Lately, I’ve come across a few ways of describing that part of ourselves which seems to want to stop us from having fun, from thriving, from achieving our dreams and goals.

Internal Family Systems talk about parts of ourselves which are protectors, distorted in the ways that they try to protect us. They act instead as hinderances to us, until we work with them to transform the situation.

Then there is the notion of a “Part X” from the fabulous documentary Stutz – which shares pearls of wisdom from a wise elder psychiatrist. Part X, for Stutz, is that part of ourselves that wants us to fail. 

Early in his career Stutz began to “feel the presence of this overwhelming and very active force thwarting” his patients’ progress. He says you can’t get rid of Part X but “if “we keep sabotaging ourselves and don’t know why, we can’t do anything about it. But if there’s a force we can name, then we can fight it.”

Stutz has a habit of drawing on cards (that’s one of his graphics above). He says we can get stuck in the past (in the maze) and do nothing. Or we can choose “active love” – and keep moving forward with life.

Steven Pressfield in his book, The War of Art, speaks of Resistance – with a capital “R.” He says that in order to do work that matters, one must understand and conquer Resistance.

Of course, Carl Jung told us all about the “shadow” – although Stutz makes a distinction between the shadow and Part X. For Stutz, Part X is this force that is your doubts and deepest fears, and the Shadow is the by-product of believing whatever Part X tells you. The Shadow is the part of yourself you’re ashamed of — the part of you that you wish didn’t exist. Stutz says to talk to your Shadow, ask it how it feels about you and ask it how it feels to be denied or avoided. In order to work with the Shadow, Stutz says you have to be able to visualize it, honor it and engage with it.

That’s also consistent with Internal Family Systems, which wants you to honour your parts. Not to give these parts the driver’s seat, but to let them have a voice at the table.

Then there is monkey mind, that Buddhist concept. Mingyur Rinpoche tells us that monkey mind can bully you around with defeat or entangle you in endless conflict. 

Many years ago, I also came across Gay Hendricks’ book The Big Leap, which had a big impact on me. Hendricks talks about the “upper limit problem.” He would see in his patients this tendency to self-sabotage as great things came into their lives. 

Hendricks concluded that we each have a limit on how much abundance, success, and love we think we are deserving of. We each have our own thermostat setting, limiting us. His fundamental antidote is to expand our ability to feel positive feelings, because we then also expand our tolerance for things going well in our lives. 

Here’s what one writer summarized from Hendrick’s teachings

“Here’s what you can do following a significantly positive, joyful situation in your life to avoid going into unconscious self-sabotage:

  • Pay attention. When something significantly positive happens in your personal or professional life, notice the tendency to self-sabotage. Check yourself before taking any action after a big win.
  • Pause and express gratitude after achieving a big win. Let it land.
  • If you feel yourself about to make a rash decision, pick a fight, or engage in some other behaviour that may derail your recent win – just stop. 
  • Pay it forward. Take stock about how your win, success, or abundance can be leveraged to benefit others – think about how can you support and inspire others to move into greater levels of success.

Bottom line: stay conscious, pay attention, and pay it forward.”

Hendricks also created an “ultimate success formula” mantra – that I’ve had as my screen saver for a few years now. That mantra is:

“I expand in abundance, success, and love every day, as I inspire those around me to do the same.”

There is no doubt that there seems to be a force that exists that is perhaps set up to challenge us – to sculpt our souls. As Jonah Hill says in the documentary Stutz: “Part X would be the villain in the story of being a person.” 

What these various approaches seem to have in common is an invitation to notice those internal saboteurs and to name them. This act can help us become more conscious that we have these internal obstacles that are there for us to engage with and overcome and ultimately to learn and grow.

And, here’s the good news! 

Shirzad Chamine, the former head of the well-known coaching school CTI, has done a lot of research on the types of saboteurs there are to help us recognize when they are at play. 

Take his quick and free assessment quiz to see which ones predominate in your world. 

Then step back and watch them at play in your world. It can be tremendously liberating to simply notice. You can call that part of you your saboteur, or Part X or Resistance or an Upper Limit Problem. What’s important tis to admit to yourself that there is a part of you holding you back from allowing your light to shine as bright as it could. Just naming it can start to bring in more light.