Sabotage - The spontaneous disruption of calm or status quo in order to serve a personal interest, provoke a conflict or draw attention.
Like Living with Land Mines
In a healthy relationship, everyone is generally doing their best to maintain peace, calm and mutual kindness. However, some people with Personality Disorders will engage in relationship sabotage, by lobbing some kind of manufactured chaos or crisis into the heart of the relationship with the explicit aim of causing damage.
Some of the ways this may occur are through sudden verbal accusations or rages, feigning illness, quitting a job, having an affair, wrecking a car, spending a large sum of money, destruction or theft of property and self-destructive behaviors such as self-injury or suicide.
Passive forms of sabotage also exist, including withdrawal of co-operation, failure to keep promises, silent treatment, prolonged physical or emotional absence, abandonment of shared values or inappropriate exposure of shared property and finances to risk.
There are three primary motivations for sabotage:
- Narcissistic Sabotage - any action designed to hurt, or damage the interests of another person or group for the purpose of making a direct, personal gain.
- Provocative Sabotage - any action designed to hurt or damage the interests of another person or group for the purpose of provoking a reaction from them.
- Histrionic Sabotage - any action designed to hurt or damage the interests of another person or group for the purpose of drawing attention to oneself or to earn a reputation.
Narcissistic Sabotage is easier to comprehend, since there is a clear and immediate payoff for the saboteur (even if it is short-lived). Some narcissists may secretly sabotage another person so they can feel more powerful and successful themselves. Others may do it more openly.
Provocative Sabotage is more complex. The gain for the saboteur comes from the ensuing conflict or chaos - usually a conflict which the provocative saboteur has calculated that they can “win” or make indirect gains from.
Histrionic Sabotage is less obvious. The gain for the saboteur is the attention itself. The histrionic saboteur may seek infamy, fame, recognition or significance in the eyes of the victim and in the eyes of any witnesses. The loss the victim suffers is rationalized as a means to an end.
Acts of sabotage are usually tools a person will use in an attempt to try to feel better about themselves. The net result of all three types of sabotage is the same: the saboteur gets something they want and the victim loses something they wanted to keep.
What it Looks Like
Narcissistic Sabotage -
- A teenage son steals your money to buy drugs.
- A co-worker secretly gives a bad report about you to your boss.
- A spouse spends the household monthly budget on a luxury purchase.
Provocative Sabotage -
- A co-worker publicly insults you in a meeting
- You arrive home to find your music collection ransacked and destroyed.
- A former girlfriend sends you 20 insulting text messages in a day.
Histrionic Sabotage -
- A schoolyard bully hits you to look tough in front of his friends.
- A former girlfriend throws a drink over you at a party.
- Your girlfriend picks fights with your ex-wife.
Coping With Sabotage
Acts of Sabotage are forms of abuse - plain and simple. If someone sabotages you or sabotages something important to you they are abusing you.
Acts of Sabotage are clear signals from an individual that it is time to stop working on “us” and time to begin working on “you”. You can’t live at peace with a saboteur any more than a hamster can live at peace with a cat.
If a person’s intent is to “beat” you or run right past you - then probably your best reaction is to let them go. Narcissists are fighting a war for superiority in their own heads and the sooner they feel superior to you, the sooner they will leave you alone. Protect your assets and get yourself out of the fast lane.
Provocative Saboteurs and histrionic saboteurs are more of a problem. If someone is looking for a fight, you can’t just reason with them that you don’t want to fight. They will just up the ante and increase the stakes until you are forced to engage. You will either have to give them the fight they want or disappear.
Disappearing is by far the easier of the two options - if a provocateur can’t find you they can’t fight with you. Remove yourself and any assets or treasures you may have from a provocateur - as far as is possible and remove yourself from their company. Many people who have had trouble dealing with persistent provocation from a person with a Personality Disorder have decided to go “No Contact” - where they cut off all forms of personal contact including text, phone and internet correspondence. Some people also obtain legal restraining orders to protect themselves and their families from a saboteur.
If you feel you are being victimized by a saboteur and feel unable to disappear from them, you may need to get help. Many people stay in abusive situations for many years because they feel trapped.
Here are some of the more common reasons people give for staying in an abusive relationship:
I can’t afford to leave - I have no money of my own.
I don’t believe in divorce - I made a vow.
I am staying for the kids. I don’t want them to grow up in a broken home.
Most of the time things are fantastic. It’s just once in a while...
They are my parents. I can’t abandon them.
He/she needs me and has made great progress. It would really destroy him/her if I left.
These are arguments that are used over and over again by abuse victims to justify their position in staying and sometimes for keeping their own children exposed to an abusive environment. Most abusers are intelligent enough to know you probably have these feelings, and are relying on them to sustain the status quo.
What NOT to do
- Don’t stay in an abusive environment. Get yourself and any children away from an abuser.
- Don’t argue or try to reason with an abuser. Abusers aren’t looking for the truth. They want to feel better about themselves.
- Don’t retaliate with an abuser. You will only give them cover - or justification for their own abusive behaviors.
- Don’t compete with an abusive person. Healthy competition is great. Unhealthy competition damages both parties.
- Don’t pretend it’s not that big a deal. It takes very little abuse to hurt a person significantly.
- Don’t let yourself become isolated. Talk to people who care and share your story.
- Don’t just do nothing and hope “it will go away”. Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes.
- Don’t pretend to yourself that you can “fix” another person who has a Personality Disorder.
What TO do
Get support. Talk to people who care and who understand personality disorders.
Promptly remove yourself and any children from any abuse you may be experiencing.
Remove any important assets and properties from harm’s way.
Forgive yourself for your past mistakes and move on to a healthier set of choices.