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Self-sabotage: how to set yourself free

Award-winning coach, Kim Morgan, helps a woman who wants to discover how to stop her self-sabotaging behaviour

by Psychologies

Coaching session 1

Unconscious self-sabotage

‘I am my own worst enemy!’ Jess* told me. ‘I know what I want – a loving relationship, marriage and kids – but it just isn’t happening. I’m 33 and starting to panic that it’s never going to happen. I need to sort myself out, otherwise I won’t have the life I want. I seem to jeopardise my chances of success each time I meet someone. I’m more likely to destroy relationships that look promising. Why do I do it?’

When I asked Jess to tell me exactly how she was being her own worst enemy, she gave me a long list of examples. She was a lively, fun-loving woman, who was self-aware, and she laughed as she told me about her latest disaster.

‘I was on a blind date recently and escaped to the loo to text my friend about how the date was going. I texted that I really liked him, despite the fact that he did have a very big nose. When I went back to the bar, my date had disappeared and, when I checked my phone, I realised I had accidentally sent the text to him! My friends all look forward to hearing my disaster stories, but it’s getting beyond a joke now.’

I told Jess that many of us have self-sabotaging behaviour. Some people self-sabotage their relationships or careers, some procrastinate excessively, so that they avoid making any decisions or changes. Other common forms of self-sabotage include spending beyond your means and drinking or eating to excess. People don’t mean to sabotage themselves. Self-sabotaging behaviour is an unconscious and misguided attempt to protect ourselves from being hurt or experiencing negative emotions.

Coaching session 2

Facing the truth

I had a hunch that, deep down, Jess did not believe she deserved a loving relationship; that she feared being hurt if the relationship didn’t work out. To bring about change, we need to understand the beliefs driving our self-sabotaging behaviour. I asked Jess to produce a list of words or phrases that came to mind when she thought about relationships.

Jess had been shocked by some of the words she had written on her list about relationships, which included ‘trapped’, ‘controlling’, ‘hurt’, ‘betrayed’ and even ‘loss of identity’. We spent a session exploring where these beliefs had come from. Jess had been in a serious relationship, age 16, and her then boyfriend had become progressively more controlling. Jess didn’t go to university because he wanted her to stay in their home town with him. This had been a major disappointment in her life that had affected her career prospects.

She had eventually broken off the relationship but realised that, since then, she had always feared having her life controlled by someone else.

Coaching session 3

Opening your eyes

I continued to work with Jess for a number of months. Changing deep-seated beliefs and self-sabotaging behaviour does not always happen overnight. The first step was for Jess to look for examples of successful and happy relationships, so that she believed it was possible to achieve her goal. Until this point, Jess had concentrated on fi nding examples of relationships that supported her negative beliefs, and she’d been ignoring evidence of happy relationships, which, it turned out, were all around her.

It would be great to say that I recently ‘bought a new hat’ because Jess had invited me to her wedding, but not every coaching assignment ends quite so neatly! She is hopeful of finding love and, by having some coaching sessions, I think she has a given herself a better chance of achieving it. Jess now believes that happy relationships exist and that she is worthy of love. It’s a good starting point.

*name has been changed.

For more from Kim, go to barefootcoaching.co.uk

Photograph: iStock

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