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Understanding and Avoiding Self Sabotage

Updated: Oct 19, 2018

Before I dig into this personal topic, It is important to get some basic definitions out of the way. In this post, we talk a lot about the “ego”. There is a lot of psycho-babble around the word. For purposes of this post, ego is “the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for establishing a sense of personal identity”. Identity is simply defined as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.”

Now onto the topic at hand…

I struggle with many character flaws and habits that thwart efforts to achieve my full potential (defined as the fulfillment of God’s plan for my life).  Each time, I experience success in one area of my life, I find myself engaging in an offsetting destructive habit - often in another area of my life. The result being a kind of 1 step forward equals one (or more) steps back or “net zero progress.”

I experience this “net zero” so often that I have coined the term “Ego Equilibrium” to describe it. The ego fiercely protects its definition of itself (also known as identity). The identity includes, but is not limited to, one’s place in defined social, economic, professional, personal and familial hierarchies. Disruptions to these hierarchies are perceived as threats, and the resulting instability triggers the ego’s self-defense mechanisms often expresses as a self-destructive, net-zeroing, habit.

However, we are not born with an ego and as such are not slaves to it. The ego develops in the first three years of life. The ego is the answer to the question "how do we get our needs met in a world of scarcity and danger?” Therefore, ego and its identity are born from a world of scarcity.

God's identity for us supersedes the ego’s identity. God knew us before we were “formed in the womb” (Jeremiah 1:5). Furthermore, His plans for us were crafted in abundance and not in scarcity. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11). While the ego works from scarcity, God works from unlimited resources and power.  

In the Bible, examples of the ego vs. God play out over and over. When God reveals his plans for Moses to lead the Israelites out slavery, Moses’ response was one based in ego & identity. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). Moses continues to argue with the lord, “I have never been eloquent… I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10) Moses identity and ego were formed in scarcity, and knows only of his social, economic, familial, and professional hierarchies and limitations. He does not understand the nature of the one who formed him.

So God sets Moses straight. “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4 11-12).

The gap between our ego’s identity and God’s plan creates significant tension. When confronted with God’s plan, the ego is not passive. It fights back! For many, this fight surfaces as self-sabotage, and in this, we are not alone.

Prior to meeting Jesus Paul’s ego and identity was that of a Christian persecutor. He ravaged the gatherings of Christians and dragged them off to prison (Acts 8:3). After meeting Christ Paul identity is transformed. Now he is credited with writing 13 books of the new testament. Even after walking with Christ, Paul describes his struggle with self-sabotage “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15). Sound familiar?

What are we to do then? How can we overcome the eternal struggle of ego, identity, and God’s plan to achieve our full potential? How do we defeat the games our ego plays? We find answers to these questions in the Bible, and they manifest themselves in three simple strategies we can start using right now:

Do not allow the ego and it’s identity to limit our ability to achieve our potential: 

As we have discussed, the ego’s identity was formed in response to scarcity. God reveals to Paul “[His] grace is sufficient for [us]: for [his] strength is made perfect in [our] weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Here we see that God has the ability to do something our ego cannot fathom. He can transform scarcity into abundance. Therefore, Paul instructs us to celebrate our limitation so “that the power of Christ may rest upon [us]” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Memorize 2 Corinthians 12:9. Silence your Ego with the promise of our God.

Do not hide from God:

As we embrace God’s identity for us, our ego will fight back. It will seek equilibrium, and we will self-sabotage our progress. In these moments (or the ones that follow), our natural tendency is to hide from God. As if one could hide; really? “'Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?’ declares the LORD ‘Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?’” (Jeremiah 23:24). We must understand that it is in God our weakness can be transformed into strength, but only if we run to Him! 

Apostle Paul affirms this action in 2 Corinthians 12:9-11 (NIV): "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Do what is next:

I tend to self-sabotage when I am overwhelmed by an unknown future. This act of self-sabotage is marked by internal questions like “how is this going to work out?” or statements like “I don’t know what I am doing.” The resulting self-sabotaging action is my ego’s attempt to protect its identity from the unknown by withdrawing into a place of comfort and familiarity (even if that place is self-destructive).

The ego does not understand the abundant power of the Lord and must be taught through acts of faith. This means doing the task God has put in front of us; even when we don’t know how we will do it or if it will work out. God tells Moses "Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exodus 4:12). We must “Trust in the Lord with all [our] heart, and do not lean on [our] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). This is best demonstrated by doing what is next and trusting the Lord.

Consistent application of these principles will not go unnoticed by the ego, and in time a new identity will be formed. With enough repetition our ego will accept this new identity; knowing that our “old self-was crucified with [Christ] so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” (Romans 6:6) It is only in by embracing our true pre-ego identity that we can hope to achieve our full potential in Christ.

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