Ever get super annoyed about a date’s habit of eating loudly, or feel uncomfortable because they have a super hot ex? It can be oh so easy to extrapolate small things into relationship-stopping catastrophes even when other aspects of the situation are great. When your list of deal breaking items gets longer than five, the Saboteur is lurking in your psyche and things are about to get messy.
This archetypal dating guide has a reputation as ‘the Ninja’ because it has a way of being subtle and lethal before you know what hit you. I’m referring to the archetype of the Saboteur which is often cloaked in some pretty typical dating behavior.
The Saboteur shows up when we feel vulnerable and acts as a defense for a wounded part of ourselves (often the Victim). The reasoning of the Saboteur in dating is that if we can beat a potential wound to the punch then we’ll suffer less. Simple, no? Simple but deadly to any possible relationship with another human being. Ever.
We’ve all probably been on one side or the other of the Saboteur’s razor sharp blade and it hurts either way. Truth is, we can’t mitigate our way out of pain or loss but we can be strong enough to hold our vulnerability and make choices with both wisdom and heart.
It is possible to level up our wisdom by being mindful and recognizing what we are really up to before making choices. Recognizing key patterns as archetypes is a good way to get a hand hold on our own internal machinations. If you can spot the sneaky, weirdly well intentioned Saboteur at work you can then review the situation in a different light.
In the words of the urban poet and rap star, Ice Cube:
You better check yo self before you wreck yo self
Cos I’m bad for your health, I come real stealth
Knowledge is power, so here is a primer on the Saboteur in relationships:
The Two Sides of the Saboteur
Unempowered Saboteur Archetype
AKA The Critic, The Cynic Keywords: Reactionary, Fear, Exaggeration, Over-thinking, Cynicism This is the part of us that is consciously or unconsciously ready to sabotage when we feel uncomfortable or get scared. It’s a pattern of over-thinking a situation and/or making extreme judgements as a defense.
The unempowered Saboteur’s voice:
“They do (insert action here) and boom! I’m outta here.”
“I just can’t date a man/woman who (insert annoying thing here).”
“He/she is really great – I wonder what is wrong with them?”
The Saboteur is the chief in charge of trying to figure everything out right away, laying emotional land mines or generally mucking up the works. At it’s worst, the Saboteur is like a pernicious detective drawing all kinds of scary conclusions until we are too confused to know what’s what. Like the Magician, the unempowered Saboteur is a master of creating illusion.
Empowered Saboteur Archetype
Keywords: Listening, Wisdom, Clarity, Faith, Trust This is one of those patterns that the upside is being able to spot when the unempowered side is at play and take a breath to check-in with ourselves. It’s the part of us that says “relax, breathe, be open to the truth before you decide”. The empowered Saboteur’s motto is “Check it before you wreck it”. The empowered Saboteur as a representative of clear thinking can help you understand if doubts and worries are legitimate or just a function of fear. Also like a Magician the empowered Saboteur knows how the tricks work and can see what is an illusion before taking action.
“Old defenses block new success. Every defense is really a fear that forces you to play small, live in lack, and limit what is really possible. In truth, no defense can make you strong, no defense can win you freedom, and no defense can show you your true power.” ~Robert Holden, Ph.D.
4 ways to recognize and work with the Saboteur:
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
~Viktor E. Frankl
Trigger Not So Happy
We often have specific triggers that will set the Saboteur off so it’s good to be conscious of them so we can see them coming before anyone gets hurt. I found this article lays out some ways to find and work with these emotional triggers: 5 Steps to Owning Your Emotional Triggers
Phone a Friend
If you are having an “I’m about to wreck it.” moment, call a friend and ask them to hear you out before you do anything rash. Often times we just need someone to listen and witness that we are scared and having a moment of uncomfortable vulnerability. You might even notice that you are trying to sway them to your thinking – another sign that the Saboteur is on the loose.
Speaking with a trusted friend, coach or therapist is often the way to get the Saboteur to put down the sword and so you can hone in on what you really want. You might even be right about your next action but if you make your choice out of wisdom and not fear you will treat everyone humanely and feel a whole lot better about your choice.
The Price of Admission
If looking for perfection is your own Saboteur style, recognize that imperfection is at the heart of what makes us loveable. We want to be loved and accepted as whole people – flaws and all. Perfection as manufactured by the marketing department in our heads is a complete deception that kills off any hope of being in a real relationship. This talk by Dan Savage on what he calls “The Price of Admission
” sums up how acceptance of our flaws and those of our partners is key to any healthy and lasting relationship. Warning: the video contains potentially offensive language and laughter.
Over-thinking A Square
If you find yourself thinking non-stop and obsessing about a situation from every angle, the Sabotuer has snuck in and amped your brain to the point that nothing can be perceived honestly. It’s time to get out of your head and into your body. Go for a run, go dancing, take a bike ride or a walk – the more strenuous the better. You won’t stop thinking completely of course, but you will switch gears and hopefully give the non-stop-thought-train a rest for a while. If you can’t get away for some exercise, the simple act of putting your hand on your chest and taking 3 deep, slow breaths will calm you and slow down the rapid fire thinking. Repeat as necessary.
“Intellect confuses intuition.” ~Piet Mondrian
Here is a sweet video that represents both aspects of the Saboteur.
Dating can feel like a trip to the amusement park, filled with excitement, ups, downs and the occasional sense of inertia. Certain archetypes can help serve as guides for keeping grounded while amidst the thrills and spills of dating life. So far I’ve written about archetypal attraction based on shared patterns, paired needs and romantic chemistry. Now it’s time to dig into some of the archetypal characters that will likely show up for everyone dating. They also can play into why some people don’t even dip their toe into the dating pool. I call these our Survival Archetypes. They are roles we take on when we feel vulnerable as well as ones that can guide us to authentically being ourselves.
We all work with the survival archetypes. Some people are so in the thrall of the unempowered aspects of them that they have a hard time seeing beyond their negative effects. It’s my hope to turn this around a bit. Each archetype should be used as a guide – not a way to judge yourself poorly. In fact they are an excellent way of spotting how you might judge yourself and how to make a more empowering choice.
The four dating Survival Guides are: The Victim, The Prostitute, The Child and The Saboteur.
The names of these archetypes might seem to some harsh or intimidating, but that’s because we tend to know them only by their pathology. They also contain a wonderful possibility that often gets overlooked.
I launched this series on dating by recommending attention as a key for getting clear on who you are and who you want to form a relationship with. Paying attention to your thoughts and behaviors by seeing them as patterns helps you get clear on your options. That clarity can get lost however if we use the pattern to judge ourselves poorly or condemn ourselves.
The technology of using archetypes is best served with a practice akin to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) coupled with self-compassion. The basis of MBSR is moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness. Awareness and self compassion are powerful practices in life and especially in the necessarily vulnerable experience of dating. Developing awareness and self compassion practices can make all the difference in being able to be authentic (you know, the real you) and attract the right people into your life. This isn’t just me talking, there are increasingly more scientific studies showing how awareness and self compassion are amazing for us in every aspect of our lives, from reducing stress, relieving pain and bringing greater resilience and happiness to practitioners. Two other pioneers in this field are Kelly McGonigal, Phd and Kristen Neff, Phd. Neff’s book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind is an excellent starting place.
This series will focus on each of the four survival archetypes as they might show up for a single person looking to meet a significant other. They are of course useful to those already in relationship or those thinking about ‘getting back out there’. I’ll share ideas on ways to bring awareness to your actions and choices in a way that helps you enjoy yourself more in the process of creating new relationships. If we are enjoying ourselves from the beginning, we’ll be less prone to heap expectations on the person we are dating and vice versa. Sound good? Look for updates soon and links will be added to the list above so you can jump to the next exciting article.
Understanding archetypes goes much deeper than a chat about a movie and beyond the confines of a psychology textbook. An archetype is not just a pattern “out there” in theory but it is a recurring set of experiences that unfold through the course of a human life. Our ability to spot when a particular pattern walks in the door makes the difference between acting out and making a conscious choice. We begin to view the shape of our lives within an archetypal language by introducing ourselves to four patterns that we all share, the Survival Archetypes. Let’s imagine that four well-known television characters become clothed for a time with each her own version of a pattern. Rose, Blanche, Dorothy and Sophia share a home somewhere in Miami in the Emmy winning television sitcom, The Golden Girls.
‘Rose’ image via Wikipedia
This pattern and the next are the most obvious to match with characters from the show. Rose captures the essence of the Child perfectly. Her wide, gullible eyes lack any indication of doubt because she accepts anything an adult tells her. The pattern itself balances innocence and responsibility. Forced to make her way through life by her own efforts, Rose gathers herself up from a fantasy world where she is taken care of by her husband’s pension plan or a steady job and takes life on directly. This is significant because the Child has to leave the safety of the family and enter a harsh world populated by sharply critical adults. When we want to run away from a situation and deny what is happening, we are confronting the Child within us. Yet this is also the pattern where we can choose to see each situation as overflowing with limitless potential and see things as new again.
‘Blanche’ image via Wikipedia
Of course it’s Blanche. In almost every episode, she decides to assign a value to her body by comparing her looks to another woman or using her body to advance her own interests. At every turn Blanche is chasing a man or furious that her wiles haven’t produced the results she expected. The Prostitute grabs a price scanner and makes its mark on every part of us it can so that we feel safe in the world, often by remaining in a relationship or a job. Whenever she is confronted with a problem, Blanche throws on a negligee and adjusts her makeup in order to barter her way through. She never fully believes in her own capacity to solve her problems beyond her salable attributes. Only by the end of an episode does Blanche find what is truly valuable: Her friendships and sense of herself beyond her outward appearance.
‘Dorothy’ image via Wikipedia
Dorothy is the “smart” one with the cold stares and the newspaper in her hand, ever expounding on the failures of society with its potential to violate and betray us. It is her voice that speaks up after silently burning for a few moments, waiting for the assault to stop, and sets appropriate boundaries. More than a few times Dorothy picks up a newspaper and hits Rose over the head when the St. Olaf stories go on too long. This is the Victim, present when we feel unable to defend ourselves but also when we go after someone else for revenge. Its empowerment isn’t in aggression and dominance but in being clear about our boundaries as they relate to who gets “in” as well as how far you get “out.”
‘Sophia’ image via Wikipedia
Sophia’s entrance is often preceded by someone starting to dream about a wonderful new idea or vision of themselves. She shuts them down with a opinion based on how they will fail, often gouging out a chunk of self esteem in the process. The Saboteur does the same. Dorothy, for her part the empowered Victim, slaps her hand across Sophia’s mouth to prevent the impending criticism. When you are about to make a choice that will interrupt a new opportunity for you to build self-esteem and connect to your destiny, the Saboteur has entered the room. Through the entire series, Sophia exemplifies the Saboteur in her attempts to pursue a vibrant, active life for a woman in her eighties and confronts the view that she is hastening towards senility and the grave. The ability to step into a new life for ourselves is guarded by the Saboteur, but make no mistake: This is the pattern where WE are blocking our way forward, not anybody else.
Blanche: What do you think of my new dress? Is it me?
Sophia: It’s too tight, it’s too short and shows too much cleavage for a woman your age.
Dorothy: Yes, Blanche. It’s you.
Picture it: One night you can’t get to sleep. Something’s really bothering you at work or you’re ashamed of your bank account. Maybe you’re not with the person you love anymore. Whatever it is, you get up and shuffle into the kitchen. Soon, you are surrounded by four of your lifelong archetypal pals, only they’re doing all the talking. You sit there on the table while they pick at you, bicker and lay into each other with their concerns and fears. Basically, you’re a cheesecake, slowly eaten away bite after bite. Instead of becoming a pile of crumbs when these voices are in control, we can take the time to pursue a relationship with them. We can know when we are making a choice that obscures or magnifies our destiny. At first a silent partner, studying our deeper motivations, but in time we claim our place at the table. Eventually, we will distance ourselves from their automatic choices and see what has been waiting beyond our fears in front of us the whole time.
More articles about the Survival Archetypes