terry lige ego self sabotage

Unhealthy EGO: The Self Sabotage Cycle

In my first EGO article I talked about that fact that our consciousness of self can be healthy or it can be unhealthy. In this article I want to discuss how our unhealthy ego operates. There is a self sabotage cycle that operates in each of us.

Change always begins from the place of self awareness, so, it is crucial to understand the cycle as it operates in me; then it is important to acknowledge its reality and own its impact on my daily behaviors. Once I have the self awareness, acknowledgment and ownership, it will be much easier to see the outcomes that this self sabotage cycle creates in my life. People often attend personal development programs and seek out coaching or counseling because they are confused about how they create unhealthy, often destructive outcomes in their lives. An understanding of this cycle provides you with the “why you do what you do.” The following step will be about “what I do with the insight and understanding.” And, that is all about learning how to “let go” of the cycle. I will address that next week. 

The Cycle

1.     The Shadow Self Preoccupation  

Understanding my self-sabotage cycle begins with acknowledging that I have a Shadow Self. My Shadow Self consistently tells me that I do not have value, I’m not good enough, I am not worthy and I am unlovable. My Shadow is triggered any time I think that someone or more often, I question my personal value. Consistently measuring my personal value is at the heart of my Shadow issue. 

2.     The Shadow Triggers Emotional Hijacking

When my personal value is questioned and measured there is a deep emotional discomfort triggered within me. My subconscious self has a difficult time dealing with the thoughts of not being good enough, so I go into emotional distress. An emotional cycle of disappointment, frustration, fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, anger and sadness is triggered. I call this Emotional Hijacking. This emotional discomfort is a very painful experience and my first response is to a desire to quickly escape these feelings. Unfortunately, quick fix solutions to this emotional discomfort are usually unhealthy coping and medicating strategies. Much of the addiction problems we experience in society today can be traced to this cycle. 

3.     The Imposter to the Rescue

The larger, more pervasive strategy for dealing with my personal value being questioned and measured is to create an imposter. The Imposter wants to relieve the internal discomfort by regaining a sense of personal value. Unfortunately it will look for the approval of people to regain that sense of value.

Scott Peck describes for us what our imposter is when he says, For the most part we struggle to accept ourselves, so we feel we need to create someone whom we can like, and who is likable to others. We create a ‘pretend us’ or an ‘imposter’. Our imposters are created strictly for the approval or attention of others. They are meant to provide the acceptance that we crave from others. They are the ultimate “people pleasers”.

The imposter’s role is simple. They attempt to prove to self and others that you have value by doing something that brings value to others. The ego’s sense of self worth is in most cases bound up with the worth you have in the eyes of others. You need others to give you a sense of self.

Some common Imposters include; Mr./Mrs. Perfect, The Answer man/woman, The Performer, Funny man/woman, The Overachiever. One of my significant imposters is The Indispensible One. I wrote about this imposter a number of years ago. Here is an excerpt from that journal;

 “I utilize my talents to endear people to me. I draw people into a dependent relationship so that they feel I am indispensable to them. I become the pillar of strength that they can lean on. However, I protect myself by making these relationships professional. I do not need these people in the same way that they need me. In this way, if these people exit my life I do not suffer the pain of severing a close bond.”

4.  The Stoop; The Great Saboteur

The fourth stage of this cycle involves the role of my Stoop. The Stoop is the rebellious side of me that gets frustrated with the posturing and pretending Imposters and will do something to expose the imposter. Unfortunately, the Stoop, in its frustration will utilize behavior that is unhealthy and often extreme to get his point across. The action feels really good in the moment but always unhealthy. It is in those moments when my Stoop is acting out that I am willing to risk the disapproval of people. My Stoop is in fact saying, “I don’t care what you think, I’m doing it anyway.” Unfortunately, in hindsight, I will regret the actions of my Stoop and that regret will lead me back to the judgments of my Shadow Self and the beginning of the cycle all over again.

The Self Sabotage Cycle; My Personal Example

I was asked to leave a church I was pasturing a number of years ago. I really felt unjustly treated by a segment of the congregation and my District Executive. I would go as far to say that I felt emotionally and spiritually abused by them. However; I was not honest with how I felt because I felt the need to maintain my image as a minister. (My ImposterPlay the nice guy) At that time I believed that ministers were responsible to always maintain their cool and never respond out of an angry place…and I was angry (My Shadow). Two weeks later my son Nathan and I were on a golf course and someone shot a golf ball over Nathan’s head. When I saw that happen all my pent up anger rose to the surface and my stoop showed up to respond to the occasion. I went over to the person’s golf ball and shot it back at them and proceeded to wait for them to catch up to us so that the violent confronter (stoop) in me could beat the pulp out of this guy. My imposter is “playing the nice guy.” My shadow is “the angry man,” and my stoop is “the rebellious, violent, irreverent confronter.” I relish telling this story because I gain such a buzz out of my stoop stories. However; I also have to acknowledge that I use the stoop as a short cut to doing the actual, healthy work of dealing with my anger appropriately.

The Choice

Now that you have gained the awareness of your Imposter, Shadow, Stoop Cycle you have a choice about how to move forward once you are triggered emotionally.

  • The Unhealthy Choice: Retreat into the sabotage cycle and repeat past behaviors.
  • The Healthy Choice: Proceed to the Emptying Stage and learn how to let go of the unhealthy, self conscious ego.

What is your choice?


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