The Art of Self Sabotage and the Guilt of Victory, or, Clearly I Have Borderline Disorder

Why is it so hard to let myself win?

This is a question I ask myself day in and out, as I constantly corner myself in a rut I cannot get out of. It’s almost comical, on how I’m both incredibly successful and dinging myself left and right for each failure that I craft for myself. I’ve been through too many therapists to count, have outgrown adolescent angst, and still, here I am, so far ahead, so far behind, all at once.

Financially speaking, I am proud of myself, but feel I don’t deserve to be where I am, and feel deeply guilty for what I do have, yet also terrified of not having enough. My mental disorder(s) may be most easily defined as a cross between neurosis and narcissism, which is so deeply who I am due to my upbringing and fear of taking power over my own free will.

I sat in my bosses’ office the other day, with a goal to discuss my great progress and how I “deserve” a raise. Instead, I found myself being told that I’m viewed as a bit of a mess. People like me (which is progress from where I was as a kid), and people know I work hard (which I do), but ultimately I am unpolished. Instead of asking for a raise, I ended up holding back tears and having a good cry in a bathroom stall once I got through the very accurate and very painful critique.

The painful part comes from how this story has never changed, and it’s my fault. I spent my youth and adolescence assuming as some point I’d magically grow out of it. It’s possible I have a real chemical imbalance in my brain known as ADHD, or maybe it’s the depression, or some form of OCD, or maybe I just need to grow up. Ultimately, there are a few things that I know happen which prevent me from actually being able to win:

  1. I feel stupid all the time. I work with a lot of really intelligent people, and I’ve always enjoyed being around intelligent people. I always feel like I need to “prove” my intellect, which never works, since I’m not smart. I feel there are two ways to success — either be really smart, or very talented at socializing.
  2. Deep rooted need to “prove” to myself (and others) that I am, despite lacking elegance, able to be a hero and have an epic win. This probably comes from my parents being narcissists themselves, and bragging about my big wins. That’s probably pretty normal for parents, but it was more in how they did it. My victories always felt like nothing more than bragging rights for my parents, not about taking any pride in my ability to succeed.
  3. Setting up scenarios where winning was extremely difficult and required a visible fight became an addiction. If something wasn’t hard, it wasn’t worth doing. But I wasn’t smart enough (or focused enough) to accomplish really hard tasks, so I started to make everything difficult. Cleaning my room, for instance — I’d avoid cleaning until everything had piled up and I’d have to spend hours going through piles until finally I might have a spotless room. Chances are, I’d never finish, but I wouldn’t feel bad because it was an impossible task. In the rare case I was able to finish, I’d get such a rush. It’s a true addiction, just like any other drug. Just putting things away on a daily basis, while much more practical, wouldn’t give me that rush. So I let things pile up. Today, I’ve had an epic cleaning day. I may even get through the pile. But then tomorrow, will I just be back to where I started, letting the mess pile up again? Probably. This is a problem. A huge problem.
  4. I’m a perfectionist. Maybe even a little OCD. If almost everything is perfect but one thing is off, it drives me nuts. If everything is off, it’s almost calming. Again, like I don’t have any control over it, because it’s so bad, so I can just ignore it.
  5. I’m an extrovert but I have no freaking clue how to talk to other people. I can be silly and make people laugh, sure, but, as I’ve written about before, I’m no good at small talk. I’m still much better than my boyfriend at being social, which is laughable, because I’m terrible. I’m bad at conversation. I like deep conversation about the meaning of life, and what makes people tick. Despite not wanting to be a gossip, I find myself only truly able to contribute to conversations when the topic is another person that is a mutual acquaintance. I am lucky that I have opportunities to socialize with my coworkers, who are funny, smart people, and who can talk to each other while I generally listen (or I drink — see my last post — and manage to communicate a bit.) Still, in the end, I feel sad because no matter how much money I have or how good my life is, I want to connect with other people, and it’s a daily struggle.
  6. I don’t have any long-term goals that seem meaningful or achievable. When you’re young, life is broken up into years, and the years are long, and each year ahead is something to look forward to. You go to school and do your work so one day you can get into a good college and eventually have a great career and find a wonderful significant other, have two kids, and a house with a white picket fence, where you can have backyard barbecues and invite folks over for dinner. I really don’t know what I want anymore, and I don’t feel like I have a right to want anything. My financial journey is rooted in fear — fear of running out of money, fear of my mental health issues becoming so huge that one day I cannot work, and needing a lot in savings. At least this gets me to save money, and I’m proud I may be able to hit my goal of having $200k in various investments and savings by the time I turn 29 (on track to my major goal of $250k by 30), but this doesn’t make me happy. It helps me not be totally depressed, knowing I have cushion now, but I’m then looking at what happens if I get married and have children, and how I’ll need much more than $250k for cushion then. But, beyond money and savings, I’m not sure what I want. I guess I want a family, I guess I want to be a mother, I guess I want a house. But all the things I maybe want seem like things society tells me I should want, and perhaps things that biologically I crave, but will they really make me happy? I am well aware kids are not an expensive jacket you can return to the store. Do I have any right to bring another human being into this world? And shouldn’t I figure out a life purpose well before having children?
  7. If I were to live a much simpler life where I didn’t set myself up for failure time and again, would I actually be happier? I am afraid I’d be bored. Or further depressed. Because the only real meaning I have in life right now is that addiction to making things difficult for myself and setting up situations where if I win it’s almost orgasmic and if I don’t then I can just accept it was impossible to begin with. That’s not a way to live life, however. And it’s certainly not a way to live life once you are in your 30s. It’s time to grow up, and maybe, somehow, just accept simplicity. It may very well be that is the meaning I’m looking for… being able to come home from work at a reasonable hour, and instead of turning on the TV and wasting away the evening watching bad reality shows, open up a book, go for a walk, draw something, do something meaningful with the little free time one has in adult life. Go for a walk in the middle of the day and actually see the sun. The epic meaning of life is in freedom, not being a slave to yourself or anyone else. Work should not be the meaning of life. It’s great if you love it, and it’s great if it provides your life some meaning, but ultimately, it’s a paycheck. Life is much, much more than that. I just want to learn how to live it.
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4 comments

  1. Dave says:

    I dont think you're as unintelligent as you think you are, I experience the same things in my life and didnt recognize them until reading this post. Thank you for your writing, this means a lot to me.

  2. Self-Sabotage Syndrome is where your thoughts are split before you even become aware of them! Deep programming also involves what I call "hidden decisions that create a mixed intent, and consequently mixed results – or incorrect outcomes. It took me years to overcome this, and wrote a book on the subject call The Logical Soul: Eliminate Self-Sabotage in 30 Minutes or Less for Success, Wealth, Love and Happiness!

  3. Julie says:

    I pretty much never comment on anything, but my heart is going out to you right now… just based on this blog, I can tell that you are an extremely intelligent and amazing woman!! If a chemical imbalance is possible, have you tried medications? They can suck, but be really helpful if you find the right ones.

    I've been reading your blog for years and I think that you're extremely successful and win a lot more than you give yourself credit for. You are also definitely NOT stupid and beat yourself up way more than you should!

    One of the things that I've come to appreciate with my own therapeutic journey is recognition. My therapist understands my life goals and values way more than my family ever will, so when she says she's proud of me, it is a big win for me, compared to my parents who just except greatness. I value the relationship with my therapist because she is my stand in parent and the person who has to be there for me no matter what is going on in my life. It's a little sad that I have to pay someone to fill this role, but the most important thing to me is that it IS filled and I don't have to search as much for the recognition I need.

  4. Kerry says:

    You seem to be very unhappy in many aspects of your life–your relationship, your anxieties about work, socially, your family relationships, the DUI. I really think you should look into going to therapy again. Maybe you'll always have challenges, but I think that with a good professional you can start to find some peace with yourself and ways to manage your life.

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