Unfortunately, one of the most common experiences is self-sabotage. That might seem strange to assert, but it’s true. Self-sabotage often happens when we resolve to change a particular behavior. As soon as we decide to change, we often subconsciously or deliberately choose actions that get in the way of the change we seek.
For example, we decide to decrease our sugar consumption while ensuring we have plenty of sweets on hand for guests. Before long, we’re enjoying a cookie or a piece of candy that had been intended for guests. If the sweets had been out of reach, our resolution might have remained intact.
Another example: We decide to exercise regularly. We buy the right equipment or join a health club. At first we enthusiastically work out but soon start doing things instead of our daily exercise routine. Soon we begin to think, “What’s the use?” and give up exercising, an activity that’s really good for us.
In both examples, our intentions for positive change were good but our commitment wasn’t strong enough. More often than not we choose to change only because someone said “it would be good for you” or because we were mildly unsatisfied with some sort of behavior. Other examples might be a spiritual desire to do something meaningful for Lent or to sharpen our spiritual practices and disciplines. Each are wonderful reasons to change but each may set you up for self-sabotage. In addition, self-sabotage also rears up even when the change we want to make is required and/or essential for our well-being and overall health.
We might assume that when the need is obvious and the risk is real we would focus as much attention and energy that’s required to make the change. That usually doesn’t happen. Even when the need is urgent or the situation is unhealthy, we’re still prone to self-sabotage, although we may not easily recognize the dynamic.
For people who suffer with scrupulosity and desire to engage in a healthy path toward the management of their pathology, self-sabotage of even their best effort comes quickly into play. There are the obvious challenges that are experienced as a result of the managed therapy that’s applied, such as a rise in anxiety or impatience with the progress of the effort. This is expected and perfectly normal as part of the process. The point where real and permanent change might begin to occur is also the point where a particular form of self-sabotage often manifests.
At the point where the management of the obsessive and compulsive behavior comes into focus, the following seemingly random but also destructive thought often appears. It’s along this line: “My scrupulosity is God’s will for me, and if I learn to manage it I am not accepting God’s will.” Other common destructive thoughts sound like: “My therapist is telling me to sin,” or “my therapist is not a good Catholic/Christian and doesn’t really understand what is going on.” These are just a few common random and destructive thoughts, all of which have the same result. They effectively derail the healing process and the progress toward an effective management of the compulsive behavior.
What’s occurring is not so much fear, anxiety, or a perceived spiritual shortcoming. The thoughts are pathetic defensive attempts by the scrupulous condition itself to reassert authority and pathology. The real danger is not that of sin or disobedience to the will of God but rather the possibility of an effective management skill that leads to a healthier human being and experience of life.
In a strange way that I don’t completely understand and yet have learned to appreciate, the anxious questions that attempt to derail or detour the process of healing are positive signals that the applied therapy is beginning to work! What’s needed is the courage that’s fueled by the gift of God’s manifested grace, to turn head-long into the fear and anxiety and determine not to give in to self-sabotage.
It takes real courage to stand in the breach of anxiety and fear, but it’s necessary to do so in order to attain the peace that’s desired. There are no shortcuts to healing, which is sometimes quite painful. That’s the unavoidable reality. For some people, having a spiritual director or confessor they trust is quite helpful when they engage in the behavioral therapy that will help them manage their scrupulous condition.
Walking a path toward healing, even if the healing is necessary for health and personal growth, feels risky because it will produce uncomfortable and intense feelings that need to be identified and acknowledged. It’s often helpful to have a companion who will journey with you and encourage you when you’re tempted to self-sabotage or when you throw your hands up in despair and are tempted to end the struggle. Asking someone to journey with you toward healing is also a very powerful way to resist the temptation toward isolation, which is one of the most unhelpful temptations that can be engaged when healing is required.
Few people are so strong or confident that they are able to engage a perilous journey without the support and caring of another person, a companion who supports and encourages them. The journey toward a managed way of living with scrupulosity is one such perilous journey. Reach out, and with God’s grace, claim the help and encouragement you need. You can choose to significantly reduce the possibility of self-sabotage. I pray that you do.
Fr. Thomas M. Santa, CSsR