Recently, I looked around our home and got a pit of anxiety in my stomach.
Was it a wreck? Did I suddenly realize I didn’t like any of what we own? Was I concerned that someone coming over was going to mess it up with their beloved children? Was I worried what other people would think when they walked in?
No. None of those things. You know what gave me anxiety?
That it actually is coming together in a way that I have wanted and worked towards.
(It’s taken me 2 years to get here, so don’t be too impressed.) In other words, everything feels somewhat “right,” and that made me anxious. I know. At the moment I didn’t even want to begin thinking about the kind of dysfunction in myself that allowed this kind of thought pattern. I was so confused, yet comfortable with my anxiety. I forced myself to get to the bottom of the pit in my stomach and figure out what kind of wrong thinking was giving me this anxiety that I was oddly familiar with. I started thinking backward in my mind:
I have been working to make our home beautiful, and my vision for it is almost there, and that gives me anxiety.
Is it perfectionism? No. I know the creative drive to change up your home will always be there.
Do I not like it? Do I wish I had done something different? Am I self-conscious when people come inside, worried about what they will think? No, none of those things.
Am I bothered by achieving something? Hmm, that’s getting closer.
Do I have guilt for liking our home? Kind of.
Do I typically react to the achievement of any kind in this way? Usually, with anxiety, fear & guilt. I am admittedly terrible at taking a compliment or letting anyone’s encouragement of me actually sink in & take effect. It’s more comfortable to fail or feel like a failure.
Why? I don’t know.
I sat down to write some of my thoughts out & the phrase “self-sabotage” came to my mind. I realized that there are so many times I sabotage my own efforts to achieve something, but it seems that our home has somehow escaped my bad habits. I tell myself “I want to get up early” or “I’m going to avoid eating the food that I know is terrible for me”–I’m good for a few days, and then that 4th day rolls around–my alarm goes off, and I just lay in bed. I eat dessert at a family gathering even though I don’t actually want to eat it. Our dining room is basically “done,” except for the dining table. But I already have the dining table-it’s out in the garage. And I have had it for months. It just needs to be refinished. Yet, it sits there & I haven’t worked on it all summer. Why do I procrastinate this, along with a slew of other things? Why do I shoot myself in the foot over and over again? I, of course, turned to the internet to see what information it has about the topic of self-sabotage, and you will be comforted to know that it is actually related to a number of psychological disorders. Sounds about right!
Its basic definition is this: Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems, undermines and interferes with long-standing goals. The most common forms of self-sabotage are procrastination, self-medication (with drugs or alcohol), comfort eating, and at times something as severe as self-harm (source). Another source described it this way: “We all get in our own way occasionally and some people do it repeatedly, whether it’s procrastinating, drinking, or overeating. Self-sabotaging behavior results from a misguided attempt to rescue ourselves from our own negative feelings,” as well as “a complex, tragic process that pits people against their own thoughts and impulses.”
There is a litany of possible sources as to where this would originate in a persons psyche, but for me, nothing sums it up better than Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. ” That is exactly it. I just plain don’t do what I want to do and keep on doing the things that I know will harm me in the end. Verse 16 goes on, “And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
It is my sin nature to act out “against” myself. I am an enemy of myself, every day, every moment, every decision. I read through Genesis & observe the way that Eve-the “mother of all the living” behaved-taking fruit from the tree that she knew God had commanded her not to, knowing it would separate herself from Him. Whether or not I realize it in the moment, my unhealthy behavior of procrastination doesn’t just separate me from my goals & dreams for life, but also from God himself. Because if I avoid achievement in earthly things, you better believe I tragically sacrifice kingdom achievement as well. Every achievement or non-achievement I make, no matter how small, all either propel me forward or keeps me cemented in complacency. And because every person that still has breath in their lungs has a purpose for being on this Earth, we should never settle for procrastination or anything that is hindering because surely there is still work to be done. The only way to overcome myself is not with myself–after all, I can’t be reliably trusted. So every day, when my alarm goes off before my kids are awake, I need to turn to God & ask for the strength it takes to not hit snooze. As unimportant as that sounds, I know that He is concerned even with the smallest of things because every small thing contributes to the bigger picture that is my purpose in life.
And because every person that still has breath in their lungs has a purpose for being on this Earth, we should never settle for procrastination or anything that is hindering because surely there is still work to be done.
Okay, so I have a grasp of my tendencies to sabotage my own efforts. But I still hadn’t sorted out the discrepancy of my fear of achievement. I kept reading, and I was reminded of The Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Cognitive dissonance is mental distress, or psychological discomfort, experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. This theory comes from Leon Festinger back in the 50’s who proposed that “human beings strive for internal psychological consistency in order to mentally function in the real world. People seek psychological consistency between their personal expectations of life and the existential reality of the world.” The whole concept of cognitive dissonance is an interesting study on the harmful behaviors and cognitive thinking of humankind, I think because it is so basic to the (sin) nature of man.
After reading I realized I have two contradictory beliefs: I can achieve what I set my mind to and I do not deserve achievement. Therefore, instead of eradicating the false belief that I do not deserve achievement, I instead sabotage my own positive efforts to remove the cognitive dissonance and return to “equilibrium.” Yikes. For whatever reason, I am comfortable with avoiding “achievement”. This unrealistic fear of succeeding has led to missed opportunities and purposely failed efforts on my part. This toxic thinking has likely been a part of who I am for most of my life, inhibiting me along the way. One source puts it like this: “From deep within, as a kind of hapless puppet, you may be controlled by programs so antagonistic or contradictory that it’s simply impossible to achieve what, otherwise, might be well within your grasp. And insufficiently aware of the adverse self-beliefs underlying such programming–beliefs most likely derived from negative messages you regularly received from your [youth]–you can’t confront (let alone resolve) your deepest conflicts.”
2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity but of power, love, and self-discipline.” I no longer want to live in this backward fear, hiding behind the misguided lies that I tell myself every day–that it is more “safe” to fail than to succeed. I want to walk in the truth of the Gospel daily, banishing my fear & doubt with the power of the Spirit, and be self-disciplined to do exactly what God calls me to each day. I know there is a small part of my heart that is fearful of where God will take me if I give my best & dream big, being most honest with Him about what I want out of life. That somehow my successes will be interpreted as my own efforts and not the grace of God working through me. What a tragic waste of my life that would be, to sit in complacent fear!
Friend, what is holding you back? What bad habits can you just not kick, but desperately wish you could? What lies are you shaping your life around that are halting your personal, emotional, spiritual, or professional growth? We are all born into this world an ancestor to the “mother of all the living,” acting out against ourselves & the God who created us. Let’s push past even the smallest barriers onto our greatest God-given potential.
“Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”