Stop the sabotage: reset your inner thermostat!
So a little while back I decided I was ready to start dating again. I’ve been doing a lot of hard work on my childhood trauma—learning to listen to my inner child, but not let her run the show or sabotage things; coming to terms with the truth of my past experiences—the painful and the beautiful; learning to value and love myself deeply and unconditionally, and to let go of the fantasy that anyone else will provide that kind of love for me. I’ve been thinking about what I really want in a partner, and what kinds of signals I will look for to tell me if I’m on the right track or not. Learning to tune in to what feels good and right to me, on a deep gut level. Not an impetuous, feverish level (which I used to take for a gut level, but which was really an escape from what my “gut” was telling me), but a thoughtful, centered, core level. It’s a lot to take in!
I’ve had some great experiences. I’ve met some nice men, had some very entertaining conversations, gone on some really fun dates. And some experiences that just make you raise your eyebrows. What’s interesting to me is to notice how many of those not so great experiences I would have tolerated in my past. I would have accepted less than respectful treatment, overly pushy men, needy men, and a host of red flags as perfectly ordinary and even desirable. After all, if they showed interest in me, that was desirable! I was dying for attention, so any kind of attention would do.
But now that I’m spending time with myself, doing things that I love, committing myself to things that are important to me, all that has changed. I actually value my time and my energy. I can see that I deserve to be treated well, and I expect it. When red flags show up, I notice them and thoughtfully take action in my best interests. These actions boost my self esteem and confidence and reinforce the message that I am worthy of happiness and love far beyond what I have experienced in the past.
Something I recently became aware of is a high level of fear around these new experiences. After all, I’ve never been in this uncharted territory before. I’ve never given myself permission to be this selective, this thoughtful, this slow in the dating process. I’ve never allowed myself to really enjoy being single and to feel luxurious in my own life. It’s very new, and very scary.
Gay Hendricks, in his book The Big Leap, talks about The Upper Limit Problem (ULP). Here’s how he describes this:
We have an inner thermostat that determines the amount of love and success we allow ourselves. When we exceed our setting, we tend to sabotage ourselves so that we can return to the old, familiar zone where we feel secure. The thermostat was set before you could think for yourself, usually in early childhood.
I can so relate! This is exactly where I stand right now—perched on the edged of my ULP. My inner thermostat is trying to tell me that I’ve exceeded my setting of how much love and success I’m allowed, so of course I’m going to feel nervous, anxious, terrified, incapable of sustaining the good feelings and success I’ve created for myself. But there is good news: we can reset our thermostat.
As we become aware of how we sabotage and what is getting triggered, we can care for that inner wounded part of us that feels so unworthy and give our inner thermostat notice that a new setting is in our future. Here’s how this works in my life:
- I go on a date with a really nice man who treats me well. I honor myself and him throughout the evening. I come home feeling confident, relaxed, and happy. I do not obsess about the future, I don’t check my cell phone obsessively to see if he’s contacting me. I don’t fantasize about him and what he’s thinking. I am balanced and serene.
- Later that evening, just before bed, I get the urge to eat (although I am not really hungry). I chow down on chips or chocolate. Maybe I have a glass of wine.
- That’s my cue to see where I am being triggered, because that is an act of self sabotage. So I go within and ask myself what I am feeling and I listen to the answer.
- Chances are, I will hear the voice of a very young self responding that I am afraid that I can’t keep up the success. I’m not sure what I’m doing. I don’t know what’s happening. I’m terrified that I’m going to mess it up.
- Now I can talk to this young self and reassure her that it’s normal and natural to feel nervous or even terrified—this is new territory! It’s true, we’ve never done this before. Look how well it’s going! We don’t have to be perfect, we just have to keep going, no matter what, and I will always be there, no matter what happens. If this man decides he doesn’t want to keep going, I will be there to keep going. If she messes it up, it’s ok, I will be there to keep going. If she feels sad, angry, scared, or lonely, it’s ok, I will be there to be with her and we will keep going together. There is NOTHING that will make me go away. I am not leaving her for this or any other man. I will be there to hold her hand and walk her through this. We will do it together. I can handle it, I’m the grown-up, and that’s what grown-ups do. She can relax and go to sleep, and all will be well.
- You can see how I am being my own parent, right? If I practice this form of self love enough times, I might be able to feel the triggered feelings coming on before I pick up the chips, chocolate, and wine. Eventually the self sabotaging behavior will diminish and then disappear.
You notice that at no point do I berate or judge myself. Would you treat a precious little three year old child with anything but tenderness and love when they were feeling afraid? It’s no different with our inner wounded children. This is all about acceptance and love, with a firm commitment to future growth and development.
So how about you? Got any ULPs happening in your life? What can you do to reset your thermostat? What can you do to parent your inner wounded child when you feel the urge to self sabotage?