Sabotage, Self-Contempt & Reenactment
This week on the podcast, Dan and Rachel discuss the soul-eating realm of sabotage and its capacity to ruin community. Together they wonder, can there be a greater curiosity as to how this concept came to be a familiar way of keeping us safe? And can we look closer at the stories that have shaped our need for safety in the form of sabotage, while looking to the hope and redemption of the resurrection?
- Listen to “When Rage Keeps us from Community”
- Listen to a three-part podcast series on Scapegoating
- Listen to our Family of Origin series with Dan and Becky
Dan: Rachel. We’re going to move into a topic that I’m not too fond of. I’ve not been really too fond of this whole series. And you know, I mean, you step into rage and you know, you have to deal with what’s coming against you. But also, at least in my case, when I know often comes to the surface and then to deal with being a scapegoat or scapegoating. Again, these are the killers. This is inevitably going to ruin communities, families, certainly people’s lives. But as we step into this, it just feels even more difficult because we’re talking about sabotage. And sabotage is ultimately the shift of contempt because when we talked about rafe, when we talk about needing a scapegoat, we’re talking about the externalization of contempt. But now we’re beginning to move into, in some sense, self contempt and in that communion of any form gets ruined just as much if not more so through self contempt.
Rachael: Which, you know, when we talk about self contempt were in that playground, that realm of accusations and blames and judgments and the ways we make endless comparisons between ourselves and others, but in a way that diminishes yourself and kind of in some way escapes scapegoats yourself. That way contempt turns inward. And it does feel like a soul eater.
Dan: Oh yeah, no wonder, no wonder I don’t want to step into this. But it feels like it’s important that we begin with prayer. So let me pray. Jesus, as we come to this, we ask on our behalf as to in this conversation, but for our listeners that we can approach the reality, that every one of us suffers some degree of our own sabotage and our own self contempt. And we can’t resolve this by more truth. But if the truth can set us free, it is because your spirit will be present, nourishing, comforting, even in the exposure, inviting us to a very, very different way of being. So we ask again that you will do, you will do your good work. We pray that in Your Name. Amen. Well take a breath and simply begin by saying, look, this is some of the darkest forms of self contempt. And that is sabotage. And to try and name it, sabotage is where you wittingly, because sometimes it’s actually a pretty conscious choice, or more than likely less conscious, twilight, dawn where there is kind of a semi awareness that what I’m doing is doing my own heart, mind, body and relationships harm. And at some level, I feel aroused by that, I feel drawn to it and I participate in a way that brings about some level of destruction. And you know, I’ll go back to January of this year where Becky and I just named after months and months of drinking and again, I’ll say how within some level of reason, but more alcohol than what we had been consuming for, gosh, years before and then going all right, it is a form of self soothing. It is to some degree, an acknowledgment we’re in the middle of a lot of struggle and heartache, but there is harm happening. There is some level of participation and joining to that harm and I’m grateful that we both came to that pretty much at the same time and began to address. I with a long history of addictions, knew that I was moving toward danger. I might not be in the full red, but the yellow was looking a bit orange. So to say that all of us likely in this season have seen a return to certain patterns, be it eating, drinking, sexuality, perfectionism, workaholism, you know, we’ve been needing to soothe and comfort, but it is one of the strangest things to say, sabotage is a form of self soothing. And in doing that, we’ve got to get a little bit clearer what’s going on. If I can be blunt. What’s your what’s your history?
Rachael: Yeah, I mean, I think this word, sabotage can be confusing for people because we think about, oh, you sabotage someone else’s goodness. And in some ways that is part of the work of sabotage, what you’re doing when you’re scapegoating someone or you are, you know, wanting to rob someone of joy or delight, but when we’re talking about sabotage, in the form of self contempt, self sabotage, if you will, we are in the realm, I would say what is confusing for most people, at least for myself, my sabotage tends to come more in the midst of goodness and beauty then like a doubling down when things are already bad. It’s like, you know, in my second year of marriage, growing more awareness around how I sabotaged. But I mean, it’s always particular to our story and to the ways in which we’ve survived the ways we’ve made meaning of the harm that’s happened to us and where the taste of goodness were actually meant for, feels more threatening, Where beauty feels more threatening than the kind of crap we’re familiar with. So, for example, I’ve told this story before on this podcast many months ago, maybe a year ago about how our sump pump got clogged with something. Flushable wipes that I may or may not have been using because if anyone knows how amazing it is to use something that you actually use for babies, but they make them now for adults and just so much better than dry paper. Anyhow, I digress. I didn’t know that you couldn’t flush flushable wipes. I didn’t know like, apparently they should say, you know, not really flushable. Anyhow, it clogged our sump pump and we ended up having to get a new one and my husband was actually being very gracious about it and just kind of like, well we learned something but I felt so much shame that I had done this and so I went into this kind of mode of like, well I’m so sorry that like my need for care, I kind of picked a fight with him that he actually wasn’t picking and at one point he was just like, what are you doing? Like I actually don’t need from you, what it is you are doing. So what do you think is happening? And honestly, in the moment, all I knew is I felt anger, I felt shame, I felt contempt, I felt profound self contempt, but I was kind of taking it out on him in a way to invite him to actually be cruel to me. And the more we reflected on that actually over a period of time, it was very clear that I actually needed kindness and care and that’s what he was offering, but it felt so threatening to my body and to my sense of like, at what point are you, why are you being kind to me? It actually intensified, like it invited me to confront shame, but it was kind of intensifying it. So I just sabotaged this experience of being extended care and mercy because I was like, no, I would feel better if you yell at me because I’m kind of yelling at myself, so can you join me in the berating of myself? Because now I actually have to contend with the fact that I’m being cruel to myself and you’re not actually asking me to do that. So, I think sabotage can be, it can look so different, you know, like it can look like a refusal to receive care by kind of provoking someone to anger so that then they decide they don’t want to offer you care and you know what, whatever, you’re too difficult, it can look like denial. It can look like a really good friendship that you just kind of let go because you anticipate it will blow up any day anyway, so you might as well just blow it up before, you know, it’s the way I think about sabotage is like, how can I ruin something good before it gets ruined in a way that makes me feel powerless. Like at least if I have some capacity to do it first, then I can at least feel like I get to hold on to some kind of control. I think it’s really at the heart of sabotage.
Dan: I think it’s brilliant. The way you put it, let me step back and say even the drinking that we began to curtail. Covid was raging, so much loss in terms of not being with friends, with community, at school. But Becky was able to put words to this later that the drinking actually was because we were having a really sweet time together, and it’s the combination of loss, struggle, yet I wasn’t traveling, I wasn’t having to be on the road, we were spending way more time and that was really enjoyable to be together. So I want to go back to that very key point: sabotage, more often than not, is an effort to ruin what you don’t want to lose. You’d rather be the one to kill rather than to have to face death. And in that death will occur inevitably. But if you can do it yourself, we’re not talking suicide here. If you can, in one sense, ruin before it gets ruined, there’s almost a sense of power there. And so self contempt, which is what we’re claiming is the underlying stream and current through sabotage, ultimately is I know I will be bad, that I will not be loved, that I will not do well. And I’m not going to hide it, I’m gonna, in one sense, blow it up. And that is a form of reenactment. Meaning, these structures have been with you. So, we’re not talking about an individual time of drinking too much or eating too much or whatever. We’re talking about something that doesn’t remit to mirror choice, like, oh, shoot, I’ve been doing this, I think I’ll stop, you know, even for us when we began to stop consuming as much alcohol, there was still this tendency to like, we’d be together and then there would be this explosion over something else. And that’s when Becky began to say it isn’t, we’re not getting along, we’re getting along well too well, and why are we both afraid of this, this beauty, this goodness, this joy? And I’ve said before, it’s hard for people to hear it, but I think we’re far more afraid of joy then we are of suffering. So if we can step back and say, what’s the function of sabotage? How does it, I think we’re already putting words to it, but in some ways it relieves us of the glory and the beauty God has endowed and called us to be in this world. You’ve already named that and to kind of go, how come?
Rachael: I’m like, how come? Oh my I mean, how come not? I mean, how many of us, I mean, how many times have you said to me or to our team? I am praying for Jesus to grow my heart to be able to receive more goodness. I think ultimately, even though it’s what we’re made for, we have known such different experiences that it’s like to taste that goodness sometimes is agonizing because then we have to contend with things we’ve named as good so that we could be okay. That actually, now that we have tasted true goodness we go, oh my gosh, what do I do with this grief? What do I do with this anger? What do I do with this heartache? So there’s a high cost to letting in goodness and glory and beauty. And we also know that we live in a world and reality where even though we, as christians would say, Jesus has overcome the powers of sin and death, we are no longer under there, you know, oppressive systems, they still, they still linger. So we know intuitively whatever taste of goodness we’re having at least on this side of eternity, we don’t get to keep it fully and innocently. Like we know too much about, you know, we talk about this sense of shalom being shattered, we know too much that ultimately, whether it’s we don’t get to keep it, because I think about when you have like a really good meal with people you love and there’s a sweetness to it at some point, the meal comes to an end and you need to depart and you know you can’t necessarily recreate that experience and not that it won’t come again in another iteration, but there is that sense of in order to receive the goodness and the beauty in the world we live in, we also have to grow a capacity to bear loss. So sometimes it’s easier to just not have anything to lose. Um and I think, you know, it’s, you know, you were saying, like it’s got patterns and I think it’s just in that realm of the way sabotage functions. It’s so deeply connected to our stories and if we’re honest and we start to pay attention because there is that element that it is so often unconscious or like right under the surface. So when it’s happening, we can go, why do I always do? Like, internally, we might have that, like, why do I always do this? Like, I don’t want to do this, but why can’t I stop myself? Like, well, it has that feeling.
Dan: Yeah, again, it’s no explanation, but at least it’s functioning unconsciously, it’s functioning to serve a purpose. So the way you put it in terms of loss, death, joy is so damnably ephemeral, you know, whereas suffering, it lasts. And I’ve got my structures for how to manage at least moderate levels of suffering, but I don’t have that much joy that often, but I have enough joy that at some level is both incredibly pleasurable, but also unnerving. Uh and in that quality of it will pass, it will come again, but it will pass. I’m reluctant, I don’t think that’s something that my audience, our audience is surprised by, I’m reluctant to live that close to joy. But let me see if I can make a shift here and ask a question. Now I’ve said, Cathy and I have this new book out where we talk about prophet and priest and queen or king and she’s articulated that she’s a remarkable queen. I’m a really pretty good prophet. I’m not a bad priest, but as for a queen or king, yeah, not one of my strong suits nor do I wish for it to be. Perhaps you could just alert our audience to some of the things I’ve shared with you regarding those categories as to you.
Rachael: Say more.
Dan: Well, let’s start with priest. Are you a remarkable priest?
Rachael: Yes. I mean, it’s always weird to talk about yourself like that.
Dan: Well, just live with it.
Rachael: I’m a good priest.
Dan: Yeah, a really good priest. Right?
Dan: Yeah. Mostly. You are a gifted priest. How about prophet? We’ll go through this much more quickly.
Dan: Uh, but a deep inviter to both truth, but the arousal of what beauty holds to draw us into the coming kingdom. Yeah. How about a queen
Rachael: That’s probably, maybe similar to you, most reluctant.
Dan: Yeah, reluctant but highly gifted. Would you not say?
Rachael: Yes. All right. So the ways that that manifests.
Dan: This is not idealization. This is just a statement about the nature of who you are. Your gifting is really remarkable. Priet, prophet, queen. So how has that worked out for you being as gifted as you are?
Rachael: Oh, I see where you’re going.
Dan: Oh, you do?! I’m grateful.
Rachael: Oh, I mean also many of our gifts, I mean that’s the whole book you wrote, are cultivated out of our heartache and are suffering. So I think in some ways, one, they’ve been shaped and honed in places of heartache and suffering. And also again, if we’re saying people are not fond of beauty and we wrestle with envy and we like scapegoating. Then I also feel like, I know intuitively, I think like many people do, that sense of you don’t want to shine too brightly, you don’t want to be too gifted because you’re gonna suffer even more. People’s disappointment, people’s expectations, people’s exploitation, people’s envy. So yeah, so then the way sabotage kind of seeks to keep you safe. And I think many people I said, yeah, I see what you did there! Many people can relate to that, to some sense of the places where you sabotage your own goodness, your own beauty in order to either hold on and maintain relationships and maybe dangerous places or to preserve safety in the midst of context that you feel that sense of danger. If you are to bear the fullness of who you are in the fullness of your beauty and your glory and the ways in which you reflect who God is to others.
Dan: Amen. Sister. Amen. So let me say it again. If I had to do life over again, I would either be born in Australia or New Zealand and a lot of reasons for that. But let’s just say where I learned this phrase was in those two worlds and one country will claim it, the other country claims it, but it’s what’s called the tall poppy syndrome. And that is the tallest poppy gets picked. And so you need to be no higher than your mates because if you shine, you’re going to get cut down. And that’s where I would say the other flipside of sabotage comes from at one level, we can’t bear loss on another level, we can’t bear envy. And so functionally sabotage allows me to, in some sense mar my beauty. So I don’t have to bear either loss or as much envy as my gifting might cause within my world. Is that another way of saying what you’re saying?
Rachael: I think so, yeah.
Dan: so let’s just say often those who have a deeper sense of beauty or a deeper sense of something of their own gifting and beauty often are those more inclined to sabotage? Well, before we end, I think it’s important to not so much give a track as to how to deal with this, as much as again, to come back to say, there may be an inevitability to sabotage, but it’s not like there can’t be profound resurrection change. So when you think about what’s involved in dealing with your own sabotage or where do you go?
Rachael: I mean in some ways I go back to very fundamental things that don’t always feel as immediately helpful as people want. But that sense of, can there be a greater curiosity as to how this came to be a familiar way of either keeping yourself safe, or protecting your heart from hoping too much because maybe that feels foolish. And so what are the stories, where are the places that kind of became a necessity? And can there be some honoring? And that always gets tricky. I know because sometimes our sabotage, I mean we, you and I talked about this a lot and we talked about this at The Allender Center. Any form of contempt is going to have others centered and self centered contempt. So if you’re hearing this and going, oh my sabotages just harming me, I’d be like, no, because we’re inherently relational beings. So your sabotage, yes, it might be directed at you and directly violating you. But there’s always debris and there’s quite often ways in which our sabotage does harm other people. And so I’m not saying, oh, just you know, keep sinning so that grace may abound, you know, like just keep harming yourself and others. But can there be at least a little bit of a pause and get an awareness and a growing understanding of how these patterns came to be. Where there can be an honoring of some of these things have helped you survive. But also a possibility to have choice back. And I think that those are the profound moments I can say for myself. Like that, I can’t even say to my husband, you are offering care and that actually I think felt deeply threatening to me and it would have felt more soothing to my kind of disordered places in me if you had been cruel and I didn’t quite know what to do with your kindness and that led to a profound moment of grief for both of us that in some ways that will probably be a war that we’re relationally in over many seasons where I’m going to have. He has his own sabotage. So I’m bringing mine because it’s mine to share. So I’m not saying any of us are better or worse than the other, but I think it is a journey of getting to disrupt these places and sometimes the disruption is just taking a step back to go. I still don’t really understand why I’m doing this, but I have a choice right now to say I’m not going to step any further and there’s going to need to be some repair, there’s going to need to be some more work to understand how this came to be. But to me, I think the best news is God made us with brains and bodies that want to heal and are capable of forming new pathways and new experiences that actually can rewrite something that’s very familiar and make it feel like it becomes less appealing because we actually have gotten a taste of goodness that didn’t kill us and we grow our capacity to bear it and we realize some of these things we needed that actually have started to harm in ways that feel detrimental. We don’t need those tools anymore and we can repent and relinquish them.
Dan: Yeah, lovely. The only thing I’d add is that sabotage, like any form of reenactment is so automatic, so built into the fabric of how we once survived in whatever disordered world we were in, that we need, at least I do, I need help in remembering. And I’m so grateful for Becky on about ten hundred thousand ways, but she’s really good at being able to predict, and name and piss me off. But nonetheless sort of get me into consciousness that sabotage is likely. I performed a wedding a few weeks before this podcast and I do well in those contexts, and Becky said, as we went into the Four Seasons Hotel downtown Seattle she said, I want you to remember that no one is going to speak to you after the wedding and you’re going to feel alone and you’re going to feel shame and you’re gonna feel exposed and usually in those contexts, you get cynical and set yourself up to be a jerk. And I’m like, what, what, what, what, what? And I’m like, oh you’re so right, and it happened just that way, but because she put a speed bump, actually a pretty thick one, in my way when there was no comment, not a word even from my own children, we just had the ability to look at one another and go, so you’re going to be a jerk? And I’m like, probably a little, but not as much as I might have been. And there was, as you can tell, there was at least enough humor that we are able to resurrection laugh. And there’s something about the resurrection, uh that ought to deeply cause awe and wonder, but it also ought to make you laugh. And if it doesn’t, you’re likely going to sabotage.