We all have them, a persistent behaviour we return to when under stress which generally makes the situation worse. Most of us have a dominant type of Saboteur which, by mid-life, will feel like a not-so-comfortable part of our own personality. Spoiler alert! They are not part of our personality. They may have held us back for years, but we can overcome them – whatever stage we’re at in life.

How To Recognise A Saboteur

A good way to recognise a Saboteur is when a voice pops up in your head with a suggestion which seems:

  1. Convincing
  2. Natural
  3. Diminishing

Saboteurs are convincing because they are usually formed early in life, often to help us out in some way. A People-Pleasing Saboteur may have been formed in childhood to get attention and praise (and perhaps a few treats along the way too). As the years pass, this behaviour gets stretched and distorted until it becomes an all-consuming quest to “make people happy” at the expense of our own joy.

Saboteurs feel natural because, after having played a part in our life for so long, they have carved their very own neural pathway in our brain so that we turn to them unconsciously when triggered.

Saboteurs diminish you because they erode self-confidence and self-esteem. Every mis-step or perceived fault is presented as “proof” that you can’t or shouldn’t do the thing or be the person you would like to. You will know you have been diminished by the “ugh” feeling you get when a saboteur has struck.

You can tame your saboteurs

Types of Saboteur Typical in Mid-Life

A good way to quieten self-sabotaging thoughts is to give them a persona of their own. If you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for, here are a few that seem particularly common in mid-life:

  • The Judge
  • The Perfectionist
  • The Control-Freak
  • The Avoider
  • The People Pleaser
  • The Workaholic
  • The Rationaliser
  • The Commitmentphobe
  • The Worrier
  • The Poor Me
  • The Fury (anyone with experience of Perimenopause or Menopause will be familiar with this one)

In my experience (both personally and with my coaching clients) we each have our own bespoke cast of saboteurs. Some may lay dormant for a while and then pop up unexpectedly. Others are more persistent – doggedly muttering negativity into our heads until we believe their words are true.

Know them, tame them, show them the door

What To Do Next

Once you’ve identified your main saboteurs, it’s unlikely you will be able to completely eliminate them from your life (they’ve been around for years and feel very much at home), but you can tame them. You do this by giving them a vivid persona of their own. What does your Judge look like, sound like, smell like? What do you call them?

Whatever it is, ensure it’s not a scary persona. That would just give them more power. Make them ridiculous so that you can laugh them off. As a coach, I use a variety of techniques to get really clear on this with my clients and, the clearer you can be about your saboteurs, the more empowered you are. Once you have a sense of distance (and ridicule) between yourself and your saboteur, you can show them the door.