Inner Parenting for Self Sabotage, Self Sacrifice and Procrastination

Most of us struggle with some level of self sabotage, self sacrifice and procrastination. Who knew it was an inside job!

[Excerpt from the 4 People WithinⓇ 6-month self discovery journey]

Self Sabotage

Self sabotage is a behavior or thought pattern which creates unnecessary problems and interferes with our life goals.

Interestingly most of these challenges are a direct result of an unhealthy or an absent Inner Parent. Self sabotage is usually a pattern that originates from the fears of our Inner Children, to which our Inner Parent is unable or unavailable to attend. A great example of a self-sabotaging pattern is when one of our Inner Children is allowed to spark up and continue the spiral of negative inner dialogue.

Allowing one or both of our Inner Children to point out and focus on our flaws can leave us stifled in life, relationships or at work. For example, a negative inner dialogue around lack of self worth at work stops us from asking for help, and we get buried with tasks that are not even ours to complete. At home, if we believe that we are not as important as our children, we forget to prioritize ourselves and end up burning out.

Many can relate to self sabotage through perfectionism. When one or both of our Inner Children feel “not good enough”, their low sense of self esteem is triggered. This triggering requires the Inner Parent to step in and soothe the Inner Children. If the Inner Parent is unable or unavailable to soothe the Inner Children, the Inner Children take this as a sign that they are not safe. Much like actual children, our Inner Children crave compassionate and effective leadership. If they are deprived of it, they will begin to take over. After all, someone has to be in charge.

At first, when the Inner Children take charge, they begin to make statements around not being good enough. Then, as support from the Inner Parent is not forthcoming, the Inner Children begin to look for evidence of it actually being true. This is particularly dangerous as our conscious mind has now given our subconscious mind a Captain’s Order to look for evidence of our shortcomings. And of course, the subconscious agrees, looks for it and finds it. Then, the subconscious feeds the evidence back to the Captain as a fact. This is how confirmation bias is born.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to view, portray, favor, and recall information that confirms or supports our already existing personal beliefs or values. While confirmation bias serves an important function in a properly functioning society (for example evidence-based decision-making), when it originates from the fears of our Inner Children, it is a destructive force that can be challenging to stop. Confirmation bias, in essence, is a form, and an origin of much of our self sabotaging efforts.

Once the conformation bias is activated, and sufficient evidence is found and fed back to the Captain, the Inner Children, as easily influenced part of us, believe the conclusion of “not being good enough”. Once a belief is accepted, it turns into a fact, when actually, we have simply been collecting corrupt information based on our fears.

To stop self sabotage, we must learn to engage our Inner Parent to recognise the limiting beliefs we have about ourselves and others, and to practice challenging our Inner Children’s thought patterns.

Some of the most common self sabotaging thought patterns our Inner Children have are “my needs don’t matter” and “I should be someone better”.

Self Sacrifice

When we feel like our needs are not important, in order to feel important we begin to meet the needs of others. It is as if we make ourselves small in order to make someone pay attention to us. We make others feel important, so that we are allowed to feel good about ourselves. As if, somehow, what we do for others determines our value. This pattern of always putting the needs of others ahead of those of your own is called self sacrifice.

When we believe that we should be “someone better”, we believe there is something inherently wrong with us. If we believe this sentiment, we begin to lose confidence in ourselves and eventually stop taking action altogether. This pattern of constantly feeling like our efforts are never enough, leads down the road of procrastination.

Self sacrifice is a form of self resignation. We give ourselves up in order to serve others, a cause or an ideal. Of course, a certain level of compromise is healthy in life, but if we have a chronic tendency to sacrifice ourselves and our needs for the good of others, our life becomes unsustainable.

In the short term, self sacrifice keeps us feeling comfortable and safe, because others like us for being accommodating. As a long term strategy, self sacrifice leads to unclear boundaries with others, and a sense of resentment towards those who refuse to reciprocate. When others refuse to be self sacrificing and we continue the behavior, our Inner Children are left believing that they, and in effect, we, are not good enough.

Most often, it is our Inner Children who give themselves away for others, a cause or an ideal. They do this with an anticipation that if they give themselves up, then they will belong and will be loved. It is a behaviour that many of us learned as a child when we were encouraged to be a good boy or a good girl. Way back then, we learned that in order to be loved, we must forget about our own needs and only attend to the needs of others. Of course, this may not have been the message our parents intended to put across, but it is an idea that most of us can really relate to.

One of the reasons why this form of self sabotage is so difficult to break is that our self sacrificing ways keep us from realizing what we are doing. When we don’t prioritize ourselves, we don’t make time for introspection, and we forget to check in with our own needs. Checking in with our own needs is a crucial form of Inner Parenting, and unfortunately, the self sacrifice pattern is designed to stop healthy self referencing.

This lack of introspection keeps us from attending to the needs of our Inner Children, which then in turn only fortifies the idea that they are not important, and that happiness and a sense of belonging can only be received from other people. When we believe that it is only others who can give us a sense of belonging, we will forever be at the mercy of their capacity to love us. Sometimes, people cannot love us. Not because there is something wrong with us, but because they are unable to feel love.

When another person withdraws their positive attention from us, and our Inner Children believe that acceptance, love and a sense of belonging only comes from others, we feel like a puppet whose strings have been cut off. It is the job of the Inner Parent to show the Inner Children that they are worthy, and that they are never unloved, no matter how triggered they are.

Breaking the self sacrifice habit is imperative, because it gives us autonomy, sovereignty and a sense of personal power. Although self sacrifice is considered to be a noble act and a virtue, chronic surrender of self is actually a horrific form of self abuse. This self abuse must be acknowledged if we want to heal our self sacrificing ways.

In order to move past the coping mechanism of self sacrifice, we must learn new skills for dealing with whatever life brings our way. Holding on to the old self sacrificing way as a predominant coping mechanism will keep us where we have always been. If we don’t change, our lives won’t change.

If we consider that our self sacrificing ways originate from the wounding and yearnings of our Inner Children, then we can heal much of our self-denial with the help of our Inner Parent.

Exercise 87: Start saying no. You can preface this exercise by telling the people closest to you that you are doing an exercise for the next 7 days where you are learning to say “no”. This way they won’t be surprised by your sudden change of behavior and perceived inflexibility. Now, consistently say “no” to everything that is not a medical emergency or an act of care toward yourself.

Exercise 88: When you are about to jump into action to impress someone, stop yourself. Instead, tune into your Inner Children’s needs and ask them the 2 magic questions: How are you feeling right now and what do you need right now?

Exercise 89: Identify the people you have the hardest time saying no to. What is it that you believe they will take away from you if you say no? Practice saying no to small things and see if they withdraw from you. Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.


Procrastination is a coping mechanism of delaying or postponing something that needs to be done. Our coping mechanisms are very devious. Procrastination is designed to stop us from getting into situations where we are forced to see ourselves in an unfavorable light. If we don’t take action, then we won’t be compared to others, or even worse, to our own unrealized potential.

Procrastination usually affects those of us who have not experienced encouragement from our primary care givers in childhood, or people we look up to later in life. It is a very normal and basic human need to feel a sense of accomplishment, and to be witnessed through it. Most of us, if we are left to our own devices, may accomplish our goals, but have no-one to share our successes with. Unfortunately, procrastination is an isolating coping mechanism, and as such, is pre-wired to perpetuate its own cycle.

The procrastination cycle usually begins with a sense of overwhelm. We look at the project in front of us and we don’t know how to tackle it so as to complete it in a satisfactory way. Suddenly, we remember everything else we need to do around the house or at work, and we put our attention to things other than our project. When our attention shifts away from our project, we “conveniently” forget to take another stab at it, until we are forced to do so.

Soon, we find ourselves facing the project again. Only this time, we realise that we have been procrastinating, and then we judge ourselves for it. We may hear internal dialogue such as “I should have done it the first time around” and “why am I always procrastinating”. These kinds of self-judging statements alone will not help us forward. Us shaming ourselves for not being “someone better” will not get the project finished. In fact, it leads to more procrastination, as the pressure is now doubled. Not only have we failed at completing the project in the first place, we start shaming ourselves for not even attempting to. We don’t understand why we don’t take action, and that must mean there is something wrong with us. This, of course, only perpetuates the thought of not being “someone better”, or being unable to live up to the potential we have.

Procrastination is another coping mechanism our Inner Children deploy in their attempt to feel safe in the world. When our Inner Children are activated in this way, they misunderstand their inherent value. We fall into a full on procrastination cycle when we combine our Inner Children’s perceived lack of value with the confirmation bias based on corrupt, or negative validation.

In the absence of positive presence, encouraging validation and supportive witnesses, our Inner Children continue to run the show called procrastination. Once more, the step to overcoming procrastination is to recognize the cycle of shame and inaction. Next, we must interrupt the pattern of comparison between where we are now and where others are, or what is our unrealized potential. Next, we need to build confidence in ourselves and our Inner Children by taking small actions and validating and witnessing the actions, and by being willing to fail forward.

Exercise 90: How do you see procrastination? Procrastination cops a lot of bad press. People berate themselves for procrastinating, they talk about how terrible they are when they do it. What if procrastination could be seen as a good thing. What if procrastination is actually letting ideas percolate as a part of the creative process? Say for example you wanted to renovate your house, would you decide to do it and then randomly start knocking down walls? Or would you think about it, plan it, read magazines, search online, research, discuss ideas and plan it out. Now I am not saying TRUE procrastination due to being afraid of not being perfect is a good thing. If you are using procrastination as a way of avoiding doing something then obviously that is not a useful thing for you. But my question is are you sure you are procrastinating? Next time you feel bad about procrastinating, tune into your Inner Parent and ask if what you are experiencing is actually true procrastination, or if you simply need time to percolate ideas. Take a moment before you get down on yourself to identify if it is truly procrastination or if you are thinking things through.

Exercise 91: Break the goal into smaller sub-goals and even sub-sub-goals. Right now, take a goal you have procrastinated on for a while, divide it into 5 sub-goals, and further sub-sub-goals, and start completing your sub-sub-goals. How is it looking now? Is it more doable?

Exercise 92: Learn to have patience with yourself when you are learning new things. This includes you doing something CONSCIOUSLY, maybe even for the first time ever. When was the last time you got impatient with yourself and told yourself that you’re simply not good enough? Write down the things that you felt incompetent about and start educating yourself around those subjects. Remember to fail forward!

How do we eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We must not expect ourselves to be perfect when tackling our coping mechanisms. We must take the time it takes, and it will end up taking less time. We know intellectually that the best way to accomplish something big is to approach it in smaller pieces. When we slow down our expectations, become comfortable with being uncomfortable, and amp up our self support and care, we can begin to enjoy the journey of discovering the gifts that lie within our coping mechanisms.

If we can leave behind the compulsion and our Inner Children’s negative dialogue, we can turn our self sabotaging ways into strengths in life. Perfectionism transforms into doing a really great job consistently. Self sacrifice evolves into being able to build loving, caring, reciprocal communities. Procrastination converts into allowing ourselves to percolate ideas until they are ready to be implemented.

Photo by Mitchell Hollander on Unsplash
Access to full course here: the 4 People WithinⓇ

Integration Mentor, personality profiler, Founder of Sumiloff Academy of Human Integration

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