Who’s Your Saboteur?

by Buffy Owens


We all have a way to which we hold ourselves back. Ways in which we keep ourselves safe by settling for what is familiar. For example, try simply noticing that voice inside your head that gets very chatty whenever you are about to make a decision or do something new, especially something that could result in change. Is it telling you that you’re nuts to consider what you are thinking of doing? Does it say that you failed once before and will probably do so again? Or is your voice like a sly cat, sweetly seducing you to eat those fries and chocolate shake?

Simply noticing these habitual stories, seductive voices, and destructive dialogues will help you to realize that there are inner saboteurs at work. In the act of noticing you begin to empower yourself to make truly conscious decisions that will result in positive and lasting changes in your life.  

Any problem you are facing is either already a gift and opportunity or could be actively turned into one.
— Shirzad Chamine

Origins Of Our Saboteurs

Shirzad Chamine, the author of Positive Intelligence, suggests that our Saboteurs originate in our youth as part of our protective mechanisms. Here’s a snippet of what he has to say about our Saboteur origins:

“Saboteurs start off as our guardians to help us survive the real and imagined threats to our physical and emotional survival as children. By the time we are adults, we no longer need them, but they have become invisible inhabitants of our mind.

Our Saboteurs’ patterns of thinking, feeling, and reacting become soft-coded in our brain through neural pathways. When these neural pathways are triggered, we are “hijacked” by our Saboteurs and feel, think, and act using their patterns.”

Now I know that there are many ways to define our protective mechanisms and/or the workings of the psyche. There are also a plethora of ways to work with self-awareness and understanding our individual tendencies. But exploring the Saboteurs is one strategy I have truly enjoyed over the years. In part, because it allows me to use my imagination. But also because it allows a bit of distance as I explore how I embody different aspects of myself — especially those that are a bit self-sabotaging.

Who Are Your Saboteurs?

Now, to be honest, I’ve been exploring the saboteurs long before I heard of Shirzad Chamine. But I have to admit, he’s done a fantastic job of categorizing and describing the more common Saboteurs. He’s basically broken down the Saboteurs into The Judge and his nine supporting saboteurs. I’m going to give you the quick overview here, but I invite you to visit his website to find out more and to take his Free Saboteur Assessment. Personally, I like to think of this list as a list of “family” names. That way I can get to know my unique Saboteur from the family, or lineage of, the Judge family. I get to know her as the daughter of my mother’s favorite Judge or the not so long-lost cousin to my father’s friend, Avoider.


THE JUDGE, according to Shirzad, is a universal Saboteur that each of us has the honor of contending with. The Judge also acts as a ringleader, prompting our other top Saboteurs to take action.


THE AVOIDER tends to be a bit of a Pollyanna to a fault. The Avoider over emphasizes positivity out of a need to avoid confrontation and discomfort.


THE CONTROLLER has the need to control others and situations. Without control, The Controller feels anxious and/or becomes impatient.


THE VICTIM has a bit of a Martyr streak and tends to focus on painful emotions. It is often the focus on negative emotions or events as a means of getting attention and affection.


THE RESTLESS is often in search of more — more excitement, another activity, or the next great thing. They are in a constant state of business and rarely finds full satisfaction in the task at hand.


THE HYPER-ACHIEVER derives her self-respect and self-validation from her achievements and performance. The Hyper-Achiever can tend to be a bit of a workaholic.


THE PLEASER often loses sight of her own needs as she strives to gain the acceptance and affection of others by helping, flattering, pleasing or rescuing.


THE STICKLER tends to see the world in black and white and is often a bit of a perfectionist. The Stickler can also be a bit of fixer, believing that they need to fix whatever mess they encounter.


THE HYPER-RATIONAL has an intense and active mind. But the over-rational tendencies often come at the cost of not being able, or wanting, to experience deep emotions. They value the intellect above all else.


THE HYPER-VIGILANT lives a life fearing what might go wrong. Living in a state of constant vigilance, they tend to be chronically anxious and in a perpetual state of self-doubt.


“The Saboteur” Name Game

Your saboteur can be a powerful force, but it doesn’t have to rule your life. Taking time to get to know your saboteurs can completely change your life. A powerful part of taking the time to personalize your Saboteurs is that you get to know that these habits of self-talk don’t define you! One way to get a jump-start on awareness and personalize your Saboteurs is to play the name game. This will give you a sense of who resides on your Iddy Biddy Shiddy Committee (this is the name I’ve given my personal group of Saboteurs). Plus when one of your old saboteur friends shows up in life, you can greet her with a loving and a knowing hello, thank her for stopping by, and inform her that you have this one handled.

  1. My Saboteur’s name is… Now I know this might seem silly. But that is kind of the point. When you give those negative ninnies a name, it’s easier to acknowledge their presence and then choose to let them listen to them or let them go.

  2. My Saboteur is fond of saying or often says… Oh yes…..if you’ve been making friends with your Itty Bitty Shitty Committee then you are aware of all the disheartening things they can say. Chances are good you have some favorite phrases floating around that you tell yourself over and over again. Go ahead and write them down. Get it out. That way the next time that those thoughts creep into the background of your conscious mind, you will recognize it right away and you can heed its warning or let it go.

  3. My Saboteur feels like (body sensations, breathing, etc.) If you have been exploring meditation, the Feldenkrais Method® or another mindfulness practice for a while then you are familiar with the experience of how each thought has its roots in a physical form. Part of the fun of naming your favorite Saboteurs is that you become intimately acquainted with how you embody them and what it feels like to have a discouraging thought.

Write On The Roots

Having a sense of the history behind our Saboteurs can help us to start to understand that the whispers that keep us small are simply learned behaviors. And the beauty of that is that you can always learn a new and more supportive behavior. But, it can also be a wily can of worms, so don’t spend too much time dwelling here. Getting down to the roots can also provide us with a bit of compassion for our Saboteurs and appreciation for the brilliance of our own development.  We can come to understand that these habits, like all habits, were created in response to life to ensure the survival of our life — physically, mentally, emotionally.

  1. My Saboteur reminds me of… Think back on some of the phrases your Saboteur repeats and the postures she takes. Do they remind you of anyone:? (mother, father, teacher, sister, etc).

  2. I first experienced my Saboteur when… What’s your earliest memory of your Saboteur? What was happening? What were you feeling?

Write The Role

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assert that your Saboteurs are not bad. They were not created or designed to hold you back in life and keep you small simply to spite you. They do not need to be banished from your life. In fact, I’m’ not sure that it serves any of us to disown any part of our selves. In fact, once you get to know your cunning collective, you’ll discover that each member of your Saboteur posse shows up for a reason. Maybe that reason is simply that it’s a  habit — but maybe not. Behind the habit, there’s a trigger. And, getting to know your triggers will empower you to pause, step back, and check-in with yourself to see if the information you’re getting is in alignment with what you truly want.

  1. My Saboteur is fond of doing or shows up when… Get to know the type of situations that your Saboteurs thrive in. Who’s there for matters of the heart? Or when you start something new or go for something BIG? Is there a Saboteur linked with your true intuition?

  2. My Saboteur is fond of doing or shows up to… For instance, meet my friend Not Enough Nancy. Her strategy is to seek out new things to learn in order to fill a void and rid herself of her feelings of insecurity. Now, of course, this is just a name I gave an aspect of myself and learning new things in and of itself is a great thing. But, when I seek in a way that distracts me from my current experience, I feel the stress of the belief that I am not enough.

  3. My Saboteur can help me understand… Once you’ve explored the questions above you can start to get a sense of when, why, and how your Saboteurs show up. Now it’s time to tap into the learning that they have to offer. You can start with one simple question, “What do you want me to know?” Then you can follow that question with one or two more: “Is it true?” and maybe, “Is there anything in this that will help me to live more fully or achieve my goals?”