NextGen Professional

The Many Voices of Self-Sabotage

Sabotage: “an act or process tending to hamper or hurt.”   – Marriam-Webster’s Dictionary

“Getting in our own way” is a favorite expression of mine, and something I am quite familiar with.  I believe it is safe to say that we all get in our own way from time-to-time.  We develop a goal and associated a plan of attack; but then, out of nowhere and for reasons we can’t fully explain, we act in a manner that hampers or hurts our pursuit of that goal.  We get in our own way.

The internet is filled with articles and videos covering the important topic of self-sabotage.  A Google search will provide you with a variety of explanations for why we do it, signs-and-symptoms to help catch ourselves in the act, and a series of tips for overcoming self-sabotage.  This article takes the discussion in a different direction by including the concept of Parts Psychology.  Parts Work (as it is often called) addresses our never-ending inner dialogue and takes our self-awareness to a new level capable of leading to true and lasting change.  Parts Work takes us beyond the coping strategies you’ll find as a result of the aforementioned Google search.

The formula for self-sabotage appears to be as follows:

Step 1: We decide on a goal and a plan to achieve that goal.

Step 2: A PART of our psyche jumps in to state their opinion or objection.

Step 3: We act in a manner tending to hamper or hurt our pursuit of that goal.

Step 4: We justify our actions to avoid cognitive dissonance.

Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Example 1 – Delegation:

Step 1: Our goal is to delegate a bit of our work to free up some time. 

Step 2: A PART of us says: “Don’t do that”. 

Step 3: We do the work ourselves.

Step 4: We justify our actions by saying “it was easier to just take care of it myself this time, next time I’ll hand it over.”

Example 2 – Career growth:

Step 1: We want to grow in our career by getting involved in more business development, so we decide to attend a networking event.

Step 2: A PART of us says: “You’re a nobody.” 

Step 3: We decide not to attend.

Step 4: We justify our actions by saying “something came up at home, I’ll definitely go next time.”

Example 3 – Fitness:

Step 1: Our goal is to get in better shape, so we buy a gym membership and hire a personal trainer.  Training program.  Nutrition plan.  New gym clothes. 

Step 2: A PART of us says: “You can’t do this.”

Step 3: We drive to the gym but forget our new shoes at home.

Step 4: We justify our forgetfulness by telling our trainer about our hectic day and promise we will show up for our next session.

You’ve likely noticed that the comments our Parts make are often quite juvenile.  The reason for that is simple: these Parts ARE often quite juvenile.  Many of these Parts arose when we were young children, and they have been stuck at that age ever since.  Don’t expect them to provide a well-constructed logical explanation, as they can’t.  If that sounds odd to you, perhaps you can reflect on that for a bit and notice the way your Parts communicate.  Are they using the language that your mature adult self would use?  Or are the sentences short, simple, petulant?      

Parts Psychology Overview:

Gone are the days of the mono-mind theory, the belief that we have a singular and whole psyche that governs our actions.  Instead, it is widely accepted that our psyche is the sum of our sub-minds.  Freud talked about the Ego, Id, and Superego.  Jung talked about subpersonalities.  Even Fred Flintstone would engage with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. 

These subpersonalities are typically referred to as “Parts” by therapists and practitioners of Parts Psychology techniques (such as Inner Dynamics or Internal Family Systems).  Although techniques and verbiage can vary slightly, the concept is to connect with our many Parts: understand them, build relationships with them, and ultimately have them respect that we are in control.  This is where my expression “Become the CEO of your own mind” comes from. 

Addressing Self-Sabotage using Inner Dynamics:

 In our examples above, it is in Step 2 that a Part introduces a belief that causes us to get in our own way.  These are Parts of our psyche that don’t want us to change and are comfortable with the status quo.  The status quo is safe, familiar, and has kept us alive to this point.  These parts insist on being heard, they are very effective in their messaging, and they have been with us for most of our lives!

Ok, what can we do to see some progress?  What can we do to address the Part(s) that are impeding our goals, resisting change, causing us mental distress, and sabotaging our desires?

The process below is one you can do without the guidance of a practitioner, you’ll just need a quiet place, perhaps a pen and paper, and most important JUDGEMENT FREE CURIOSITY (notice I used all caps, so that means it must be important!). 


This is a critical first step.  All too often we get angry at ourselves for our self-sabotaging behaviours, which only makes it worse!  We are human, and thus we will have to deal with the power of our unconscious mind and the ability of our many Parts to influence us.  Here we are not dismissing our behaviours, not at all; instead, we are accepting them as part of the human condition.  This is not about strength vs weakness, nor is it a debate on how disciplined we are or are not.    

Acceptance helps to avoid the common trap of believing that we must not want our goal bad enough; for if we did, we wouldn’t be sabotaging our efforts.  Instead, we want to accept that our sabotaging behaviours occur because a Part of us that isn’t yet fully onboard with the change we want.    

Positive Intention:

I wrote a previous article called “What’s the Positive Intention?” that explains this valuable skill.  I believe ‘skill’ is the correct word here, as searching for the Positive Intention is most often counterintuitive and very difficult to do when we are associated to the situation.  To pull this off, we need to be open-minded and curious (there’s that word again…curious).      

Returning to our examples above, let’s see if we could determine the Positive Intention of the Parts resisting our desire for change.  How is this Part trying to help us?  From what is it trying to protect us?

Example 1 – Delegation:

The Positive Intention of a Part saying “don’t do that” might be: it doesn’t want others to think we’re not working hard; it fears what it will mean if our co-worker does the task better; or it doesn’t want us to get yelled at for the mistake of others.

Example 2 – Career Growth:

The Positive Intention of a Part saying “you’re a nobody” might be as simple as: I don’t want you to feel embarrassed if people don’t talk to you.

Example 3 – Fitness:

The Positive Intention of a Part saying “you can’t do this” might be: it doesn’t want us to take time away from our family; the last time we were in great shape we became arrogant; or, it doesn’t want us to feel embarrassment if we don’t stick with the program.


This step can often be quite challenging, but it is ABSOLUTELY necessary!  Our Parts must be appreciated for their efforts.  This step is non-negotiable.  When we show appreciation, the impact is often immediate.  Showing appreciation to our Parts is as simple as “I get that”, or “thank you”, or “what else would you like me to know.”  Better yet, string all three of those into a single sentence!  How would you feel if your boss treated you with that level of respect? 

Before we move on, let’s pause for a second:

Understanding and appreciating our Parts is necessary, but agreeing with our Parts is not, nor is it even recommended.  Much like speaking with a child we can seek to understand them and show appreciation for their honesty and efforts; but we do not have to agree with them. 

Curiosity is our primary state to combat the large demand put on our emotional control.  For some unknown reason, curiosity sets the stage for a string of characteristics ideal for handling life’s many varying situations: confidence, presence, calm, perspective, control, patience. 

Develop a plan to continue progressing with our Parts:

Be creative here, what would work best for you?  Would empowering a trusted other to “call you out” be effective?  How about wearing a rubber band on your wrist and snapping it anytime you notice a Part is being critical?  My preference is to keep an open dialogue with my Parts.  To me, this is the epitome of self-leadership.  Becoming the CEO of our own mind requires establishing and maintaining a relationship with our Parts.  When working on something specific (such as a self-sabotaging behaviour), I will check-in with my Parts daily.  This takes seconds, is never noticed by others, and has made a world of difference in my life. 


Once again, be creative here.  Journaling, meditation, sharing experiences with others can all be useful.  Our goal is to monitor progress over an extended period of time, so use whatever tool(s) works best for you!


Parts Work takes us beyond coping.  It is a proven technique for changing the dialogue in our minds, the dialogue that ultimately controls our thoughts, emotions, and actions.  Give the above process a try next time a Part of you is getting in your way, sabotaging your goals.  Accept that self-sabotage happens to us all, it comes with being human. Expect our Parts to speak the way a child might, petulant and without the logic that life’s experiences provide.  With a curious mind, seek to understand that Part and find its Positive Intention.  The magic happens after showing appreciation for the Part’s efforts, appreciation that it is trying to help us.  Understand that those efforts may appear misguided to the current adult version of ourselves.

Best wishes,