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Most of us have been there. That moment where something you did or said comes back to bite you in the ass. You feel like you’ve completely undermined yourself, and yet as things spiral out of control you feel completely powerless to stop it. There’s no one to blame but yourself. You wish you could eat your words or turn back time or crawl into a deep dark hole and pretend like you don’t exist.
Perhaps you find that this is a recurring situation for you in a particular area of your life. You’re all too aware of it because you’ve been trying to avoid this very circumstance as if your life depended on it.
While it is not exactly your life that depends on it, it is your deepest wishes, hopes, and dreams, and so we may as well say, “your entire reason for living,” which can feel jeopardized when you’ve “gone and done it again.”
Although there are varying forms, degrees and reasons for self-sabotaging behavior, every case out there can pretty much be summed up by one habit in particular, and it’s something that nobody on this planet is exempt from. This is the habit of entering into relationships inauthentically.
We enter into our romantic relationships inauthentically. We enter into our friendships inauthentically. We enter into the relationship we have with our career inauthentically. We enter into the relationship we have with our body inauthentically. We even enter into our earliest relationships, the ones we have with our primary caregiver(s), inauthentically. And you know what, we enter into our relationship with ourselves inauthentically.
I’m going to explain to you why that is. Why on earth would we ever be so inauthentic if it ultimately leads to that excruciating moment where our self-sabotaging behavior kicks us under the bus?
Because we are an inter-relational species that thrives on connection, we enter into relationships with the goal of meeting our need for connection. We’ve done this from the very first breath we took when we came into this world. As children we pick up on what gets us connection and what does not. Our brain is so wired for connection, we will literally give up the essence of who we are if it will get us connection. This is why from a very young age we reject, deny, and suppress the aspects of ourselves that cause us separation.
Now this is problematic because of another equally strong need we all have. This is our need for autonomy. Deep down we all have our own feelings, thoughts, beliefs, desires and other needs. We are of course unique individuals. In fact our culture today loves to remind us of how unique we each are. Just take a look at the hundreds of different ways you can personalize your coffee beverage at Starbucks, just so you can have your coffee exactly the way that you and only you like it! You want a venti half-caff, mocha latte, with hazelnut syrup, whipped cream and just a dash of sugar? You got it!
Our need for autonomy is so strong, we will literally undermine our need for connection to get it met.
We so desperately want the freedom to be ourselves but do we have to give up connection and belonging to have it? We so desperately want to feel connection but does it have to come at the expense of our freedom to be ourselves? Preserve the self, destroy the connection. Preserve the connection, destroy the self.
Some days I really want to ask the universe what the hell kind of cruel joke this is, that we should be filled with such a nasty contradiction.
So is there any way to remedy this split within ourselves?
First of all, to understand how to truly avoid that ugly moment of truth, we have to take a look at how we got there in the first place.
Let’s take one of the most common examples where self-sabotage seems to love making an appearance: romantic relationships. On a first date, few people would lead with what they perceive to be their weaknesses, flaws, insecurities, weird quirks or even deepest fears and desires. You wouldn’t want to give this potential future spouse of yours the idea that you could actually be a high-strung, neurotic, needy, jealous, controlling, emotionally unstable, and completely whacko freak.
You want this person in front of you to like you, and maybe even down the road love you and marry you or for now, maybe just come home with you. So you sell them a version of yourself that appears to be the jackpot. And boy is your subconscious a good salesperson.
In less extreme cases of inauthenticity you eventually reveal little by little your shadow side and your partner gets to know the most real version of you that you are willing to show them. In extreme cases, however, you go through great lengths to preserve the connection and hide more and more of yourself as time goes on. You accommodate your partner in their every need and do everything in your power to keep the illusion of a perfect partnership, including losing yourself entirely. The constant effort to satisfy this need for connection is so exhausting that eventually this other side of you that desperately wants to be itself begins to retaliate. You start to pick fights for no reason, you criticize, you act passive aggressive, you stop caring about your appearance, you stop engaging in sex, etc. Your partner, seeing this other version of you for the first time, feels completely blind-sided, duped, and disillusioned. And it’s not like they can just go back to the store and ask for a refund.
This, my friend, is how you got yourself into that moment of self-sabotaging truth.
Now if you have never experienced this relationship dynamic before, perhaps you’ve experienced this in your work life. You’ve spent your entire life working a job you’re not happy with. Perhaps you got into this field to appease your parents, or because you didn’t believe you could be good or successful at anything else. It’s too risky to do what you really want because ultimately it could mean no one would like you, and that would mean losing connection and your sense of belonging. So you’ve been compliant, done everything that was expected of you, played your role as nicely as you can, maybe even convinced yourself it’s not that bad (hey, the benefits package is pretty good!).
Then one day you wake up so fed up with the miserable lie you’ve been living it literally makes you sick. For your sake I hope that wake-up call isn’t in a hospital bed. While you are still trying to hang on to that need for connection, the authentic you begins its' retaliation. Maybe that happens in the form of lashing out at your boss or co-workers, turning in projects late or doing a horrible job, or simply not showing up. You’re so sick of not having what you really want you can’t stop this sabotaging behavior.
That is how you got to your moment of truth.
So, I guess now that we know how you got there, we might actually find the solution that will help you to avoid this circumstance and I’m sorry to say that some of you may not like what I’m about to offer.
The only thing that is actually going to free you from this downfall of a human condition is to start changing your relationship with yourself. After-all, what is the one constant in all of your relationships? It’s YOU. So, start getting to know what it is you really want. Give your inner voice a chance to be heard by you before it has to scream. Start facing your demons. Get to know your fears. Make friends with those parts of you you’ve kept hidden for so long.
Now I mentioned at the start of this article that the issue lies in entering into relationships inauthentically. Emphasis on the word “Enter.” However, even if we were to all of a sudden become more authentic and thus capable of entering into new relationships authentically there is still the problem that we are already currently in many relationships.
Some of you may even be thinking, but Veronika, I’ve been trying to be more me and every time I try this and do things my way I get all this backlash from everyone around me. And to this I will say, yes, yes you will. You’ve been duping yourself and everyone around you all these years. If you’ve been resisting seeing the real you for so long, how can you expect others to accept it at the snap of a finger? The truth is that some people in your life, most likely those who also value authenticity and truly care for your happiness, will eventually come around and love the new you, and some will not, and you will go your separate ways.
While this is obviously very sad, isn’t it a hundred times sadder to separate from someone through an act of ill-timed self-sabotage? Isn’t it a hundred times worse to continue living a lie?
If you want to minimize the damage and preserve your connection as much as possible, however, you do need to treat this whole self-transformation with great care. So here are a few tips for how to change, grow and become more authentic without creating more pain for yourself or those around you:
Inform the people in your life with whom you wish to remain connected that you are in a process of personal development. Let them know ahead of time that things are going to be changing. People are a lot more accepting of changes when they can prepare themselves for it mentally. Let them know that they are important to you and that you value this connection and that just because you are changing, it doesn’t mean you don’t love them anymore. Don’t be afraid to ask them to support you as you are going through this change. Let them know what would feel supportive. Patience from them? More time to yourself? Talking about it? Part of being authentic is working through your fears and asking for what you really want. Lastly, inform them that these changes will be a positive thing for the relationship you have with each other because it will be more honest, open, and loving.
In addition to informing others, inform yourself of why you are doing this inner work to be more authentic. Write a list of your reasons if that feels appropriate for you to do and then consult that list if and when this change doesn’t seem to be such a good thing.
Give yourself a break from doing this inner work from time to time. Try not to beat yourself up too much if you just want a vacation from personal development. At least when you are aware that you are giving yourself a break, you can revert to your old habits consciously. You know why you are reverting to it and you know that you will get back on track when you are ready. Honestly, there are times when I just want to say “Fuck all this looking for the answer inside myself all the time!” And you know what, those moments, ironically, usually lead to the next big breakthrough.
Surround yourself with other people who are interested in self-awareness and growth. If your friends are not, there are tons of groups on facebook where you can find a community of like-minded individuals who get why you are doing what you’re doing.
Lastly, don’t be afraid of getting it wrong. Getting out of the mess is going to be just as messy as getting into it. Give yourself some room to make mistakes as you embrace the new you. Remember, you are entering into a new relationship with yourself, and like any relationship it takes time to build trust and get into a groove together. For those of you who are my tango dancing friends, you know that we dance a full set of 4 songs with a new partner. This is because the first 1 to 3 songs you are just finding each other so that ideally by the fourth song you have learned to speak each other's language and can dance in sync!
So that you really understand the value of becoming more authentic I’m going to share with you my own personal “moment of truth” which led me here onto this path of self-development. Many of you know that before I was a yoga teacher and empowerment coach, my passion was teaching tango. I used to joke that my longest, most passionate relationship was the one I had with tango. I would even go as far as to describe this relationship as a love-hate one.
While the act of sharing my knowledge and experience of this dance with my students is something that is so dear to my heart, the path of making a profession out of it was wrought with extremely inauthentic behavior that eventually ate me alive. The list is long of things I felt I had to do, but did not like or were so not me, in order to become a tango pro. The further I saw myself from achieving things like finding a dance partner, getting gigs, getting the students, or even just getting recognition, the more inauthentically I pursued them. Rather than doing it in a way that felt good to me I did everything I felt I had to do or saw others doing. Instead of bringing my passion and excitement into what I was doing, I eventually brought only the expectations and assumed guidelines. And the moment I started doing it that way, was the day I began sabotaging the very thing I wanted most.
Until one day, after the last person left from the three-day tango marathon I had spent the last 6 months planning, I sat down alone in the empty space and screamed and cried, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to do all of these things just for this dream.” I had entirely lost myself over the course of this relationship with tango, and my authentic me wanted me back.
Let’s fast forward to the present day, because the story of what happened in between, honestly, is enough content for a whole book. The point is that since that day, my search for the authentic self became my number one priority. And I have made a whole lot of mistakes along the way. And I have separated from some people. And I have also made some relationships stronger. And I have repaired my relationship with tango, which to be honest, I wasn’t even sure could be done, but I am more excited about tango now than ever. But most importantly I feel free to be myself and the connections I am experiencing are a trillion times stronger and more honest than they ever were before.
I am not by any means purely authentic. I don’t believe anyone can ever be completely that way. But what I do know is that if it is possible for me to experience this split that every human on the earth goes through, and close that gap in between having autonomy and having connection, it is absolutely possible for you too. You don’t have to choose one or the other.