The best way to learn about saboteurs is to ask an alcoholic. Go to an open AA meeting, and listen and I guarantee, the main topic of conversation about what drives alcoholics to drink is resentment, and guess who the number one person on their list of people they owe amends to is? That’s right, themselves. Saboteurs are the little voices inside your head that beat you up when you are not living up to some ideal. These little nagging voices are basically bullies in your brain, and for an alcoholic these voices are constant. People pleasers by nature, alcoholics often take criticisms to heart, such as a parent intentionally or unintentionally making them feel like they aren’t enough, by being absent themselves or because of their own saboteurs that have nothing to do with you. Any feeling of rejection or not being worthy enough by a family member can instill strong feelings of worthlessness and self-pity. These feelings are shameful to feel, and often drive alcoholics to drink over it. Talk about sabotage!
Saboteurs are what some philosophers call an “identity issue” or a psychologist might call a “narcissistic injury.” They are coping mechanisms that were helpful in childhood and are the Survivor Brain in that the saboteur was created as a survival function. These feelings of worthlessness hijack the brain, and sabotage you. What Yoga instructors call “monkey mind” is when your mind is not still, but running a full circus show, sometimes quite literally, in order to prove worthiness to some imaginary audience that will make them feel worthy enough. When you weaken this voice that beats you up for not being worthy enough, you shift the power back into being in the drivers’ seat of your own mind. There are some Yoga teachers who have compared the mind to being like an untrained dog, and you must teach it to sit and stay etc. Once you are in the drivers’ seat, you can then choose a different mindset. These mindsets are The Sage mindsets. These are opposite mindsets to a saboteur mindset, so you are quite literally like a main character in a movie moving from an A to a B. By becoming a witness to your Saboteurs, and exposing and labeling the saboteurs, you become more aware of them and thus they lose their power over you. Buddhist Meditation techniques are similar in that you are watching your thoughts “pass like clouds” in order to gain a non-attachment like state or attitude towards these sabotaging thoughts and feelings that come and go. The way the saboteurs sabotage is that they become attached and cling onto whatever is going to feed it. If you have narcissistic injuries around worthiness, your feeling of worthlessness will never feel worthy enough no matter what you do try to people please to feel more worthy, it won’t matter. So, don’t. The reality is that your worth is not dependent upon people liking you, and that includes the judge in yourself and your judging parent (if you had one). Don’t allow these saboteurs to push yourself beyond your own limits to the point of resentment and burnout. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone, including your saboteurs. It is often unfortunately the voice of a parent figure that is the usual judge, or what Freud calls the Superego which is the part of the mind that is supposed to be practical, rational, knows right and wrong, and is the moral compass, while the Id is the appetites and desires, the subconscious, and memories; it’s primitive and instinctual. The Ego is the voice of reason that acts as a mediator between the Superego and the Id. As we know from psychology, trauma can mess up these parts of the mind. If your parent was particularly strict or punishing, and didn’t talk issues out with you, but sent you to your room or grounded you for what felt like eternity, you may have had an overprotective parent figure and you may feel like you can never be good enough. The survivor brain wants to feel good enough because if they don’t feel good enough it will threaten their very basic survival instincts, or so the survivor brain likes to tell us to protect us. The truth is, you don’t need these old survival coping mechanisms and walls, and it is best to question them often. Ask yourself, when am I in survivor mode? When am I in the here and now and when am I reacting from something from the past or involving my sense of self-worth and self-esteem? The Superego or the judge can be hyper vigilant, always on the lookout for potential threats. They key is to call upon and strengthen your sage aspects or what some might call your “higher Self.” In alcoholics anonymous, it’s a “higher power as you understand it.” In programs like AA, strengthening one’s relationship with a higher power is the key to staying sober one day at a time. It opens the mind and activates curiosity and puts the focus on something bigger than them. As one strengthens the higher Self or Sage, one learns to listen to others and be of service to others in hopes to gain empathy for one another in the group and for the individual and to look for solutions. The Sage allows you to do things for altruistic means, not to prove anything or be something. Notice how, when you are in the Sage aspect of decision making, and not reacting out of resentment or fear or anger, that there is a relaxed and focused state. There is a shift of focus on the vision and the goal and not the saboteur, so that one can make decisions without any stress. There is a healthy balance between the Superego and the Id, which involves self-care and authentic action that is free from the influence of saboteurs.