Gay Men & Self-Sabotage: How to Befriend Your Inner Saboteur

by | Internal Family Systems (IFS) for Gay Men

Do you ever find yourself acting or thinking in a way which interferes with something you want out of life?

You’ve probably heard terms like “self-sabotage” or “inner saboteur” to describe this kind of experience. But what do these terms actually mean?

Popular advice on self-sabotage would suggest that you need to “fight” your inner saboteur and overcome it.

However, in my work with gay men, I’ve found that going to war with yourself in this way doesn’t tend to be a longterm solution which helps you get what you want out of life.

So in this article, I’ll go into more detail about some of the questions you might have about self-sabotage and what you can do about it.

What is self-sabotage, and how do you know if you’re doing it?

Self-sabotage is a combination of thoughts, emotions, and behaviours that get in the way of important personal values or longterm goals.

These self-defeating patterns can be obvious to you, but they can also be more subtle. A simple way to determine if something is self-sabotaging is by asking yourself if something is helping or interfering with an important personal value or longterm goal.

Ways that self-sabotage can show up for gay men

These are a few of the most common ways I’ve seen gay men self-sabotage:

• Perfectionism.

• Having sex without concern for your own safety / wellbeing.

• Withdrawing from new romantic relationships or friendships that are going well.

• Starting fights or criticizing another person in a new romantic relationship or friendship that’s going well.

• Out of control anger / rage.

• Criticizing yourself when trying something new.

• Overeating or undereating.

• Drug and alcohol use issues.

• Criticizing your body.

What is an “inner saboteur” anyway?

Your mind is made up of a system of different “parts” or “subpersonalities.” Each of these parts will have its own history, desires, goals, thoughts, and feelings. This is why for a lot of people they feel like they have conversations going on in their head, or can hear these parts talking to them in different scenarios. If you can relate to this, know that it’s a completely normal way for human cognition to work.

The challenge arises when this system of parts doesn’t support each other or you. This is what’s meant by an inner saboteur: some part (or parts) that seems to be acting or talking in a way that interferes with your values or longterm goals.

Understanding your inner saboteur

I’ve used the term “inner saboteur” for this article because this is one of the common terms people use to describe this phenomenon. However, this term isn’t really accurate because it implies that the inner saboteur has some sort of ill intent toward you.

A model of counselling called Internal Family Systems (IFS) offers a different theory about the inner saboteur. This model even gives the inner saboteur a different name: protector.

From an IFS perspective, protectors actually have a positive intent behind the way they act and speak. The idea is that they’re trying to protect some vulnerable part of yourself from being triggered or hurt again. In IFS these vulnerable parts are called exiles.

For gay men, exiles can originate from the challenges that gay men face growing up in a straight world. For example, shaming messages and experiences about being gay can contribute toward a low sense of self-worth that’s a common trait of exiled parts.

The dynamic between protectors and exiles is often established when you’re younger. As a result, these dynamics might make sense from the perspective of a 5, 9, or 12 year old, may have only been somewhat effective in their original context, and often have little relevance for the life circumstances of an adult.

When these parts of yourself remain stuck in the past, they can react to your adult goals and values as though you’re still that 5, 9, or 12 year old kid. Although protectors’ intents are good, this is why they can prevent you from living in alignment with your important personal values and longterm goals as an adult.

How to start befriending your inner saboteur

As I mentioned at the start of this article, common wisdom suggests that you need to “fight” these protectors in order to overcome them.

However, I’ve got some news that might be difficult to hear: these protectors aren’t going away. Fighting them or trying to get rid of them won’t work in the longterm because they’re an important part of your internal system (even if they’re not being effective in their current job).

This can be disheartening to hear.

But the good news is that even though you can’t get rid of protectors, you can help them to heal, and offer them new jobs so that they work with you instead of against you.

Rather than fighting protectors, getting to know them better and eventually befriending them is the path toward changing self-sabotage in the longterm.

This starts by interacting with your different parts from a place of self-leadership.

There are 8 “C’s” of self-leadership:

1. Clarity.

2. Courage.

3. Curiosity.

4. Calmness.

5. Creativity.

6. Confidence.

7. Compassion.

8. Connectedness.

Interacting with your different parts from a place of self-leadership allows you to get to know protector parts, and help them to do their own healing so that they can start helping you instead of harming you.

Ultimately, this is how to stop self-sabotaging: by befriending your inner saboteur.

If you’d like some help befriending your inner saboteur, click the button below to get started.

Jordan Gruenhage Canada Gay Counsellor Therapist


As a counsellor at The Centre for Gay Counselling, Jordan excels at helping fellow gay men understand their emotions better, heal from past trauma, and grow their sense of self-worth so that they can enjoy living fully as themselves. He believes that gay men have inherent worth, and that they deserve to live fulfilling lives. Interested in working with Jordan? Click the button below to get started.