One of the terms we learn in co-active coach training is “the saboteur,” which is the voice in our head that wants to maintain the status quo and gets louder the more we take steps toward fulfillment. That voice can take on many forms: it can be mean and berate you and tell you you’re not enough; it can ask you, “who do you think you are?”; it can be overly practical and convince you that there just simply “isn’t enough time or resources for all that.” Sometimes the saboteur voice pretends to be self-compassion and says, “It’s ok, you can procrastinate one more day – it’s been a long day so far.”
It is very helpful to learn to identify that voice so you can set it aside and focus on the Truth of who you are and what you want. It takes practice, patience and all kinds of self-love, but it is worth it.
The goal of identifying the saboteur is not to get rid of it forever or to beat ourselves up for its existence. The saboteur (also called the inner critic, ego, etc.) is a part of the human experience and Everyone has it.
Even though it never really goes away permanently, we learn that it is separate from who we truly are and that it doesn’t speak for our highest self. We learn to practice mindfulness, non-judgment, and non-attachment. We learn to let it talk, to hear it out and validate whatever wisdom it brings, and then move on. Metaphorically speaking: it can be in the car with us (and it will be), but it’s not the driver and it doesn’t get a vote (regarding which direction we go).
I’ve learned something else about the saboteur since coaching: the saboteur is extremely adaptable. Once a particular method stops working, it finds a new one to use. I just realized today the new form it has taken in my life and just how damaging it could be.
Let me give a bit of history for context. I have always been strong and capable, but I didn’t really start believing that until the beginning of this year. I could see evidence of it intellectually, but feeling true, effortless confidence and a kind of self-assuredness that lasts for days is really quite new to me. It is the latest chapter in my journey toward true self-care and love I deliberately began a couple of years ago.
The saboteur that used to exist tormented me with thoughts of unworthiness and self-loathing. It played on a subconscious limiting belief that staying small was a way to “protect myself” from the vulnerability of dreaming and being big. It has taken a lot of time, internal work, and consistent belief in myself to release that form of the saboteur. When that cruel voice speaks to me now about my inabilities and downfalls, I don’t believe it and it fades away.
After this healing work and the fading of the saboteur, what revealed itself within me was a strength, vulnerability, and sense of clarity and confidence like I had never felt before.
I learned to cultivate that strength, and to take care of myself, eat right, exercise, and experience joy, all because I can now see my inherent worth. We all have inherent worth, but we don’t always see or feel it. I see it in myself, and I now believe I deserve to be treated well… even by me. Especially by me. I understand now that the best way to reassure myself that I am worthy is to treat myself like I am loved and am enough every single day.
Here comes the tricky part and the sneaky new form of the saboteur currently present within me. Lately I have had this sick, guilty feeling that me being confident and believing in myself is a bad thing. Thoughts arise that tell me all the self-assuredness and confidence I have is, in fact, my worst quality
I recognize, now, that my saboteur has adapted and begun to turn my confidence against me.
It is telling me that when I am proud of my life, when I share the challenges I have overcome, when I believe in myself and share my story with others, that I am being a self-righteous jerk who is full of hubris. It’s like the uber-advanced version of the “who do you think you are” version of the saboteur.
It is using my feeling of worthiness against me, and I think that is totally bogus. What the actual hell, right?! Who knew that you could go from having wicked low self-esteem and self-love, work your butt off through the healing process, discover a newfound belief in yourself and level of confidence, only to have that thrown into your face too?!
I would love to say that at this exact moment I no longer believe this new advanced-level saboteur technique, but that would be a lie. It’s still talking to me, even as I write this post and share this experience. And that’s ok. It can be there, but I tell you what, it is not driving the car and it does not make any decisions. By sharing this new realization and challenge with you, I am showing it and myself that even though this technique is next-level sh*t, I won’t let it stop me from moving forward and doing what I love, even when it’s hard.
That’s all I (or any of us) really can do. I can accept its presence, try not beat to myself up over the fact this stealth attack totally worked on me for a while, and reconnect with what I know is True.
Deep within, this is what I know to be True: I know it isn’t bad to be happy, successful, confident, self-assured, or living a life you’re proud of. I know that having a low moment or challenging time in your life isn’t something to be ashamed of, and I know that having a high or exciting time isn’t either. I know that, in the words of Marianne Williamson “There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”
I know that even though my saboteur has slyly found a way of using that against me too, I won’t let it stop me from doing this work. I won’t let it stop me from holding what I know to be true for you: that you are worthy, deserving, and capable of living a happy, fulfilling life.
When the saboteur talks, connect with your true self. Journal, talk to friends that you can trust who see and support your highest self, meditate, go outside, play, and listen to the Truth within you. Even if it is faint. Make decisions from that place, and remember that YOU are in the driver’s seat.