How Does Your Saboteur Show Up?

March 20, 2021
Mary-Ellen Hynd | How Does Your Saboteur Show Up Blog Post

Do you sometimes or often feel like there is a force within you that wants you to fail? Does it deliberately disrupt, delay, destroy and hinder your success, making progress feel like an uphill battle?

Don’t worry. No matter your age or stage in life or career, this is completely normal. You are not alone. That’s your saboteur or inner critic making its de-habilitating presence known.

Saboteur expert, Shirzad Chamine describes saboteurs as our internal enemies. They represent a set of automatic habits of your mind, each with its own voice, beliefs and assumptions that work against your best interests.

A universal phenomenon formed in early childhood, saboteurs start off as guardians to help us survive the real and imagined threats to our physical and emotional safety. By the time we are adults, these saboteurs are no longer needed, but they have become invisible inhabitants of our mind. When allowed to become the lenses through which we see and react to the world, saboteurs greatly limit our potential as adults.

In my work as a certified coach, every coaching engagement includes identifying and acknowledging a client’s saboteur (s). This starts by noticing what it says, what it sounds like and when it typically shows up.

One creative client calls her saboteur the REBELLIOUS SLUG. Here it is in plasticine form, sticking out its tongue at the world saying I don’t feel like it and you can’t make me.


Client Saboteur


“The REBELLIOUS SLUG visits me almost every single day, often more than once. It runs the show and tries to trick me into thinking that I’m not in control of myself or anyone else. It leads to a messy house, makes me order food rather than cook, has me start projects and leave them half-finished and convinces me to chill out at home rather than getting out into the world to do something – anything.”

Saboteurs are a powerful force to be reckoned with as you can see from this vivid client description and more below. These are the words of wonderful, naturally creative, authentic, resourceful, hard-working, respected and accomplished human beings including physician leaders.

YOU ARE A LOSER. You are never going to achieve your leadership goals. It feels like a belly ulcer that gnaws at me when I can’t affect rapid change. My saboteur shows up when I’m exhausted and I get into a closed loop of shit.”

YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH. The voice is very loud when I’m meeting new people and wanting to be liked. You are trying too hard. What a stupid thing to say. It’s emphatic and authoritative and makes me feel like it knows more than me and that I will be found out. My saboteur shows up when I’m tired and frustrated that a situation is not going the way I would like.”

THERE’S NOTHING SPECIAL ABOUT YOU. Why spend money on podcast equipment when no one will listen to what you have to say? It sounds like constant, critical chatter and feels like a war in my head. My saboteur shows up when I’m tired and tries to get me to quit but it’s quiet when I’m engaged and energized.”

YOU ARE SECOND RATE. Look at the way they look at you. It wouldn’t happen to David because he’s white. It’s like an angry clown – a cowardly, introvert troll in my mind heckling me with negative energy to make me feel like I’m not good enough. My saboteur shows up when I’m stressed, not sleeping well and feel like I’m being treated unfairly.“

YOU ARE ALL TALK. Why don’t you have a job? You are not working hard enough. You are only as good as your last performance. No wonder your wife left you. My saboteur broke shames me and shows up when I take the foot off the gas.”

When we are tired and faced with challenges, stress or uncomfortable situations, our saboteurs are activated and we can fall into old, negative self-sabotaging behaviours. The good news is that once you become familiar with your saboteur (s), there are coping strategies to shift the power, manage and quiet that dissonant voice.

The first step in weakening your saboteurs is to identify and expose them, as you can’t fight an invisible enemy, or one pretending to be your friend. I encourage you to learn about your personal saboteurs by taking Shirzad Chamine’s Free Saboteur Assessment.

It was created based on the research presented in his New York Times best-selling book and Stanford lectures on Positive Intelligence. Shirzad says there are 10 saboteurs and we all suffer from at least two.

I hope this glimpse into the saboteur makes a difference for you. The free assessment is an excellent starting point. You will receive a ranking and description of ten possible saboteurs. Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.

Pass it on 

Hi I’m Mary-Ellen

ICF Accredited global executive coach & organizational strategist known for unlocking potential & moving ideas to meaningful action through leadership, sustainability & communication. It’s my job to make you shine!


  1. Kalene E Morgan

    This post resonated with me. I’ve fought my inner critic for a long time. I’ve even named her: Julia. No idea where or why that name – just a spontaneous move. When she shows up, I recognize her and try to say something like, “Hey Julia – I know it seems like I can’t do this but taking risks is how I learn.”

    I’ve also had to get comfortable with making mistakes. I try to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them; I make new mistakes instead. Loved the post.

    • Mary-Ellen Hynd

      So glad the post resonated with you. Way to go naming and acknowledging your saboteur Kalene. Sadly some people, are run by their saboteur (s) which they don’t even realize. Highly recommend the free saboteur assessment (link in the post). I completed recently and found it very insightful.

  2. Alix Edmiston

    I love Karlene’s comments. We all suffer from Imposter syndrome. I took the Saboteur assessment and it was bang on for me. I am going to study the report because it provides fantastic insight. Mary-Ellen, thanks for this wonderful post and all you do.

    • Mary-Ellen Hynd

      I’m so glad you took the Saboteur Assessment and found it helpful Alix.

    • Lana collins

      I’ll have to take a closer look at this. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Leslie Hetherington

    I’m familiar with Seth Godin’s ‘Lizard brain’ influence as the noisy critic that says you’re not ‘good enough’ but your post introduced me to the multi-dimensional Saboteur. It made me think about other ways I self-sabotage beyond just the imposter syndrome and how to begin to address them.

    • Mary-Ellen Hynd

      The free assessment is so insightful Leslie. It gives you a sense of the types of saboteurs (or the multi-dimensional saboteur – love that) that are “loudest” for you.

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