Giving Up Sabotage for Lent

In my work with congregations and other groups and even in my own personal relationships, I am constantly aware of the presence of the sin of sabotage. It's a pesky little sin that often camouflages itself as healthy behaviour, at least we attempt to justify it that way. 

I always get stuck doing everything, but if I don't do it, no one will...but I'll complain about having to do it, and take no responsibility that I could have said, "no."

You didn't meet my expectations, so I'm justified in sharing my disappointment with others...who have no ability to correct the situation nor any real involvement in our relationship. 

Things aren't going the way I want them to go, so I'm out of here...but I'll take no responsibility for my own actions and keep repeating my own disappointment, wondering why I'm at my 6th church in 10 years.

You might see a theme here. Sabotage is, quite frankly, a nifty way we humans have created to react when we aren't getting our way, when our expectations aren't being met (regardless of whether or not our expectations were realistic), when we are hurt, or when we are really upset about something else, but facing that hurt is too much, so we project outwards onto someone else or another group. It's not a new sin. The entire crucifixion of Christ is rooted in the sin of sabotage.

It shows up particularly in time of stress and anxiety, in our personal relationships and our communities. We are fearful of facing our own anxiety, of facing our own personal darkness, and facing our own fears, so we blame others. We may be fearful of change. Sabotage is an effective way to metaphorically kill leader/s who are inviting us to change and grow. Churches who have what I call revolving door clergy (a new one every 2 to 3 years) are almost always succumbing to repeated sabotage. Truthfully, we ALL engage in the sin of sabotage.

A tragedy of sabotage is that we think the answer to it is to ignore it or rationalize it, which works about as well as ignoring a festering wound.

Jesus gives us the overarching theme of facing the sin of sabotage...with love and kindness, treating each other as we would hope to be treated. I wondered, what if we reflected on these acts of sabotage, recognized these acts in ourselves, and chose to behave in another way?  So, what if, for Lent, we as individuals and as communities of faith, gave up sabotage?

1. Triangulation: talking to others about others (I talk to Jane about John's act, not to get her thoughts or insight or advice, but to proselytize for my cause or to justify my wound). This single act does more damage, I think, than all the others. It creates hurt and distrust, because believe me, what you said almost always gets back to the person, but doesn't create a solution. Our way to love - simply go to the person with whom you have a disagreement or, if that feels too uncomfortable, get someone to go with you for support. Also, if we are the person someone is coming to with the information, WE are part of the problem if we don't collapse the triangle, so to speak. While it's seductive to be in the role of "people just come to me with their problems," kindly suggesting that this person go speak to the person in question is a godly way to engage in reconciliation.

2. Distancing: I'm not getting my way, I feel hurt, or I'm experiencing some other emotion that feels painful, so I simply withdraw from the group or the relationship and tell no one (or perhaps tell a few people who aren't involved and therefore can't respond appropriately). Perhaps we think people will chase after us, suddenly bending their wills so we will stay. Our way to love - safely distance, if space is what we need, by sharing that information, and name a time to resume interaction. Stay at the table and in the relationship.

3. Over-functioning: I do everything, and if I don't do it, it won't get done (and I'll let you know that, too), but by doing everything, I don't give others a chance to participate, and if they try, I'll criticize. But I can't believe NO ONE will help me!  Keep doing this and burn out will come knocking. Our way to love - recognize what's going on inside, perhaps a need to be perceived as important or vital, perhaps a need for control, and do the work to bring yourself into balance. Also, remember that, "No," is a complete sentence. FYI, clergy LOVE engaging in this one.

4. Under-functioning: I'll take on responsibility, but I won't do anything. I probably won't come to meetings, and if I do, I'll come late or leave early. In relationships, I will almost never initiate conversation or interaction during times of difficulty. Our way to love - again, recognize what's going on inside, perhaps a need for space, perhaps a sense that something is no longer fulfilling and have the hard but honest conversation.  Also, over-functioning by one partner or group member almost always results in under-functioning by the other partner or group members.

5. Conflict and Bullying - using intimidation, threats, raised voices, or other acts that are meant to force others into bending to our will. Clearly, this is almost a catch-all category that we have all experienced and used. When this behaviour appears, people become fearful (with good reason), withdraw, and experience confusion, among other things. One way people bully is telling others through word and deed that they (the bully) is an expert on such things and the others are not, so the conversation shuts down. We also bully to get our way, to silence those who may have differing views in a time of conflict.  Our way to love - be very aware of our own inner flash points and warning signs, and bring this behaviour to the attention of the person embodying it. Also, when someone uses the word, "bully," to describe another's actions, pay attention. Most people who step over the line to abusive behaviour have a history and pattern, and bullying and abuse may call for outside intervention for the safety of all involved.

6. Picking the Wound - this is related to triangulation, but it involves a continual need to share one's disappointment, one's unmet expectations, or one's feelings of loss and disappointment - often YEARS after the event. When we pick the wound, we refuse to allow healing. We have shared our feelings with the person whose actions didn't meet our expectations, we have a conversation about our disappointment, we have probably even acted as if we were good with the perceived resolution of the situation, and yet we continue to tell others how we were hurt and how we didn't get our way. We continue to embrace the wound, avoiding healing. Often, we project our hurt feelings about a much deeper wound onto whatever issue/person is at hand and, in the process, isolate ourselves as those who are the object of our projection distance from us. Our way to love - realize when we've become stuck on an issue, and own that it likely is not the true reason for our pain. Often, we mask deep hurts of rejection and abuse that we don't want to face with slights like, "You didn't take me to dinner at the place I wanted to go...two years ago."

7. Cut-Off - the classic "I'm taking my toys and leaving" act. We humans are spectacularly good at this. Engaging in cut-off and often proselytizing to other to engage in cut off with us creates breaks in relationships, missed opportunities for healing, and stagnation and death. It is also a repeating pattern. It results in what I call a geographical fix. Changing locales rarely heals the deep wounds; it simply offers a temporary Band-Aid. Our way to love - reminding ourselves of civil behaviour, not burning bridges, and working to create safe and appropriate boundaries when anxiety, fear, and other emotions are running high.  If a situation does become too dangerous for us to remain, and cut-off seems like a reasonable response, realize that we have deep work to do on owning our responsibility for the cut-off, as well. Be wary of the temptation to blame everything on the other.

In my Episcopal Diocese of Lexington, Dr. Kay Collier McLaughlin trains clergy and laity in sabotage awareness, how to spot it ,and what we can do to counter it by acting in love and kindness.  The list is based on her work and her Leadership Development program.  Her book, Becoming the Transformative Church goes into greater detail.


Carl Haefele said…
I think we all recognize all of the above, and most of us have been guilty of more than one. Thanks for calling us out, and suggesting some better behaviors.
vulcanknitter said…
This is excellent and spot on! Thank you.
Unknown said…
Very well written and explained. I saw myself in several of them.

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