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The Saboteur Within

Have you ever been really excited about something…until the time it comes to do it and then be filled with self-doubt and criticism? Things that are new can fill us with such hope and expectation and then, when the time comes to do something, we can feel vulnerable and anxious for the change that might occur.

Change often involves stepping out of our comfort zone and telling the world ‘I’m here’ and hoping that our vulnerable state isn’t met with rejection, judgement or ridicule. And so, our initial enthusiasm can move from joyous expectation to shame – shame for believing in ourselves, shame for hoping, shame for considering taking the risk.

“What if it doesn’t work and you fail?”

“What if people think you are big-headed for doing it?”

And so, the battle between these 2 seemingly opposite arguments (you will fail vs you are being over-confident) rage between our ears and we can continue to be caught, helpless bystanders, fielding the fall-out which has us feeling doubt, anxiety and fear.

Change is a funny thing – it is inevitable and brings about lots of exciting opportunities, but our brains have not developed to always engage in change in this way. We are still, with all our complex emotions and wealth of experiences, quite basic creatures. Our core instincts work to ensure survival – anything changing needs to be evaluated for dangers in preparation for ensuring our body is ready to react. This evaluation of the world triggers emotions and memories which, left unchecked (like those niggly little arguments in our heads) can manifest in behaviours, self-doubt and stagnation. It is only when our higher order functions kick-in that rational and logic enter the equation!

In the meantime, that niggly voice can take very different forms; It can be a sort of impostor saying ‘you aren’t good enough, you can’t do it, you will never be better’ which shouts loud keeping us immobile and inactive, unable to swim against the tide of self-doubt, unable to reach out for help for fear of being ‘found out’ as failing. This impostor syndrome can lead to us sabotaging our own chances of success by stopping us taking the risk to be…whatever we want to be.

And then there is a different kind of voice which, stops us in our tracks by saying ‘but what if you succeed? What if it goes well and you get everything you want?’ Like the story of Jonah in the bible who runs away when God gives him a task to achieve greatness, the Jonah Complex has us lying to ourselves that we are happy to ‘settle with less than we are/want/need’ for fear of how success may change us/our life/our way of being and the potential pressures success may bring with it. It is, as Maslow states in ‘The Farther Reaches of Human Nature’:

"We fear our highest possibilities. We are generally afraid to become that which we can glimpse in our most perfect moments, under the most perfect conditions, under conditions of great courage. We enjoy and even thrill to the godlike possibilities we see in ourselves in such peak moments. And yet we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe, and fear before these very same possibilities.”

Though widely different in the way they stop us in our tracks, these two opposing responses to change have something in common. They thrive in our isolation and silence. They are the shaming aspect that lead us to believe that if we tell someone we are struggling then we are weak and so we keep silent and they continue to run rife. The The shame researcher Bréné Brown, said it brilliantly during her 2013 TedTalk:

“The less you talk about it, the more you got it. Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment. Shame depends on me buying into the belief that I’m alone…. Here’s the bottom line: “Shame cannot survive being spoken…. It cannot survive empathy.”

So, in the face of change, we are not helpless. By noticing what is going on inside us we can give ourselves the choice to attend to it or not. You can evaluate it, question the evidence that supports or refutes it and then choose how to react. Instead of reacting to the emotions swirling inside based on what you think OTHERS might think, you are able to speed up activation of your higher-order brain which enables rational, logical thought to occur - in other words, you start to respond rather than react. You have a CHOICE, You can notice and challenge those niggly feelings, (which can be so hard in a world where from a very young age we breathe in the expectations and conditions of approval from others which become a kind of blueprint for how our brains view and respond to change.) This is where reaching out to someone you trust is important and saying “I am thinking this stuff and I just want to speak it out, get it out there so it isn’t hidden and I don’t feel alone”. We always have CHOICE, though it may seem slight or hard to see.

When we judge ourselves by what we believe others think we are capable of, we limit ourselves to their imagined possibilities. It is when we trust in what WE KNOW we are capable of, the possibilities become LIMITLESS. Believe in yourself and look to shine light on your vulnerability, for this is truly brave!

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