Embracing Shadows: Self-Sabotage as an Unconscious Form of Self-Protection

man sabotaging himself

I’ll start with my heart.

This heart of mine has taken a ride on the rollercoaster this past few years, it’s enjoyed the highs of love, the ferocity of the fight, the lows of heartbreak and loss and the closure of being boxed in. And even though I’ve been writing for at least 16 years now, I feel somewhat rusty, somewhat unable to face the written word and sat here wondering where on earth to begin. For my editor-in-chief and best friend has departed this world and so much has happened it is hard to know which piece of the journey needs to be put back into words again, to formulate my healing journey through writing again and speaking.

So I started this week by creating videos on You-Tube as a way to process grief in My Grief Journey HERE, but I feel so much more needs to be said and shared for my own understanding and awareness, but also because I know many others must be feeling how I have been feeling and wondering how to become unstuck from what could feel like consistent self-sabotage.

So I will begin with self-sabotage or rather self-protection and in a series of posts I will write about:

  • Letting go of the burden of responsibility for others
  • Releasing the habit of constant anger
  • Bidding farewell to the reliance on being rescued or rescuing others
  • Recognising the profound and enduring impact of a toxic childhood on adult outcomes, leading to a sense of being stuck and trapped
  • Understanding that a lack of visibility and acknowledgment as children can translate into the same as adults
  • Exploring the far-reaching consequences of early abandonment on adult relationships and friendships
  • Examining the feeling of ‘It’s not safe to change’, ‘It’s not safe to move forward’, ‘It’s not safe to to be happy’ or ‘It’s not safe to receive’
  • Managing the expectation of rejection based on childhood experiences with parents being reflected in our adult lives
  • Overcoming the rejection of never feeling ‘chosen’ and recognising that the belief ‘it’s meant to be’ can also be a form of self-sabotage in fostering loving relationships.
  • Understanding the conditional nature of parental approval, often tied to compliance with their desires
  • Reflecting on the impact of neglectful parenting, such as being left on the floor during medical procedures or being left in distress instead of being comforted
  • Recognising the divisive nature of placing siblings on different pedestals
  • Grieving the lack of experience of people seeing and understanding one’s true self
  • Acknowledging the harmful effects of the silent treatment from a parent, recognising its potential for danger and long term psychological damage
  • How we often are attracted to unavailable people, be it friends, lovers or partners as a protection from true intimacy
  • Why positive thinking and affirmations merely paper over the cracks of much deeper issues that need addressing first before the mindset is changed

So I think this is a lot to be getting on with for now and I’ve listed as many topics as I can remember that are issues I am personally working through too.

Self-Sabotage Is Actually Self-Protection

holding hand child parent

So many of us have been led to believe that we sabotage ourselves and what this does is it makes our inner children feel berated, judged and unfairly criticised for what is often them playing a role that is there to protect us. They do everything in their power to keep us away from perceived danger or harm.

This could be physical, mental and/or emotional harm.

So when we are told to get rid of self-sabotaging ways, what we are actually doing is saying to the innocent beautiful children within us that we want to get rid of them and in doing so we are hurting ourselves.

Instead, what we need to begin to recognise, is that each inner child has a message to give us, each inner child has been playing a role, a role many of them would like to give up and just be children instead. Playful, innocent, easy-going children.

Yet what happens is something may feel like it goes wrong in our lives and so we feel frustrated, angry and upset that we can’t seem to fix whatever it is that feels out of our control. We can’t seem to stop whatever it is that causes us to resist that potentially amazing thing, person or experience over there. 

An example being:

Perhaps you have an unconscious fear of intimacy. So what you do is you become attracted to someone who does not like you in that way. They become like nectar to a bee to you. You may find ways to hang out with them, chase them in some way. And after a little while that person starts to find you attractive, you may pick up on this subconsciously or you may only realise this once they have spoken to you about their feelings.

Your next step isn’t to lean into such wonderful possibility, you suddenly become turned off by them, they make you uncomfortable, you don’t find them attractive anymore even if everything about them could be really good for you and you push them away, ignore them, avoid them and run away.

Somewhere in your past, maybe your childhood with a mother figure, you started to share that you loved them or showed them your authentic self and instead of a loving parental response they pushed you away.

That really hurt and from this moment on you set up all your relationships so you couldn’t be hurt, by pushing them away first, by abandoning them before you are abandoned. More often you would be  attracted to someone who also has intimacy issues and who was also abandoned as child and that adult then gets to experience that abandonment again through you.

You didn’t sabotage a possible relationship, you instead protected yourself from perceived hurt and pain.

And now, if you are to grow and move forward, you must take a look inside and see which inner child (or children, there can be multiple ones) have your back, are keeping you safe, but who now, need to return back to being children, not protectors of you the adult. A new way needs to happen.

The Shadow Is Simply That Which Isn’t Seen

mans shadow self

We can’t change unless we discover what it is that is afraid to change.

We can’t move forward unless we discover what part of us is scared to move forward.

And we can’t receive unless we release the fear of receiving.

This takes time and isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes a commitment to do this and many people prefer to avoid this altogether. To many, it is easier to avoid through drugs, alcohol, overeating and other distraction methods. Instead they project those issues onto those around them, because if you can’t see what is going inside of you, you tend to project it outside until you face it and embrace it.

So thank you for taking this deep introspective journey, it takes courage to do so.

Please keep following this blog for updated posts on these topics.

Good luck on embracing your shadow.


Kelly Martin
Kelly Martin

Kelly Martin, author of ‘When Everyone Shines But You’ is a dedicated writer and blogger who fearlessly explores life’s deepest questions. Faced with a decade of profound anxiety and grief following the loss of her father and her best friend Michael, Kelly embarked on a transformative journey guided by mindfulness, and she hasn’t looked back since. Through her insightful writing, engaging podcasts, and inspiring You Tube channel Kelly empowers others to unearth the hidden treasures within their pain, embracing the profound truth that they are ‘enough’ exactly as they are.

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