Have you ever been so close to a goal with your child only to be disappointed?
What about finding that new toy or electronic completely broken hours or days later? A privilege at home or school taken away?
You may be finding yourself thinking – is this a joke? Why does everything seem to result in FAILURE?!
Your feeling of consistent disappointment and frustration is not a coincidence. And you are certainly not alone. You are witnessing a classic “symptom” or result of a child feeling she is unworthy of any positive experience.
What Does Sabotaging Look Like?
I placed the definition (via Google) above because it emphasizes the important elements of the word. The key words: deliberately, obstruct, advantage.
When we speak about sabotage and our kiddos, it is an unconscious, deliberate “attack” on themselves. The goal is to confirm their feelings of shame and unworthiness stemming from their past experiences. The goal is to prevent any healthy relationship from flourishing.
They aren’t “acting out,” they are reliving their past.
Sabotaging incorporates a wide range of situations and actions. I find that the scale of the action or event is in correlation to how big the feelings involved are.
Here are a few examples:
- A parent who prepares a beautiful birthday party in the backyard for her son finds the entire backyard hosed down with water a half hour before it starts.
- A Nintendo DS thrown down the stairs.
- Markers, crayons and other smudges along the walls of their bedroom.
- Losing a role in the school play two days before the big night.
Unfortunately, everyone involved in the situation is affected. This produces many big feelings in adults and peers. As those involved become visibly frustrated and express this to your child, guess what? It reinforces your child’s feelings of shame and unworthiness even more so. This results in the scoreboard being…
Your child’s past experiences: 1
You and your child: 0
In order for you and your child to succeed, it’s important to be one step ahead of the behavior.
Why Do They Sabotage?
The next time someone calls your child a “brat” or some other inappropriate name, you can school them with this knowledge.
Your child’s actions are not by choice. When they sabotage, they are often doing so unconsciously and with the only intention of ruining their own positive experience. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to feelings that arise, rooted in their past. This is why the holidays are so hard too (Hint: Check out our 6 Tips for Surviving the Holidays).
It makes sense, right? Any positive experience a person has often results in a connection with others involved. A birthday party is a loving act that brings people who care about you together. A loving family and everything that comes with it requires participation and reciprocity. A child who has had bad experiences with adults and can not trust them does not want to open up and make herself vulnerable to being hurt again. It is much safer to that child if her parents are frustrated with her.
Here is a short list of reasons our kiddos sabotage:
- They do not have the emotional capacity to give or receive love.
- They’d prefer to hurt themselves rather than be let down by someone else. (for example, this birthday party really might not happen so let me destroy it before I get hurt again)
- They feel unworthy of the positive experience due to their low self-esteem.
- If they keep others away from them, it is much safer. Trust issues.
- If I let you give me this positive experience, I might owe you connection, love or some form of emotion I am not ready to give.
- This is just too good to be true. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.
- Sometimes well-meaning adults are giving too many positive experiences that the child does not have the capacity for.
- Rejection and anger is more comfortable.
- Attempts to invalidate positive feelings or experiences.
The best thing to do is to start small and build those successes. Be proactive. Empathize with where your child is currently at and give her what she is capable of handling.
In what ways have you seen this in your child? What did you do about it? Have a question? Leave a comment and we’ll get back to you!