some excitement, some interestingness into our existence.
Do we sabotage our lives as a cry for help? As a plea for attention, for compassion. For love.
Self-sabotage could be a punishment. We don’t think ourselves worthy of whatever good we have, so we counteract it by deliberately bringing pain and suffering upon ourselves.
Maybe it’s done out of fear. We think, this is what is normal, this is how everyone lives. We don’t want to stand out so we try disproportionately hard to blend in. We destroy anything that threatens to rise us above the average.
Or perhaps it’s because we know no better. We don’t realise that we get a say. We don’t understand that we can influence our own lives in a profound and powerful way. We don’t know how to take control so we relinquish it to our most destructive impulses and emotions.
Whatever the reason for self-sabotage, it doesn’t go away. There’ll always be those thoughts, lurking in the corner of your conscience. “What would happen if I destroyed it all? What would happen if I just gave up? Wouldn’t it be easier?”
This inner wrecking ball is strong in some, weak in others.
It’s a mix of all the above. The need for sacrifice and meaning. The craving for excitement. The love of attention. The yearning for difficulty and challenge. The lure of comfort and ease. The desire to blend in. The thought that maybe we don’t control our lives after all.
It all contributes to the harm we do to ourselves.
But once we see that, for the most part, the world doesn’t harm us, that we are the ones who inflict the most pain upon ourselves, we can stop.
As Atul Gawande observed when talking about the medical profession and saving patient’s lives:
“In the end, no guidelines can tell us what we have power over and what we don’t. In the face of uncertainty, wisdom is to err on the side of pushing, to not give up. But you have to be ready to recognise when pushing is only ego, only weakness. You have to recognise when pushing can turn to harm.”
Endurance and persistence are virtues. But only when they are in service of the right decision, the proper course of action.
To persist in behaviour that is damaging, not only to yourself, but to others, is not brave or smart or inspiring. It’s stupid. Dumb.
Please. Don’t be an idiot.
Have the common sense to see that you are your own worst enemy and the courage to act on that realisation.