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.
©Justina Kochansky / Flickr
If dating seems like an ordeal, you are not alone. I’ve heard many versions of “I’m not dating because it sucks” from all sorts of people; gay, straight, men and women of all ages. I’ve expressed that sentiment myself more than a few times, but I also know that it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. Each of the archetypal guides in this series can help illuminate why dating can be difficult and how we can experience the process in a more grounded, wholehearted way.
This next archetypal guide is a biggie – it’s probably the main reason dating can be painful, confusing and un-fun. Just stay with me here because our guide to less vexing and more wholehearted dating in this edition is the archetypeA universal pattern of motivation and behavior. of the Victim.
What did you say woman? Victim?!
(Like I said – hang in there.)
The BIG THING to remember is that the Victim has two sides to it and is all about safety, strength and boundaries. It remains neutral until we feed one side or the other with thoughts, ideas and actions.
Unempowered Victim Archetype
Keywords: Pain, Fear, Blame This is the part of us that is consciously or unconsciously hurt, defensive, pissed off, fearful, vengeful or sad. It’s a tender part that needs care and compassion but it also needs to know it’s not the only game in town. To identify with only the unempowered Victim is how we can end up in dating suckland. Being in the mindset of fear skews our vision and makes for hasty decisions (fight or flight dating anyone?). This is where being present and paying attention to what’s going on in our minds and hearts without judgement can keep us grounded.
Empowered Victim Archetype
Keywords: Strength, Resilience, Courage I like to call this the Victorious part of us but it’s still a part of the Victim – we can’t really have one without the other. This is the archetype of working with the fear, letting stuff go, setting healthy boundaries and getting on with life more informed and stronger than we were before. The empowered Victim is also a wellspring of compassion – for self and others. It opens the door to maintaining vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness. If that sounds like an oxymoron, think of it this way, our ability to truly connect (be vulnerable) allows us to be who we really are beyond the fear we might feel (strength).
Dating means putting yourself out there in a way that could bring old wounds and insecurities to the surface – something most of us instinctively avoid. Hence the Victim archetype rearing it’s head in the middle of our single life saying it’s not safe out there. Here’s the thing though, if we let our fears wall all that stuff up in order to feel safe, we are also walling out what we most deeply want – love and connection.
“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need in all women, men and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” ~Brené Brown from The Gifts of Imperfection
Love, if it is real, will never be completely safe because it requires vulnerability, which is to say that the soft gooey center of us could get squeezed and maybe not pleasantly so. In order to truly love, our shields have to come down for a connection to be made. This is true of platonic relationships as well but dating can feel like the stakes are much higher.
“No human being has ever lived without knowing heartbreak, and to accept that truth is to give a merciful gift to ourselves.” ~David Whyte
Actively working with our internal Victim can help us cultivate the strength, resilience and spaciousness to experience dating in a whole new way. How we relate to our internal Victim resonates out to how we treat other people, including our potential love partners and sets the tone for our future relationships.
Here are some ways the Victim can be a guide to dating where we feel stronger, more present and grounded:
Know Your Ropes
You know that exercise where someone walks up to you one small step at a time and you tell them to stop when you begin to feel uncomfortable? That’s how we can determine our personal physical boundaries. For some people it’s 5 feet and for others 5 inches. The Victim here is a guide to emotional boundaries, which is all about how we handle our own vulnerability. If we have overly porous dating boundaries we’ll be prone to spilling our emotional guts on the first date, getting hurt unnecessarily or taking on other people’s emotional burdens. Diamond hard boundaries mean we are never going to be able to let anyone in and be a part of an intimate relationship. Understanding how this might work for ourselves emotionally can save a lot of confusion and bruised feelings.
Understanding and developing emotional boundaries is huge topic and there are many resources to support more learning so I’ve provided a few below.
Boundaries vs. Barriers by Pema Chödrön
How to Set Healthy Boundaries: 3 Crucial First Steps
Ten Ways to Build and Preserve Boundaries
Self-victimization can slide in when we aren’t looking; maybe an un-returned call, text message or presumed mistake on a date sends you into a bout of self-flagellation. Whatever the cause, it’s a ripe time to take a moment to remember that:
1) things are not always as they seem
2) you are human and do all sorts of things that might not be intended
3) berating yourself does not help anything (in fact neuro psychology research shows it can make things worse).
Self-vicitmization is a call for self-compassion. Once you’ve stopped beating yourself up you will know what to do next with much clearer vision. You will also have more compassion for those you are dating.
Don't Go It Alone
The Victim can also let us know when we are heading for a situation that we should avoid and to take precautions to be safe out there in dating land. Hopefully we’ve all learned to meet someone new in a public place and continue to do gut check’s about whether we can trust the other person. This can also go overboard. My brother told me about a woman who brought along her BFF to their first date as a sort of guard. Granted, they met on a dating website but her reaction and obvious Victim mentality really turned him off on what could have been an otherwise pleasant date over coffee.
Whether for physical or emotional safety I recommend a ‘date buddy’; someone you can trust to talk something out with and check in with to let them know where you are going and with whom on a date. Our parents might not wait up for us anymore but it’s nice to know someone has our back. I’m blessed to have two date buddies (a man and a woman) and it really, really helps. I get the benefit of having access to both the male and female perspectives on things and get to support them on their dating adventures as well.
Being present to what comes up with the Victim in dating also reminds us that we can call on resources and helpers in the form of Mentors, Therapists or Groups where we can share our experience and receive support.
Avoid Reruns & Red Flags
You’ve heard the quote about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result as the definition of insanity right? It’s true, but most of us do it anyway and dating is no exception. The Victim is our guide to say “hey we’ve done this before and it didn’t end so well”. It’s a call to clear thinking and discernment knowing that dating re-runs and red flags can be avoided if we choose to.
This reminds me of a scene in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ when Carrie Fisher’s character says “You’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right – he’s never going to leave her.” about the married man who is always proclaiming he’s going to leave his wife to be with her but never does. The Victim can help us recognize when we get into an unhealthy pattern and need to make some different choices or at least look clearly at a situation.
Although dating can bring uncomfortable things up, an honest and compassionate relationship with the Victim means we can be stronger, more loving people for the difficult lessons and heartbreak we’ve been through. My experience with cultivating the lessons of the Victim in relation to dating has helped me immensely. I never thought the process could actually be empowering and compassionate, but it can be and that is what I hope to share with you. Please comment, share, Tweet and link this article if others that you think might benefit. I love when you do that.
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.