Dear Frustrated, A while back I saw a woman in my office who finally got promoted to her “dream job.” Initially she was thrilled, but soon, she uncharacteristically began to mess up: She missed her flight to an important conference, accidentally deleted a Power Point, and got the wrong time for a meeting. Was this a sign that he was marrying the wrong person?
Despite having proven herself remarkably capable for over a decade, she couldn’t understand why suddenly she was floundering. After all, she said, the job was disappointing, not what she imagined it would be. Despite having auditioned for the job for the past year, and therefore knowing what it entailed, each week she would come in, complain about work, and strategize next steps: Should she ask for her old job back? Around the same time, a man in his 30s came to therapy because the day after he proposed to his girlfriend, he had gone out for drinks with his colleagues and found himself powerfully drawn to a new co-worker, hooking up with her before the night’s end. His previous engagement five years earlier had ended after a strikingly similar incident.
However, there are many challenges which concern me and which aren’t being discussed (there are no journal articles I’ve been able to find on the subject).
It’s also my experience that my peers aren’t discussing this issue either.
Prior to this guy I had “dated” guys that would really just consist of a month or so of texting with about three dates total.
None of them ignited an emotional connection like this last guy.
I think maintaining a healthy sexuality and relational life is an essential part of being able to be to serve my community and my clients.
Knowing that those personal needs are being attended to outside of the therapy room.
Both of these situations are classic cases of what you mentioned in your letter, self-sabotage, which is what happens when we say we want something but then do everything we can to ensure we won’t have it.Your letter is interesting, Frustrated, because you make the case that your instincts are accurate (“my gut has never failed me”) yet ask, in essence, whether they may not be (“I don’t know how to get over the urge to read into everything”).Since you’re concerned that this urge might sabotage future relationships, let’s take a closer look at what might be behind it. If adrenaline shoots through our systems and our hearts pump faster when chased by a proverbial bear, our emotional defense systems spring into action when faced with possible emotional pain.Self-sabotage is essentially a stress response to emotional danger, much the way that our bodies have a stress response to physical danger (Run! But — and here’s the key — just as we don’t consciously control the surge in adrenaline when we see a bear, we don’t consciously control our behaviors when faced with a primal fear (fear of engulfment, fear of rejection, fear of failure, etc.).Instead, we do what we can to protect ourselves from the perceived threat. Or: If I succeed in my parents’ profession, they will take all the credit. If what they’re saying and what they’re doing don’t jibe, they’re likely in self-sabotage mode (which is to say, self-protection mode).