Anne Lastman

In a world of self-sabotaging much is required and a certain trigger must be present and subliminally activate the memory of a past for the self to repair and the self-sabotaging to cease.

In a very long conversation and then much pondering on this thing called “self-sabotaging” (meaning actively taking steps/actions which will ensure a negative outcome) I came to realise that self-sabotaging is a need to return to a place in the distant past where a trauma, separation, abandonment, violence occurred and when returning to the place to negotiate the removal of the trauma in a non-violent or non-painful manner.  So much so that the imprint of loss, pain, confusion is changed to one of understanding. To understand that the Y junction had two ways to go and perhaps even see that the wrong choice was made and by returning to the point of the Y junction a new decision can be made with the choice to grow and like oneself and repair the self-wounds inflicted due to a past mistake.

Along life’s journey as new encounters are met and new liaisons formed echoes of past ideal, past happiness flash by and a memory of a happiness and then loss are brought to mind.

Perhaps this is the reason why relationships which have inscribed in them a long-ago incomplete pain set into motion the steps needed to discover/find, understand what it was which left such an imprint of lifelong pain.

When there is a recognition that what happened long ago was incomplete, misunderstood, not understood, and because of this there is afear of moving to a more secure safe place and leave that long ago emotion behind.

In a long discussion with new client, she has understood that she has continuously sabotaged her own “good” and specifically choosing to bring others into her life who would ensure that the sabotaging would eventuate.

The term “sabotaging” is flippantly used but I suspect that only a shadow of its real meaning is known.  

Sabotaging has encoded within it a long-ago memory of something which is either still desired (love) to be continued or a need to understand what happened and then be able to shut the door and leave the experience as part of his/her history.  Reconciling the experience with his/her life.

It has been posited that self-sabotage is a result of self esteem issues, and perhaps this might be so, and a small part of the eventual outcome, but the seed of self-sabotage is planted much earlier.

In the previously mentioned case, the planting of the seed of self-sabotaging occurred many years earlier when a separation occurred.  A separation from loved ones and from a known and secure life.

As a child of 9 years of age the individual lived in a happy extended household, with mother, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins.  Growing up with cousins, going to school with cousins, having nanna and granddad in the midst of family. Indeed, one would suggest an idyllic world for a child to grow up in. 

The father of the child was absent and played little if any role in her life.  He was a nebulous figure known but not really known.  He would be seen several times per year, stay a while and then go again.  This is the early history of one who regularly self-sabotages.

As our discussion proceeded it was discovered that the father was away working (this was after WWII) because no work was available in his home town and so he went further afield in search of work in order to provide for his wife and three children.  He eventually went to Australia (from Eastern Europe) and was able to work and set up a home for his young family and bring them from Europe to the new land of “milk and honey” Her father’s work and need to move were not understood by the child (now mature woman) though for her it did not make any difference because she was growing up in the midst of family, security, stability, and love.  All this was the child’s normal until the day when she was told that her mother and brother and sister and herself were to go on a long trip on a big ship to a new country with new people, the place called Australia. A place she had never heard of before, but she was excited at first because the thought was that all the family would go to this place that spoke a different language and was far away.  When she was told that only her and her mother and siblings were going and the others would have to stay behind. She “froze” and couldn’t make sense of such idea.  She has remained frozen still there after those many years.

The shock of the separation for this young child was enormous and much more so when it was explained that the rest of her family were not going and she would probably never see them again. 

All this was too much for a child of 9 years of age, especially an immature 9 years, and she began what we call “acting out” in manner of ways including running away, hiding, crying, but eventually resigned to the fact that she could do nothing about the situation. Loss of control and at this moment and an inner vow made “it won’t ever happen to me again.  I wont love. Nothing is secure. No one thought about me and how I will feel” (this in her native language)

Settling down in her new country in a silent house, no never-ending family talk, smells of family foods. And meeting people she didn’t know.  She remembered the large house, her grandparents whom she loved and missed so much, aunties and uncles, and cousins she played with and went to school with, the big property (farmlet) instead of 6 rooms.  This led to an unseen change. deep change.  She learned not to trust her parents, her siblings, or others. She began to believe that nothing was true or secure, or sure or safe. That loved ones can be easily gone and if they don’t go then its better not to invest emotion is them. She learned that it would be safer to stay distant and if friendships made to break them before they were taken away from her.  She learned not to attach to anyone including family because these would be gone sometime. And so, the self-sabotaging began, at school, at home, later at work and relationships.

She had unconsciously made an inner vow that the great loss she had experienced would not happen again. And so, as she began to attach with someone, or attach to place, or friend, and later boyfriends she would occasion the separation.  Further when it came to relationships these also did not survive. At first the new relationship would be perfect but within a short time faults would emerge until there was the walking away because “he wasn’t right” Indeed at times the relationships would be intentionally begun even though knowing that this person was not right for her. According to the speaker, there even seemed to be an attraction to the thrill of the difficulty of the situation rather than the desire for a genuine relationship and as anticipated in a moment of decision the relationship would be ended or lead the partner to end the relationship.

Over many years the self-sabotaging made itself felt in many ways in her life. In her 4 marriages, in children (she loved them but didn’t want to attach because they would go anyway/or even she left them for a while) and locales for living, in jobs, career and in matters of the heart. 

This client first came to see me because she realised that she was sabotaging herself and her whole life and those in her care and secondly because she wanted to know why?

It seemed that the rest of her siblings were stable, loved their life, which seemed to her was idyllic and more than this they made good decisions for themselves and were not consumed with deep sense of inferiority and the need to be constantly on the move.  There was also a need to choose friends whose friendship would not last because she was not good enough and eventually, she would have to move again and get away.

Listening to this story I realised that this client did not in any way know or understand where her self-sabotaging came from just that she had been told that she self-sabotages.  Her 3 abortions happened because I didn’t want to give the babies up and have them taken away from me and taken to some “strange place with strangers” And I said quietly “just as it happened to you when you were a little girl?”

She sat and stared and that Eureka moment and look was visible.  This was followed by what seemed long time of silence and then the dams burst open and the tears came and I waited in companionate silence. The tears for the losses she experienced as a young child and the losses she experienced because of her decisions.

My understanding of this is that she had travelled 59 years of her life from her 10 years of age trying to return to the place of love, safety, security, family, and from where she was dislodged and taken to a far away land with strange houses and strange language and strange schools and even strange shops. And she couldn’t feel the love and security she had known in her early life.

With the lack of understanding (too young at the time) and the need for the dramatic change in her very young life she decided that she would never let herself be taken away by anyone again., she would do everything to change or leave first.

In her maturing she continued this sabotaging of her life by dislodging her children from their settled places (home/schools/friends/family) and with what seemed to her good reasons, moved them to new places, new schools, needing new friends, new houses and distance from loved ones. This without talking to them about the need to move and where and why just repeating her early life story. Indeed, she replicated her early life even to the causing the same pain, loss, grief, and insecurity in her children as she had lived through (though this she did not intend to do).  This continued until the moment came when one of her children said “Mum why did we have to move from (suburb)? We loved our home. Our friends. Our school. The park, the beach.  Why did we have to move?”  And from these words she knew that she needed help to stop harming herself and the children she loved and she knew she was hurting.

As I pondered on this woman’s story which included much more suffering due to bad decisions, I realised several things. A child comes to us as a clean slate (Tabula Rasa) and an imprint is made of all sufferings endured leaving a scar which at times remains infected and an open wound even for a lifetime, and as a wound can become septic so too wounds imprinted on clean slate remain to haunt and to beckon back so that wound can be healed. A new narrative can be written and believed and accepted and then close the story so that no more pain occurs.

As I continued to think about this case, it occurred to me that the harm done to the children in this woman’s life will also need attention because they too will feel disjointed. Disengaged. Have no roots because of the many moves, the many school changes, need for many new friends, the loss or absence of extended family. Many new “uncles” and then their sudden leaving.  The many changes of address, the news schools, insecurity, the loss of family and extended family, which has followed them.

Indeed, it’s true that self-sabotage can be self-esteem issue but I believe it’s more than that.  It’s about losses which are too hard to bear. Inflicted on the too young child who cannot understand and which lead to the mature person who has lived through this and who also cannot understand his/her behaviour to continue to self and other harm.

Self-sabotage I think is a violent way of going back to that place where it all started. To make sense and bring understanding so that the self-abuse, sabotage, tearless grief, can be explained and then left behind. Indeed, mourn the losses but also regather the children so that they will not walk the same path.  Give that suffering a nobility so that it has not been wasted suffering but growth of the soul kind of suffering, the kind of immeasurable worth. 

Many psychological explanations can be given for the reasons for self-sabotage of one’s life but always it returns to innocence and wounding of innocence and its lifelong impact of such wounds.