The thoughts, feelings, and behaviors experienced in our earliest environments lead to establishing patterns that provided reassurance and made us feel safe at that time. These responses were primarily directed at reducing punishment, maximizing reward, and minimizing personal loss. As a child with little control, these saboteur programs served us well. However, as an adult with full responsibility for our lives, these same programs undermine our progress. It is possible to improve mental fitness by rewriting these programs.
In his book “Positive Intelligence: Why only 20% of teams and individuals achieve their true potential and how you can achieve yours”, Shirzad Chamine describes nine Saboteurs (programs) with defining thoughts, feelings, and behaviors associated with them. They are labeled Controller, Stickler, Avoider, Hyper-Achiever, Pleaser, Victim, Restless, Hyper-Vigilant, and Hyper-Rational. He also details an overarching Judge that works alongside these Saboteurs. Our Judge loads these program parameters and uses them as a yardstick by which we evaluate and make decisions.
The first step towards better mental fitness is recognizing the Judge and the accomplice Saboteurs. Read on to find out how each one is characterized.
The Judge evaluates everything. It uses your ideals as a basis for comparison and ranks things as good and bad based on this. It can be directed at yourself, others, or the situation. The more attached you are to what you want and your perspectives the stronger this evaluation will be.
Fear of Increased Punishment
For those whose early environment held a constant threat of punishment, there were ways to minimize the risk. If the punishment primarily led us to feel shame we adopted Controller programs. If it led us to feel guilt we attempted to be perfect and ran Stickler programs. Finally, if there was hurt our programs were those of the Avoider.
Controllers need to lead and dictate actions. They feel anxiety when they don’t know what is happening and they rile against elements that are uncontrollable in life. This saboteur uses every manipulation tactic to stay in charge including overt and passive aggression, bullying, and intimidation.
This mindset promises that you can get the outcome that you want. However, this is a lie. The truth is that this comes at the cost of equal exchange and may lead to rejection by those on the receiving end. Behaving this way may result in control over small outcomes but with the loss of the initiative and input of others in a larger capacity. The thoughts that support this saboteur may say:
- I am serving you by telling you what to do.
- No-one tells me what to do.
- I do not trust you to do it without my input.
- If I don’t take charge someone else will have power over me.
- You need to be pushed.
The stickler acts on the promise that order can bring peace and joy. In reality, the overemphasis on perfection and organization creates stress for everyone involved. This perspective leads to energy being sapped by a level of precision that is not necessary and often brings about annoyance and criticism. It also reduces creativity and incurs anxiety in others who feel judged by impossible and rigid standards.
It is perpetuated by the lie that flawlessness is invaluable. In reality, it is not always a good thing and can stretch resources too thin. It can be identified in statements such as:
- If standards are not upheld I have failed.
- Others expect perfection.
- It has to be done the right way.
- Being organized is the only way to get things done.
- I am obligated to fix the mistakes and messes I encounter.
If you are hooked by your avoider Saboteur you will believe that things will be better if you circumvent unpleasant activities. This leads to procrastination with things that are unenjoyable. This is a form of denial that involves avoiding negative, or difficult tasks or conflict. There is a tendency to interpret everything positively.
The assumption is that going along and being flexible improves your happiness, or that appeasement is preferable to conflict. The thought of doing these negative things creates anxiety. This viewpoint downplays and deflects the importance of real problems. People with this mindset have difficulty saying ‘no’ and lose themselves in comforting routines and habits. This limits effectiveness and growth by keeping experiences superficial and reducing the chance of challenges being met and becoming gifts. It shows up in thinking patterns such as:
- I don’t want a scene.
- It will take care of itself.
- I will lose my peace of mind.
- It’s okay to compromise to keep the peace.
- I can stay positive by ignoring the negative.
Fear of Reduced Reward
When in childhood the rewards we experienced may have been manipulated based on our behavior. One such rewards was the amount of attention we received. Consequently, we learned to behave in approved ways to ensure delivery of these rewards. If the emotion we experienced when we failed was shame, we directed our energies to become a Hyper-Achiever. If the emotion that paired with fear was guilt, we became programmed as a Pleaser. And, if there was hurt then we adopted the Victim Saboteur.
Hyper-Achievers believe that you are only appreciated for doing rather than being. This prompts a focus on external success rather than internal criteria for happiness. With this mindset, self-worth depends on outperforming everyone and winning the competition. Since validation depends on achievement there is often a workaholic tendency and risk for burnout. Attainments cannot be appreciated as they are eclipsed by the next project.
It appears that status will bring happiness. However, what happens is that your self-worth becomes dependent on what you achieve. This means that inevitable hiccups in goal attainment put your identity is at risk so it feels like the world is ending. When achievement is not your central goal you are more resilient when obstacles occur. It also incurs less loyalty from others because they feel like they are just serving your agenda and goals. Self-talk goes something like this:
- I must be top.
- How can I beat …
- My image depends on what I have done.
- With enough effort, I can accomplish it all.
- No pain, no gain.
Pleasers want to be liked by others. They seek acceptance, approval, and affection by adapting themselves and running around after others. Although there is a sense of virtue, it comes at the cost of the individual’s own needs. In addition, poor boundaries on giving time and energy to others may lead to resentment and exhaustion.
This mindset promises better relationships but since you never fully disclose your own needs or show vulnerability it prevents a fuller two-way connection. The other parties may become overly dependent and feel obligated, guilty, or manipulated. Thought patterns include:
- They will abandon me if I ask them to do things for me.
- I must focus on the needs of others to lighten their load.
- I am not worthy/of value.
- If I can’t make you like me you will reject me.
- They will eventually be there for me and notice all I have done for them.
The Victim Saboteur tends to focus on painful internal feelings. Self-pity is used as a means to gain attention and avoid responsibility. The internal feelings often include poor representation of what is possible which may result in dependency. A solution to their problems would remove their story so they may seek advice without being able to implement it. The continued apathy, depression, and inability to break out are frustrating for those in support.
This negative mindset uses the loss of power as a way to hook the attention of others. It gives the appearance of not being a threat to others and leverages their need to make a difference. It promises love by using self-pity is a replacement for self-love and love for others. This, of course, is a poor substitute. Common thoughts might be:
- Poor me, save me.
- I am suffering.
- When I am sad I get some of the attention I deserve.
- Other people are to blame for my situation.
- I am not able to take responsibility.
Fear of Personal Loss
The last area of fear is that of fundamental security and loss of basic needs. A child has little control over this aspect of their environment. Despite this, caregivers may have assigned blame. Once again the Saboteur resulting depended on whether there was also an experience of shame, guilt, or hurt. Shame occurred if they weren’t able to be involved. This prompts the Restless saboteur. If they were made to feel guilt that they were personally responsible then they would be programmed to be Hyper-Vigilant to prevent any repeat. If it resulted in hurt, then pushing these feelings aside with a Hyper-Rational Program may have been the only way to get things done.
Those that are hijacked by the Restless Saboteur feel compelled to seek stimulation. This leads to being perpetually busy and frequently distracted. Lining up what is next on the agenda means you are less present to what is occurring in real-time. Consequently, there is a risk of missing out on life and relationships as they are happening. Others find the frenzy of activity and lack of sustainability exhausting.
The assumption is that being constantly on the go means that you are living life to the full. Jumping between shiny objects limits mastery and growth. Staying constantly active is a way to avoid negative experiences. Thoughts that might indicate this mindset include:
- What other options are there?
- I am not enough.
- Something else will be more fun.
- I want to engage in everything.
- Fulfillment is out their somewhere.
Hyper-Vigilant individuals believe that something will go wrong and that being constantly on alert will prevent problems, minimize risks, and maintain safety. A state of anxiety and rechecking is maintained for protection making it harder to identify and respond to real issues.
The false assumption is that this level of alert will lead to better outcomes. The preoccupation with danger reduces the power of the preventative message as well as the ability to discriminate against real threats. Others become jaded as it takes energy that could be directed elsewhere. Typical self-talk would be:
- This anxiety protects me.
- I must know the rules.
- It’s not safe for you or me.
- I have to keep watch for problems and dangers.
- Something will go wrong.
Here emotions are completely neglected and repressed due to the belief that the mind is the solution. Situations are met with logic. These individuals demonstrate passion through their intellectual analysis and can lose track of time with mental concentration. They are often excellent at debating because they can remain totally objective.
This mindset promises better decision making. However, it lacks the inspiration and connection that gets others to buy into ideas. There is a cost to relationships since there is no interest in or curiosity about feelings. This processing is experienced as uncaring, untrustworthy, and hurtful. They might have the following thought patterns.
- Feelings lead to irrational behavior.
- Logical reasoning is best.
- Emotions are a waste of time and energy.
- It’s dangerous to be emotionally vulnerable.
- I do not matter.
If you are feeling inspired to take this work deeper check out the Positive Intelligence program for mental fitness. Shirzad Chamine’s 6-week program not only treats the symptoms but also addresses the source. You can learn to shift from the running of saboteur programs and connect with your inner wisdom or sage. This program is my gift to you with the purchase of 6 or more one-on-one