In 1975 I graduated cum laude from San Francisco State University with a BA in anthropology, specializing in archaeology with a minor in sociology. I was accepted into graduate school. My first semester I found myself driving to school, maybe going to a class or two, but, more often, sitting in the parking lot drinking and doing crossword puzzles! I wrote a sob story to withdraw from my classes and was put on academic probation. The next semester I continued my irrational behavior, did not bother to withdraw, and was “disqualified from the University,” i.e. kicked out. Today, as a counselor and psychotherapist (having gotten sober and completed graduate school in counseling psychology) I often run into the phenomenon of self-sabotage, particularly people coming close to a goal, on the cusp of success, and either dropping out or, as I did, sabotaging their near success in some seemingly irrational way. Sometimes their explanation is that they are afraid of failure. But is that really it? I have found that they often come from a shaming family where they grew up feeling they were never good enough…at anything they tried. I came from such a family. I admit, I might have subconsciously known I was an increasingly out-of-control alcoholic who probably would not have been able to continue the high level of performance I had managed so far, but even that was probably tinged with fear of success. Success would have led to greater expectations and responsibility. I could dream of being a responsible version of Indiana Jones, but to actually lead a dig and teach others?

There is a quote I love, credited variously to Marianne Williamson and Nelson Mandela (from his second inaugural speech): Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, `Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us. It is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. Today I can look back through years of recovery and healing, insight and learning and have empathy for the sick young man I was in 1976, as well as for my clients stalled in their progress. I recently helped someone with over 30 years of sobriety, embarking on a second career (itself bold, as he is in his 60s) through a self-sabotage, stalled-schooling dilemma. As are most life problems, it was based in fear, but it was a mix of fear of failure and fear of success. I do part-time work for an addiction treatment agency and in the intake we ask the new patient to list his or her positive attributes. More often than not, this is much harder for them than to list their deficits. Addiction causes people to have a greater-than-average sense of guilt, shame, and inadequacy. As I work with people like this, I can often see their magnificence before they do. My job is to get them to see it.

Author's Bio: 

Paul Hood is a Licensed Professional Counselor with offices in Bailey and Evergreen Colorado. He has been a substance abuse counselor for 27 years (formerly an Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor, ICADC, lapsed) and a psychotherapist, marriage, family and adolescent counselor for 21 years. He specializes in substance abuse and dependence codependence, adult children of alcoholic and other dysfunctional families, ADHD, mood disorders, other mental health problems, personal and spiritual growth, life skills and self-esteem/self-worth.