self-sabotage and shame


'Self-sabotage behaviour can come in many forms' by Mark Tyrrell

‘Self-sabotage behaviour can come in many forms’ by Mark Tyrrell

In the process of writing my disability application, a person helping me asked me how I would define self-sabotage. He kind of answered for me when I hesitated because I didn’t really understand why he was asking; but three weeks later, totally out of the blue, this comes to me:

Self-sabotage is doing the same things repetitively to fuck things up; recognizing what you’re doing, and still not being able to stop doing it.

That was me, particularly intensely in my early twenties. I could feel my (inner) child clinging to others, and I could watch them back-tracking; I could understand what drove people away, but wasn’t able to stop what was happening, over and over again. I’m fairly certain I was one of those people who drained people’s energy, or caused them to unconsciously avoid getting too close to me, and yet there was nothing I could do about it.

The shame was crushing, but the most horrible thing about it was being aware of it, even while it was happening, but not being able to stop it. I guess I’m writing this because, although it has shifted quite a bit for me since then, it still comes up now and again, and I still feel the instinct to deny it to others and bear the weight of it myself. That is shame:

Shame is the instinct to hide a truth about ourselves because if others knew about it, we would not be loved. Shame makes us feel like a liar or a fraud at our deepest core, afraid of being discovered.

No one has ever confirmed for me that this dynamic was really real. It has taken a very long time for me to step out of the confusion, and trust that what I experienced was real. The notion that my mind was making up ‘stories’ and thus creating my anxiety did far more harm than good by prolonging this confusion and the healing it prevented me from experiencing, and this is exactly the root of why CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) was such a waste of my time in so many ways. I still find this notion so invalidating — that the adversities in our lives are not founded in anything real at all (so we are even crazier than we’d thought) — change your thoughts, and suddenly you were never abused, rejected and avoided in your life; none of that really happened. Our minds created those stories and all of the grief, depression and anxiety that has fucked us up all these years. So just stop listening to your mind and your senses because they are full of shit. They cannot be trusted. Our perceptions cannot be trusted; they are distorted. Ignore the stories in our minds at all costs and we will be fine.

'Monster in the Closet' by Efrem Palacios

‘Monster in the Closet’ by Efrem Palacios

I’m influenced here by Brene Brown’s talks on vulnerability and shame. It seems like when we can be brought to expose what we are most deeply ashamed of (impossible if we are still thinking that the source of our shame might actually be just a story in our minds), it is an act of deep vulnerability — the kind Brown describes as “the birth place of creativity, innovation and change.” There is so much healing in putting words to “it” (whatever it might be that is itching us inside). The things we are ashamed of are what create the pattern of chronic self-sabotage; but these things are able to be transformed by acknowledging them to the extent that they can be expressed, exposed and understood — the opposite of what our shame would have us do.


Author: innerlight

A capricorn horse. Creative dreamer, over thinker. bpd, insecure attachment and any other labels for deep and chronic wounds and other gifts of brilliance that propel intense and eclectic lives and make for good art. We are high needs and high return, all the way, all the way. Surrender, integration, repair, rebuild, connect, create, evolve. Deeply.

11 thoughts on “self-sabotage and shame

  1. I have not read that definition of shame before..
    I’ve felt shame for much of my life according to the definition.

    I’m continually finding new resources on my journey to health and healing. Here’s one you may benefit from

    I’m sorry that you had a bad experience with CBT. Your experience doesn’t sound like mine at all. Maybe your practitioner didn’t use the therapy correctly? it was very helpful to me. I learned how to choose methods of sticking with the thoughts, recognizing the distorted cognitions (here is a list and going through the experience without using maladaptive behaviors like binging/purging, alcohol, self-harm, risky behaviors etc. Our brains do make up stories…embellishing the actual happenings of our life and keeping us stuck in the patterns of unhealthy relating. It’s our false perceptions that keep us from healing. I don’t discount anyone’s traumatic experiences. They ARE real. They DID happen. Anyone that says they did not is a quack. I’m wondering if you’ve ever thought of EMDR to help with your traumatic experiences…it’s worth checking out.

  2. Thanks for writing, Shelly. I’m left with the question of whether or not you relate to this definition of shame, and I’m curious to know.
    As for CBT, I believe part of my bpd experience is continually doubting one’s own perceptions, wondering what’s real and what’s not (many posts I have written on this), particularly one or more traumatic events that no one else has appeared to perceive. Even more damage is done when a person’s account of a traumatic event(/s) is outright denied and deliberately dismissed. If one’s emotional responses have been accurately extreme, as well as extremely repressed, then trying to decrease emotional responses (the goal I perceive of CBT) is going to feel like repression. It re-traumatizes / re-opens the wound of invalidation that has torn us appart in the first place and made us doubt everything in ourselves and life.
    EMDR: Yes, I’ve heard good things, just haven’t managed to find a way yet — the only treatment subsidized where I live is basically psychiatry and sessions with a psych nurse. Interested in hearing more about the EMDR in terms of personal experiences though …

  3. Hey Underground,

    I loved the post and found it very thought provoking. It might even have inspired me to write a post on something that you said. (I am still mulling that over in my mind.)

    I also liked the quote…
    “Shame is the instinct to hide a truth about ourselves because if others knew about it, we would not be loved. Shame makes us feel like a liar or a fraud at our deepest core, afraid of being discovered.”

    But for me personally I don’t think it goes far enough. The question for me has to be what the correct response to shame is? I like the quote and think it is fitting butjust because the quote is fitting it doesn’t mean the shame itself is fitting.

    How many times are we, as foilk who suffer from poor mental health and who thus might have behaved or responded, in a way that was not acceptable but, by virtue of that poor mental health, beyond our immediate control made to feel shame for our actions and thus about ourselves?

    There is I think a very dangerous and soul-destroying catch22 in that…

    If we do something bad which we should not have done and could have chosen not to do we face the guilt and any consequences of that and learn to resolve not to do that again and in that there is both reilution and closure.

    But if it was something bad whch we should not have done BUT could not help but doing it then are we intrisically bad? Isn’t that the mindset that so many of us are forced to faced and adopt? Coincidentally, isn’t that what the stigma attached to mental illness wants us to believe?

    I recently wrote about this (albeit more about guilt than shame) in my post ‘A Trinity of Torments’

    For me the fact of the matter is that if my mind is (or has become) wired in a different way to others and which results in my acting or behaving differently to others that is not reason enough, in itself, for anyone to discard me or to write me off but instead to be more loving and understanding and to afford me more time and resources to help me sort out that ‘wiring’ and how to behave and respond correctly.

    Sadly, it seems whilst we may desire this response from others towards us we are all too often very bad at affording that response to ourselves. Which of course is again all part of that saboutage you spoke of.

    Just my thoughts on it. Hope it makes some sense.
    Kind Regards


  4. shame…fraud…being unloved…liar…why would anyone like the REAL me.

    Although I didn’t have the traumatic events in my experience like you did, I experienced all of the above. Even as the valedictorian of my class and giving the graduation speech, I was thinking…if they only knew. I felt left out…on the outside all of my life. Not all the time, but enough to really affect my thinking and relating. It’s only been in the last 2 years that I’ve really become aware of how I think and why that may be.
    The thought processes get grooved so deeply. Especially when your my age (51) and trying to untangle the mess of twisting/turning/knotted stuff in your head.
    EMDR helps you get to the root feelings and then go through the feelings. Usually they stem from somewhere deep in your past. It’s recognizing what was really happening and why ther little girl inside came to the conclusion that she did. It is possible to look at those times objectively…not discounting what happened…but without getting hooked into the strong emotional response that causes one to relive over and over the trauma. It’s still part of your story but you are able to live in the present rather than continually in the past. It’s a journey. It takes practice.
    This is my own innocuous thought that we worked on last time. I’m not smart enough.. When I was 4 and went to kindergarten registration, the lady at the table asked my name, I looked to my mom and she nodded her head. I told her my nickname. My mom and/or the lady said no, you’re (my given name). My thought was “I am so stupid, how could I not know that?” My therapist helped me to see that the shy, fear-filled little girl hiding behind my mom’s skirt, DID know her name. It was what I was called my first years…it’s still what I’m called by most. It was that incident that started is the false thought that has been my belief all my life. It IS a little thing…but you can see how a thought can become imbedded. We’re going through those beliefs one by one…figuring out where they stem from…have me FEEL the emotion…see the truth.
    I am learning how to feel them again little by little…not automatically push the feelings and emotions away. I rationalize, analyze, intellectualize them away or “run” away. I had methods of dissociation…where it felt like I left my body at times but usually it was being present without being present, hiding behind a book. Now I only dissociate when I’m so tired that my anxiety gets very high and I feel like my body is slipping away at the edges.
    One of my therapists thought I was BPD. I have some characteristics, especially when my bipolar was really flared, but it’s more of a symptom of bipolar during those times since it’s not part of my underlying personality. I had to work through the feelings of abandonment when any person that I had become CODEPENDENT upon “left” me. Usually because I sucked the life out of them. That was the biggest flag for BPD in my therapist’s eyes. I didn’t self-harm except for resorting to binging/purging at times. Very infrequent now. I do have good relationships…just those few during my life that I referred to…I attached to one person while the rest of my relationships were fine during the same period. No intense love/hate. No out of control anger. No impulsive behaviors-I’m a cautious person. No severe paranoia. No recurrent suicidal behavior. Some identity disturbance. As I look back on my life, I had more symptoms of BPD in my college years.
    I’m glad that you are working your way to a healthier you. Like I said…it’s a process.

  5. so true. our shame exists; it is what it is. but it’s not punishment to give name to and own our brokenness. it’s freedom.

    we all are our own key to inner discovery.

  6. Pingback: Child of person with mental health not permitted to live! « Voices of Glass

  7. Pingback: Attack shame! « Todd's Perspective

  8. Hi

    I like how you’ve used Mark Tyrrell’s cartoon on this post, but could I ask you to link back to the source from the image credit please ( ?


    Roger Elliott (Mark’s business partner)

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