NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Beware of Emotional Saboteurs

Most of us have had the experience of being excited about a new idea or project, telling a friend or family member and having them douse our ideas with ice water before we've even gotten our ideas off the ground. Often, because the ideas are new for us, this could be enough to discourage us and tap into old feelings of inadequacy. There's nothing like an emotional saboteur to stop you in your tracks and make you doubt yourself to the point that you give up on your ideas.

What Are Emotional Saboteurs?
Emotional saboteurs come in all shapes and sizes, and there are both internal and external emotional saboteurs. This article will focus primarily on external saboteurs, but it's important to recognize that we have our own internal saboteurs that can get triggered by external saboteurs.

Beware of Emotional Saboteurs

External Emotional Saboteurs - The Anxious Saboteur:
External emotional saboteurs are often well meaning. On a conscious level, they often don't really mean to discourage us but, due to their own feelings of inadequacy or their own fears, they do just that. When we share our enthusiasm for a new idea with them, they become anxious. 

Without realizing it, they begin to find all kinds of reasons why our ideas won't work. On a conscious level, they might feel that they're protecting us from failure or from taking a risk. Often, they try to live their lives as carefully as possible, taking as few risks as possible. So that when they hear you talk about something that might involve a degree of risk, it's like an alarm goes off in their heads that says "Warning! Danger ahead!" and they want to spare you of what they perceive as a bad idea.

External Emotional Saboteurs: The Pessimist:
Another type of emotional saboteur is the person who is very pessimistic about almost everything. He or she can always find "the downside" to any idea or situation. If there is even one possibility in 1,000 that something could go wrong, this person will dwell on this one possibility and try to convince you not to go forward. They have all kinds of stories about people who tried the same thing and it never worked or they suffered some horrible fate. Since they are pessimists at heart, they almost never try anything that is new or risky.

External Emotional Saboteurs: The Office "Jungle Fighter":
Then, there are the emotional saboteurs who knowingly try to discourage you from any new creative endeavors. They might engage in emotional sabotage because they're envious or maybe they're competitive and wish they had come up with your idea. 

It's not unusual to find this type of emotional saboteur in the workplace. No sooner have they discouraged you from proceeding with your idea or project than they are talking it up with the boss as if it was their idea. When you find these emotional saboteurs in the workplace, they're like "jungle fighters," manipulative and cunning. They find insidious ways to discourage you and tap into your insecurities. For the more extreme types in this category, there's something sociopathic about them. They are only motivated by self interest and lacking in empathy for anyone else.

External Emotional Saboteurs: The "Expert":
In our enthusiasm to gather information about the ideas that we might want to pursue, we often consult with an "expert" in the field. This could be someone who has many years of valuable experience in the particular area that we're interested in.

Let's say, for instance, that you're thinking about writing a book. You might consult with an established writer or publisher or someone else in the field who has particular expertise in the area that you're interested in. 

If you choose the right person, you'll get balanced advice on your particular endeavor. You come away with valuable information that you can use to decide how to proceed. But if you choose someone who happens to be an emotional saboteur by nature, their "expert" opinion might be very discouraging. You might hear about how books are not selling due to the recession or that other people have written about the topic that you're interested in and they failed, and so on. 

This person might not be someone who can think "outside the box" and, for example, he or she might not give you ideas about self publishing. They've "been there," "done that" and they try to discourage you from going forward with your idea.

How to Distinguish People Who Give Sound Advice from Emotional Saboteurs:
When we're at the very beginning of a creative process, we're most vulnerable to emotional saboteurs. We have our hopes and dreams and, due to our enthusiasm and naivete, we can go to the wrong person who can dash our hopes before we even get our project off the ground. I often wonder how many writers, artists, dancers, or people in other areas have been discouraged by emotional saboteurs and abandon their ideas.

But how do we distinguish between people who are emotional saboteurs from people who might be giving us sound advice? It's often tricky to tell the difference. A lot depends on your own judgement about the person and the situation. 

So, for instance, if you're thinking of jumping into some get-rich-quick scheme or you're about to be, unwittingly, pulled into a scam, you want someone who is level headed to give you advice or share their own experiences with you to keep you from doing something that is foolhardy. Before you invest your hard earned money in some scheme that sounds too good to be true, you want to be able to listen to balanced advice with an open mind and consider that they might be right before you do something that is potentially harmful to you or your loved ones.

We Often Know, On Some Level, Who Will Be An Emotional Saboteur:
In my opinion, if we know the people that we're going to for advice, on some level, we often know who will be unnecessarily discouraging and who will be even handed with our new ideas. Why we would go to someone that we know would discourage us is a big topic for another article. Sometimes, on an unconscious level, a part of us feels inadequate and, without realizing it, we look to others to confirm our own sense of inadequacy. So, if this is your pattern, it's important to recognize this and learn to stop doing it.

Before you seek advice on new creative endeavors, it's important to think carefully about who you go to for advice. Sometimes, in the early stages of a new project, if you're sure that you want to pursue it and you have a chance for success, you have to use your discernment about who you talk to about it.

I'm not talking about being paranoid. I'm talking about protecting your new, sometimes not quite formed ideas from people who tend to be discouraging. Like the first tender shoots of a plant peeking through the ground, you don't want emotional saboteurs drowning your new ideas with their negativity. You might want to give your ideas a chance to germinate and grow for a while and gain more self confidence about them before you expose them to people who might tap into your own insecurities about them.

I don't know how many times I've heard people say that they started a writing project and gave it to friends to read and comment on only to have their friends criticize and tear it apart with no positive feedback or encouragement at all. Often, the writer will then either tear up the writing or shove it in a drawer never to see the light of day again, saying to him or herself, "I don't know what I was thinking when I thought I could write." After someone has had this type of discouragement time and time again, it's difficult to undo so they can get unblocked creatively and work again.

Psychotherapists As Emotional Saboteurs:
It pains me to say this, but in my own field there are some emotional saboteurs. I don't think that most therapists mean to be emotional saboteurs. Often, they don't realize that they're doing it. Unfortunately, unless a psychotherapist goes through psychoanalytic training, they're not required to go into their own therapy to work out their own personal stuff. This is an area that I wish would change, but I don't see it changing any time soon.

Most therapists have been in their own therapy or at least have obtained professional supervision to be able to distinguish their own feelings and history from their clents' problems. But some of them have not. So, if you're thinking about going into therapy, it's important to ask about a prospective therapist's background. By this, I don't mean that you ask personal questions about a therapist's personal background--I mean that you find out what their training has been. Even with training and personal therapy, some therapists, who might have pessimistic personalities, might end up, unwittingly, discouraging you from worthwhile creative endeavors.

Once again, that doesn't mean that if you're in therapy with a therapist who is trying to help you to see that something that you want to do is self destructive that your therapist is an emotional saboteur. You might just have a blind spot where you're not seeing that what appears to you as a good idea could be foolhardy.

Internal Emotional Saboteurs:
Our own internal emotional saboteurs can be like old tapes that play in our heads that tell us things like, "You'll never be able to do it," "You're not good enough," "Who do you think you are?" Often these are based on experiences that we've had as children. If we've had many of these experiences when we were growing up, these old feelings are right there on the surface waiting to be triggered in new situations.

Using Your Judgement and Intuition
When someone is thinking about embarking on a new idea, I usually encourage them to be discerning, avoid people that, in their heart of hearts, they know to be emotional saboteurs, and talk to more than one person. Then, after that, it's a matter of using your own judgement and intuition.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I have helped many clients to overcome their fears and creative blocks about new creative projects.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.