Self-sabotage is a common phrase used in modern psychology and healing communities. It can be described as feeling a deep desire to do things that you know will be good, healthy and beneficial for you and for your life - but at the same time, and often unwillingly taking actions or inaction that prevents you from what is good, healthy and beneficial in your life. And may actually harm you.
An example - You know that it will be beneficial to your health to lose weight, but feel addicted to foods that cause health issues and weight gain. The food comforts you and you eat it even though in the long run it harms you, your goals, and your self-esteem and brings you shame.
Self-Sabotage & The Human Condition This is a very human issue. All humans have an area of life where this pattern of sabotage seems to eat away at us. Whether it is breaking patterns of addiction, creating new healthy habits, cultivating discipline, overcoming procrastination, goal-setting - we all have an area of life where sabotage seems to take over.
We feel like we are wading through the quicksand of our inner world and unable to overcome these patterns.
The World’s Attempt to Deal with Self-Sabotage
In the personal development and healing field - self-sabotage is often seen as a result of trauma. Through this lens, we recognize that early life trauma impacted the brain and nervous system development and took a toll on the sense of self. It is often linked to a sense of toxic shame and even self-loathing. Through this lens the solution is about working to move through patterns of shame in the thinking and bringing about a mindset that restores a healthy image of oneself. And, we can work with patterns of shame in the physiology that have damaged the nervous system and created patterns of withdrawal, hiding and depression.
These things have some benefit.
However, there is a better, deeper way to look at self-sabotage that addresses the root of the problem beyond trauma - because it deals with why trauma is an issue for us in the first place. If we look at self-sabotage through the lens of Scripture we can see that it is a result of the sin we inherited through our Father Adam, whose disobedience to the Lord introduced dynamics of suffering, pain and sickness to the world. And, as a result our human condition was weakened and damaged - polluted by sin. In fact, Adam and Eve’s son, Cain allowed this pollution to drive him to murder his brother Abel - even after the Lord came to him and warned him saying: “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:16-17 Speaking of this painful dynamic of being unable to do what he knows is right, In Romans 7:15-25, The Apostle Paul said: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 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.[c] 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. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Paul is wrestling in this passage through the mess of his human condition. He is talking about what we now call self-sabotage. He desires to do good and yet - he is unable to. And the more he tries to do good, the more he feels shame. The more the sin in him rises up to destroy him. He pleads: Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death??
I just love how God’s Word doesn’t sugar coat the human experience. It doesn’t give us cotton candy. Instead, it gives us reality in all its hopelessness and bleakness. It gets to the very heart of the existential issues of humanity without glossing over the problem. Have you ever been there? Trying with all your might to do something you know is good, right and healthy and the more you try, the more you fail. And the worse you feel about yourself. The shame piles on and on and on and on.
You try personal development tools, coaching, and all that the world has to offer. You psychoanalyze yourself to the point of insanity and in the end you feel more exhausted than before. This, my friend, is the curse of sin. This is the heavy burden that we simply cannot carry. It is the hole that every single human being is in. And, the more we try to get out of the hole - the deeper we find ourselves in it. But, God, in His beauty and love - doesn’t just leave us there in our brokenness. He knows that we are unable to save ourselves. He knows that we can’t get ourselves out of the mess. After pouring out the chaos of his inner struggle, Paul proclaims: Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
He continues: Romans 8:1 - 11
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c] And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life[d] because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[e] his Spirit who lives in you.
Paul is saying that when we struggle with self-sabotage really what we are dealing with is the struggle with sin. But we don’t have to be crushed under the weight of shame. We only need to remember who we are in Christ who has set us free from the crushing weight of the law. We are now free to walk in the spirit who gives life & peace.
It’s interesting how one of the signs that the spirit is working in our lives is that we have greater self-control. Meaning we have more authority over our lives through Christ to stop doing what we hate - the things that damage us and work against our goals. And we have more authority to do the good which we long to do. But we can only be empowered to do it by the Spirit. This message is very different from the message of the world. God’s word tells us here that we are fundamentally broken and that sin is seeking to devour us and eat us alive. Self-sabotage creates shame, confusion, and makes us feel powerless. We lose our dignity and hope, as creatures created in the very image of God.
But Christ who was the sin offering made a way that we could walk in the light - free from the dark, twisted nature of sabotage. And - He even promises that the Spirit will give life to our very bodies! The same body that Paul earlier called the body of death. Psychology, Somatics and New Age ideologies are unable to address the true root of sabotage - the sin-stain. And therefore, they are not able to uproot it. Only Christ - through His sacrifice and salvation through Him - can adequately deal with self-sabotage. Without Him - the enemy seeks to steal, kill and destroy our potential and all that is good. And our fleshly condition eats away at us from the inside while we feel the heavy weight of shame and condemnation. The world has no answers for the magnitude of this problem. But in Christ - we are FREE! Jesus can take the weight of the problem off our shoulders. As Paul wrote in Romans: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.”
Practical Ways to walk in freedom from patterns of sabotage: 1. Recognize that in and of yourself - you cannot fix it. You need to Spirit to breathe life on you and renew your mind. You need God’s Word to make the crooked places straight inside you. Remember this is not simply a matter of being unable to meet your goals. At the end of the day, it is a spiritual battle between the fleshly sin-nature and the New Holy Spirit nature gifted by the Lord at salvation. 2. Pray that God would help you heal the roots of sin and sabotage in your heart and mind. Ask the Lord to help you walk in the Spirit and establish you and make you secure in Him. He will answer your prayers and make the crooked places straight in your inner-being.
Surrender your goals and habits to the Lord and abide in Him. Sometimes, we set goals from a place of fleshly desire. We seek to have possessions, status, or be approved of by others. Ask the Lord to purify your goals and desires, ask him to teach you to abide in Him so that the plans and goals that you set will be God-honoring and God-glorifying. This way, your focus is taken off of yourself and placed onto God and in that - you become more like God and more able to walk in the light and the spirit so that God can produce the fruits of discipline and self-control in your life.
Fast - fasting is a powerful spiritual tool that helps us bring our flesh under obedience to the Lord. Through fasting, we submit our flesh and feed our spirit with the Word of God. Many breakthroughs that I have had have come through fasting and prayer. 5. Reduce your worldly consumption of TV, social media and music. These are fleshly motivated sources of entertainment and if you are stuck in a cycle of self-sabotage they can perpetuate the cycle. Try taking a break for a few days to allow God to renew your mind with His word. 6. Surround yourself with believers who walk by faith and walk in the Spirit and know God’s word. Find believers who walk in victory in the area that you struggle with and ask them to support you on your journey of overcoming. 7. Share your struggles in Christian community so others can pray for you. 8. Start small - whether you are breaking a habit, weight loss, or setting any goal - start small! Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start by committing to one thing each day that you can do to move toward the goal, asking the Spirit to help you move toward it.
Jesus came to give life and life abundantly. He did not come so that you would be stuck in shame and self-sabotage. His word is sufficient to break the chains of self-sabotage because Scripture teaches that self-sabotage is a sin-pattern and God’s Word is the scalpel that cuts the sin out of our lives so that we can see rightly before Him.
In Christ, you are more than a conqueror and you can do all things through Him. He has empowered you with the gift of His Spirit to resist the devil, and resist your sin nature so that you can experience the purity and renewal of mind promised by Jesus when we abide in Him.
You will learn how to support your clients to renew their minds in truth, and break free from patterns of sabotage so that they can be established in the Lord and His good purposes in their lives.
You will also look at how these patterns take root in your own heart, and be equipped through God’s word to overcome the painful cycle of sabotage on a spiritual and practical level.
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