Your Internal Saboteur Can Hold You Back

Don’t you just hate it – you’ve decided to turn over a new leaf, to take control of your situation and make things better, and yet it doesn’t turn out quite the way you wanted?  You’ve chosen to break old patterns of behaviour, and rewritten your script.  The only problem is – everyone else is still working off the old script, and you’re the one who seems out of step.  Even worse, there’s a little voice inside your head saying “who do you think you are, get back in your box and stay quiet”.  Yeeow!

So what’s the root cause?  You may feel frustrated, bored, indifferent, angry, resigned, or even martyred for a sustained period.  It starts with a mild sense of “something’s a bit off”, and grows to fundamental, persistent unhappiness with the situation.  At some point, you decide “Enough is enough”, and opt to make changes yourself.  Whether you’ve received feedback that opened your eyes, or come to your own realisation that there’s an alternative way, you’ve made the commitment to change – however uncomfortable that may be.

Having made that difficult decision, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, there’s “many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip”, and often change can be scary both for you and the people around you.  Even if we’re not happy with a situation, we still know where we stand, and, if someone we work with switches from being “Miss Holier than Thou Know-it-all”, to a “caring fluffy bunny”, it’s quite disconcerting.  Admittedly, most people don’t alter quite as dramatically as that, but you get my drift. You can feel a bit weird yourself, as if something isn’t sitting right, and sometimes it’s easier to fall back into old behaviours rather than persist with the new ones. (It’s like taking off your new shoes and getting back in your slippers – they’re comfortable to wear indoors, but you wouldn’t go very far outside in them.)

So, if you really want to sustain new ways of dealing with other people, you first have to recognise and deal with the following two characters:  the Internal Saboteur and the External Saboteur.

Internal Saboteur/External Saboteur

1.            Internal Saboteur – that inner voice that protects you from taking risks, may also inhibit progress when you’re trying something new.  It’s full of old judgements, limiting beliefs and entrenched rules.  “I can’t make presentations.”  “There’s no point making suggestions as I’ll only look stupid.”  “I’m not good enough.”  “I’m too old.”  “I’m too young.”

2.            External Saboteur – the other voices that undermine your changed behaviour are other people’s defence mechanisms.  They may feel unconvinced or even threatened by your new approach.  For example, if you change from being a very directional manager who issues orders (not to be questioned), to one who seeks opinions and involves others in decisions – that can be scary for the people concerned.  It may take time to persuade them that you’re not setting them up to fail and really want their contribution.  Also, they may be more comfortable following orders – it can be easier to obey than contribute.  Your changed behaviour may alter the status quo, and that may not please everyone.

There are three important things to remember then dealing with saboteurs:

  1. Name them.  Yes – I mean an actual name: me, a particular person, a group of people. (Use nicknames for real definition, e.g. Committee Me, Coffee Break Catherine, Reporting Robert)
  2. My saboteur often says (the key phrases that trigger your old behaviours)
  3. In my organisation/community/family, WE use these saboteur comments (sometimes I’m someone else’s Saboteur)
When you recognise sabotage, you are in a better position to deal with it.  Perhaps you need support to keep going.  Maybe others would benefit if you explained the ‘new you’, and they understood what you’re trying to do.

When those ‘knockback’ comments emerge, you can see them for the saboteurs they are, and carry on despite them.  Over time, those dissonant voices gradually diminish.  The most important thing you can do for yourself, is to keep sight of the positive result you will get through your new behaviour - finding your own voice.



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