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Self-Protection or Sabotage? 4 Patterns that Turn Childhood Safety Go-To's into Adult Challenges

In my Quieting the Inner Critic Mental Fitness Webinar, we explore the concept that we have old, wired-in parts in our brains that go to great and exaggerated lengths to keep us “protected,” and cause a whole lot of suffering in the process. 


While keeping ourselves protected seems like a great idea, reactive patterns that we used in childhood to create a sense of safety with our families and life situations don't continue to deliver their protective rewards into adulthood.  


In fact, these old patterns tend to sabotage our happiness, mental well-being, relationships, and work performance.  


I highlight 4 common saboteur characters below that have turned childhood safety go-to's into self-sabotage. These 4 are among 10 total saboteur patterns identified through research conducted at Stanford University.  We all have at least 1 dominant saboteur outside of the universal "Judge," or Critic, that overfocuses on what's wrong.


4 saboteurs born from successful physical and psychological safety practices as children:


  • The Pleaser: We learned as a child that the best way to create a sense of safety for ourselves was to be liked and not rock the boat. We began dropping our own needs and attending to everyone else’s.  Now we have a Pleaser inside always seeking to be liked and appreciated. It grows resentful when not appreciated for all of its efforts or when our “pleasing” efforts are not reciprocated. The Pleaser affects how others see us, as we are unlikely to offer up "honest feedback," which can come across as insincere or not "real."


  • The Hyper-Achiever: It didn’t feel safe to “fail” or to be seen as failing and we discovered that we felt safest when we were succeeding and achieving. Now we live on a treadmill of achievement that never stops and we rarely pause to notice and celebrate positive milestones. Our Hyper-Achiever, no matter how successful we seem now, is ever-fearful that failure is just one project, one bad review, away.  And we project that onto those around us, at work and home.


  • The Avoider: We learned that it didn’t feel safe to be in the middle of conflict or in the presence of difficult emotions, and we did everything we could to create a sense of harmony and peace. Now our Avoider does everything it can to avoid unpleasantness and maintain comfort, whether in the form of certain tasks or emotionally-challenging situations. This can have a big impact on relationships and work performance.


  • The Restless: We discovered safety early on in busyness, variety and excitement in order to escape the discomfort of being right where we were. Now we struggle with FOMO, a need to constantly move on to the next & shinier thing, and impatience with those who can’t keep up with us.  Our Restless part wants to live life to the fullest but paradoxically struggles with enjoying the present moment, as joy is always somewhere other than right here. This rubs off on relationships, with difficulty being fully present and patient.


There are 5 more saboteur patterns identified through research that humans are prone to, especially when stressed or fearful — the Controller, Hyper-Vigilant, Victim, Hyper-Rational, and Stickler. You can learn more about these from the Positive Intelligence Web site.

Saboteurs are old protective patterns that have become hard-wired in our brains.


How can we rewire our brains as adults?


Bringing saboteurs into the light is a great first step.  To help, you can take the Positive Intelligence saboteur assessment for free and discover your top saboteur patterns and the distorted perspectives they bring into your mind.  


Noticing and calling out a saboteur directly can help reduce its impact because it’s no longer sabotaging your life from the shadows and you can make a conscious choice from there.  


Another option is to dive into Positive Intelligence with me and move quickly from increasing awareness to building up specific mental muscles that minimize saboteurs, grow your ability to shift your attention away from stress-inducing thoughts, and rewire your brain to harness capacities and qualities that deliver greater peace of mind, healthier relating and better work performance.


If this is what you're yearning for, I hope you’ll join me for the 6-Week Positive Intelligence Program.


Our saboteurs do not need to be "just the way I'm wired." We can shrink old patterns and reclaim more joy and well-being in our everyday lives.

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