That kind of psychological warfare (labeling people to belittle them, or to intentionally undermine their confidence) is mean, and completely unnecessary for anything I want to achieve in my life. It’s a favorite tactic (the only tactic?) of one of our current presidential candidates, and it’s ugly.
But I do see patterns of self-sabotage. Some people engage these patterns for years, get in deep ruts. I’ve struggled with some of them myself. Self-sabotaging behaviors include blaming, deflecting, magical thinking, lack of discipline, and so on.
A story: I was six years old. It was around Christmas time, and my friend was over at my house. My friend suggested that we take one of the ornamental glass globes from the tree and smash it into the carpet. So we did. We smashed another one. The carpet muffled the sound of the breaking glass. No adults rushed into the living room to stop us. We proceeded to smash every single glass globe from my family’s Christmas tree into the rug. When we were done, we realized we needed a plan. Let’s blame it on your little brother, suggested my friend. It didn’t feel right to me, but I went along with it. My four-year-old brother had a good alibi — he was taking his afternoon nap upstairs. When our crime was finally discovered we were in big trouble.
I don’t remember what the punishment was, but I remember feeling ashamed. My parents were as disappointed as they were angry.
It was an early lesson in how following the lead of your peers against your better judgement can lead to trouble. Trying to explain/blame my way out of the situation (instead of accepting responsibility) just added to the mess.
I learned from that experience. It shaped my character. It taught me that I need to make my own decisions and take responsibility for them.
All children sabotage themselves. I still have childish aspects to my own personality, though not as many as I had in my twenties, or even my thirties. Growing up takes a long time.
One more story. High school fencing tournament, all Bay Area. My opponent was faster and more aggressive than me and won the first bout 5-0. But he had a single attack, a lunge with disengage to the same quadrant. After some trial-and-error I figured out how to block his one attack and effectively riposte. I won the 2nd and 3rd bouts, each by a narrow margin. He was furious. He thought he was dominating me. He would have won if he’d had more than one attack. But he didn’t. He relied on the same tactic even when I’d demonstrated I could effectively defend against it.
Thinking back, I wonder if he learned from that contest. Did he learn to mix it up, use multiple tactics, adapt to reality? Or did he get frustrated with his lack of success and quit fencing?
There are dozens of ways we can sabotage ourselves, shoot our own feet before our opponent has even drawn. I was going to share my whole list, but I’m sure you can make your own list. How do you sabotage yourself? What are alternative behaviors that will add more value to your life?