Building and maintaining relationships is complex enough, but it becomes even more complicated when our inner saboteurs interfere. Inner saboteurs are powerful self-sabotaging behaviors and thoughts that undermine our relationships. In order to sustain healthy and thriving relationships, it’s critical to recognize and combat our own inner saboteurs.

What is an inner saboteur?

Inner saboteurs are patterns of thinking that control how we think, feel, and respond to situations. These patterns deliberately cause you to self-sabotage, which is a pattern of behaviors, thoughts, or actions that hold us back from reaching our goals, despite our best intentions. Often, self-sabotage can happen without you even realizing it.

Most commonly, our saboteurs are rooted in past experiences, fears, or beliefs. Past experiences like traumatic events, failures, or even harsh criticism can leave a lasting impact. These past experiences can create self-doubt and a subconscious fear of repeating those painful moments. Sometimes, unresolved issues can act as triggers for self-sabotage too. These unresolved emotional wounds can lead to self-destructive behaviors as a way to cope with the emotional pain. Instead of facing and healing the trauma, we subconsciously choose self-sabotage as a coping mechanism or a defense mechanism.

The 10 Inner Saboteurs

There are 10 established types of inner saboteurs. It is important to note though, that not everyone is affected by all 10 of the saboteurs at the same time and in the same way. Different people are affected by different types of saboteurs, and saboteurs can change over time as well as we grow and our lives change. The 10 types of iner sabotueurs are:

The Judge: the ‘universal saboteur’ that impacts all individuals. Your inner judge criticizes you for repeated mistakes, and persistently cautions you about potential future risks. It fuels worry and drives you into a state of excessive obsession and fixation on negativity.

The Victim: the victim is emotional and temperamental, and they often use their emotions to try to get attention. They focus on internal painful feelings and can often make themselves a martyr.

The Restless: the restless saboteur is always looking for more excitement, they’re almost never at peace or in a state of contentment.

The Pleaser: the pleaser uses helping or flattering as a way to gain acceptance and affection, but then they don’t focus on their own needs and can become resentful of that.

The Hyper-Vigilant: The hyper-vigilant is always thinking about what’s going on, and has anxiety about everything that can go wrong. They can never take a break from being vigilant.

The Hyper-achiever: the hyper-achiever gets their self-respect and validation from positive performance and achievement, but it’s never enough and they always feel they need to be achieving more.

The Hyper-Rational: The hyper-rational is rational about everything, to the extent that they seem uncaring or like they don’t have feelings, or even that they’re a bit arrogant.

The Controller: The controller constantly feels the need to take charge of situations and other’s actions, but the need comes from a place of anxiety.

The Stickler: The stickler takes order, organization and perfectionism too far. And working to make all of the things perfect causes a sense of deep anxiety for them.

The Avoider: The avoider takes being positive and pleasant to an extreme. They constantly focus on just the positives and in turn, they avoid anything they think is a difficult or unpleasant situation, or any conflicts.

Building Self-Awareness

The first step in combatting your saboteurs is identifying which you embody, and which resonate with you. Understanding your own saboteurs can be hard, but it is going to be helpful in your personal and professional relationships. But, of course, knowing which saboteurs you embody isn’t enough, you have to understand where they’re going to appear in your life. If you begin to recognize your patterns, and anticipate your saboteurs, you’ll be more prepared to stop, take a breath, and not automatically let your saboteur take control.

One strategy you can use to build self awareness is to practice mindfulness. This involves paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. You could try practicing mindful meditation, this is a great way to become aware of your inner dialog and your emotions. The more familiar you can become with what’s going on in your head, the easier this process will be.

A second strategy for building self awareness is to actually keep a journal. Regularly write down your thoughts and feelings. This can help you identify recurring patterns and negative self-talk.

Keeping a journal can also help you to identify your common triggers that cause your saboteurs to appear. Take note of situations or circumstances that tend to trigger your inner saboteurs. Do they show up when you’re stressed, facing uncertainty, or in new situations? Recognizing the triggers can help you anticipate when your saboteurs might emerge.

Challenging Your Saboteurs

Once you build that understanding of when your saboteurs appear, you can challenge them. You can do this by questioning what your saboteur tells you, fact-check it, look for flaws in its reasoning. Force yourself to identify examples of times when your saboteur was wrong. If you keep poking holes in their arguments, they’ll eventually become less meaningful or less truthful to you.

Practicing constructive thoughts is another way to battle your saboteurs. Once you start to understand the situations in which your saboteurs emerge and what negative thoughts they put into your head, you can work to follow up on those negative thoughts with constructive ones.
For example, maybe you’re in a relationship and one of your saboteurs has you thinking ‘They’re going to leave me, I’m not good enough for them’. Challenge yourself to follow up that thought with a constructive one such as: “”I am a person of value and worth, and I will work on nurturing a healthy, loving relationship by communicating openly, building trust, and focusing on mutual growth and support. I can’t control their feelings, but I can invest in creating a strong connection.”’ By doing this, you are not just replacing the negative thought with a positive one, instead you’re replacing it with a constructive one. The reason for that is that that may feel inauthentic or not believable for you, but if you use a constructive thought, it will give you steps to help you move forward, or something to focus on working on.

Practice Self-Compassion:

As with most things in life, it’s important to be kind to yourself. Some days, you’ll feel more energized to combat your saboteurs, and other days, they will win. Bad days or weeks will happen, and your saboteurs will get the best of you. That’s ok, and that’s when you need to be kind to yourself and practice some self-care. This is a process, and you’ll always have saboteurs, so focus on what you can do differently next time, and keep moving forward. This self-compassionate mindset will help to strengthen your emotional resilience, and also enhances your capacity for healthier, more supportive relationships.

Communicate Openly:

Good communication is one of the most important parts of a successful relationship. Being open and honest about your thoughts, feelings, and the inner saboteurs in your mind helps to create a safe space for mutual understanding. When you are transparent about what’s going on in your mind, it can help take the power away from your saboteurs. This open dialogue builds trust, and also helps create a collaborative environment where you can openly work on combatting your saboteurs and strengthening your relationship.

If inner saboteurs persist and significantly impact your relationships, seeking professional guidance can be a constructive step. Services are available through your EAP. Depending on your needs, you might connect with a short-term counselor, use self-directed digital skill-building modules, or explore additional resources in the Uprise Health Member Resource Hub.