Join the Productive Muslim Masterclass with Asma K. Chaudhry. Learn more.

Have you ever questioned your ability to take on a higher position at work only to turn it down because you felt like you didn’t have what it takes? Or maybe you’ve failed at a business venture in the past and you’re constantly worrying about failing again. How about delaying taking the next step on a project you’re working on because it never feels perfect or ready enough?

If your answer is yes to these questions, then your inner critic or inner saboteurs have likely been hard at work. They are there, but more often than not, we are not aware of their existence and how much they’re affecting our lives.

What is an inner saboteur, and how do they affect your life?

You can think of inner saboteurs as your inner critics. These critics are voices from the past, sometimes formed from your childhood when you faced real and imagined threats. As critics, they like to act as a defense line, always ready to protect you and talk you out of making a decision that will cause you pain. These voices are always in our heads and trying to take control of our minds by planting negative emotions. 

Since these voices seem to keep us from getting hurt in any situation, we tend to listen to them all the time. They become the invisible masters in our heads instead of our authentic and wise selves.

Now, think about it. If you avoid and ignore all situations you feel threatened by, what about the pains and failures you need to face to level up and become the best version of yourself? That is when self-sabotaging affects you immensely. Listening to your inner saboteurs keeps you from moving and attaining your goals.

What are the types of inner saboteurs?

In his best-selling book, Positive Intelligence, Shirzad Chamine identified ten types of inner saboteurs. 

The saboteur he calls “Judge” is the master and most common saboteur that affects all individuals. The Judge beats you repeatedly over mistakes or shortcomings and often keeps you looking at what is wrong with others and your life. When the Judge is at work, it activates your other inner saboteurs, making it even harder to reduce stress, grow as a person, and build better relationships with others.

I’m a living testament to these inner saboteurs. When I was suffering from anxiety a few years ago, I constantly worried over every little thing. It was as if my mind was always waiting for something to go wrong. Later on, I realized that it was my Hyper-vigilant saboteur talking.

As for the women I work with, the most common saboteurs I have encountered are the pleaser and the stickler. The pleaser prevents us from taking care of our needs because it’s busy helping, pleasing, and flattering other people hoping to gain acceptance and affection. When its thirst for affection remains unrequited, you end up feeling resentment toward others.

The stickler is basically the perfectionist – it has a dominant and crippling need for order and perfection in every little aspect. Then leads to analysis paralysis, where we are stuck and not taking action because things are not perfect or logical enough.

How do you identify yours and how do you overcome them?

These voices are often deeply ingrained in us that it is easier to recognize the saboteurs in others than to see them within ourselves. 

Luckily, there is a greater and more important voice we should learn to recognize and listen to – the voice of the sage. It is the wise part of ourselves, the voice of our deep knowing, our intuition. We should remember that the voice of the sage is always a loving and supportive voice, and any other is sabotaging. Strengthening the sage is the most effective way to overcome our inner saboteurs. 

But how and where do you even start overcoming them? Here are a few things you can do:

  • You can’t overcome something you do not know, so the first step is awareness. Discover and be aware of your inner saboteurs, label them, and “catch” them when they sabotage you.
  • It takes practice to suppress your inner saboteurs, so make it a habit to be mindful and pause as soon as a negative emotion emerges. If you feel stuck and unhappy, take the time to listen to your inner dialogue.
  • Journaling also helps a lot as it is a very accessible method for reflection. When you feel a negative emotion, start asking yourself questions and write all of them down. What are you telling yourself? What are the thoughts surrounding your feelings? Which ones are true and relevant, and which are not?
  • Have self-compassion, empathize with yourself, and practice self-affirmations. Once you start talking to yourself kindly, you will start hearing your sage better. Telling you, “You don’t know everything about this task, but you are capable of learning.” instead of “You can’t do this.” 

Don’t be so hard on yourself if your inner saboteurs keep popping up to make decisions. Remember that as humans, we are hardwired to be judgemental, so our inner saboteurs naturally kick in any chance they get to protect you. What’s important is acknowledging that yes, they are a part of you, but you don’t need them anymore. From now on, when they start appearing, talk to them kindly, thank them, and let them know that you’re the one in charge of living your own life.