Tag Archives: sabotage

Avatar Syndrome, Separation Sabotage, and Belonging

I just got back from 2 days in mile-high Denver, where I was attending the annual Institute for the Psychology of Eating graduation and alumni event. Even though there were many freshly graduated Eating Psychology coaches whom I’d never met, it felt like a big, warm, fuzzy family reunion. (I posted some pictures on my Facebook page, in case you want to check them out.)

What I love about going to these kinds of events is that I feel a true sense of belonging. And that’s extremely nourishing.

We all, from the day we are born, have a deep human need to belong. It’s a survival instinct. But as we grow older, our sense of belonging can become damaged or threatened, and that can, in turn, affect our relationship with food, body, and health in a number of ways.

In my work with clients, I’ve seen belonging come into play in two primary ways.

1. Avatar Syndrome. If we internalize the belief that who we are is not enough (which is quite common), we may end up creating a persona that we think other people will like, one that will allow us to belong. A persona that is not quite who we truly are. This may manifest as “the nice girl” or “the people pleaser”, for example. I call this persona an avatar: The term “avatar” can be defined as “an icon or figure representing a particular person”. And that’s what we do – we create an iconic version of ourselves, and that’s the version we show to the world. Meanwhile we suppress who we truly are. Our true self remains unexpressed.

Over time, the conflict between who we are and who we project builds up tension and stress in our system, and we may be driven to turn to food in order to help manage this inner conflict.

2. Separation Sabotage. The other way belonging shows up is when we are engaged in personal development – when we are trying to change and grow. Subconsciously, we may fear that our changes will separate us from our circle of belonging, that we will leave others behind and therefore become isolated. When belonging is threatened in this way, self-sabotage often results – we procrastinate, we don’t follow through, we overeat, etc.

Note that what I’m calling self-sabotage here is not actually sabotage in my mind. What people label as self-sabotaging behaviors are actually serving some purpose, and in this case, they are protecting against a threat to belonging. I use that term just because that’s what people are familiar with.

So what do you do if you feel you are affected by the Avatar Syndrome or Separation Anxiety (as described here)? Well, I’d love to chat with you to see if I could help. Just email me and we can set up a time to explore together.

In the meantime, ask yourself – when and where do I feel like I belong? And if you feel so inclined, share your list on my Facebook page.

Why you can’t possibly be guilty of self-sabotage

kaboompics.com_Closeup photo of hand choosing donut

If I had a quarter for every time someone expressed to me, usually with deep frustration: “If only I could stop sabotaging myself!” Well, to all you self-proclaimed self-saboteurs out there, I have good news. Release that guilt, because…

There’s no such thing as self-sabotage.

Huh? How can that be? Consider the following presupposition:

Behind every behavior is a positive intention.

This presupposition comes from the work of renowned family therapist Virginia Satir, and it has been incorporated into NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). Simply said, every thing we do we do for a positive reason, for some positive benefit. Even our supposed self-sabotaging behaviors. That doesn’t mean that we always choose the best way of fulfilling that positive intention. But when we sit down and mindlessly eat that bag of chips, jar of peanuts, or tub of ice cream, we are getting some benefit out of it.

So if you want to change those behaviors you’ve labeled as self-sabotaging, look for the positive intent that the behavior is fulfilling, and then try to find another way to achieve that result. Here’s how to get started.

  1. Imagine yourself in the situation that triggers the behavior. Create as much detail as possible. Where? When? Who else is there? What do you sense with all your senses? What are your thoughts?
  2. Using your imagination, ask yourself: If you could magically change your current situation to be anything at all, no limits, how would you change it?
  3. Get curious about whatever comes to mind. Ask: Why that situation? How is it different from my present reality? How would it make me feel differently? Is that a feeling that I would welcome in this moment?
  4. Once you have identified a feeling or aspect of your situation that would be more desirable, you can begin to look for ways to achieve that without engaging in your undesired “sabotaging” behavior.

So rather than feeling guilty and frustrated, sit back and welcome that behavior you once viewed as sabotaging. Embrace it for the gift that it is. Be curious about it. Listen to its teachings, as it is pointing you towards a path leading to a better you.

Have you self-labeled yourself as a self-saboteur? Use the comments to share and explore what the positive intent might be.

Photo courtesy of Kaboompics.com