The German-American high-wire walker, Karl Wallenda, fell to his death while attempting to walk across a wire stretched one hundred and twenty-three feet (thirty-seven metres) above the pavement between two hotels in Puerto Rico in 1978. He was seventy-three years of age when he died. Investigations revealed that high winds and an improperly-secured wire led to the tragic fall.
The walk had been touted as fairly routine. Indeed, while Karl’s wife, Helen Kreis, had described the walk as “perhaps his most dangerous,” it is instructive to note that she believed that the fall occurred before the actual walk.
After the fall, she remarked that, “all Karl thought about for three straight months prior to it was falling. It was the first time he had ever thought about that and it seemed to me that he put all his energies into not falling rather walking the tight rope.”
Building on Helen Kreis’ viewpoint, I cannot stop looking at Karl Wallenda’s tragic end as a near-perfect example of self-sabotaging thoughts. In a year in which the coronavirus pandemic has challenged plans and dreams, turned them turned upside-down, and put everyday optimism to severe test, how does one respond to the critical inner voice?
Columnist Lisa Jeffs writes that, “when we believe that we aren’t going to do well, or will fail no matter what, we begin behaving in a way that ensures that we will fail.”
Life is replete with examples of self-sabotage that imprisoned and destroyed every effort one made to get better. The doubt of, and fight against, one’s self tempts people to overlook areas that are within their control. When unchecked, the critical inner voice thus renders one vulnerable to a disruptive mindset and its attendant behaviours.
The story of Jonah in the Bible is another example in the distinctive mould of self-sabotaging thoughts. He was instructed to warn the inhabitants of Nineveh (present-day Mosul in Iraq) about divine wrath but chose to flee from the assignment. Having jumped onto a boat in his attempts to escape the mission, Jonah ended up in the belly of a great fish.
His failed escape threatened harm on both himself and others. Psychologist Abraham Maslow saw in Jonah’s story, a display of the “fear of one’s greatness, the evasion of one’s destiny, or the avoidance of exercising one’s talents.”
Without doubt, the critical inner voice has the capacity to cast doubt on one’s abilities, undermine the desire or hunger for higher achievement, and replace the previously positive mindset with fear, paranoia and suspicions.
Evelyn Marinoff observes that “self-sabotage is the action we take to thwart our own best intentions and goals. We do it because we want something, and then we fear that we may actually get it, that we won’t be able to handle it, and so we ruin everything…it is a fear of failure and a fear of success, all at the same time.”
Some of the indications of self-sabotaging behaviour include stubbornness, which revolves around an insatiable need to be always right; a closely-related obsession with perfection; the inability to accept responsibility for mistakes; procrastination; refusal to seek assistance, and recourse to actions that run the risk of detracting from desired goals.