Procrastination as an Inner Rebellion

Jay Earley, Ph.D.

A common reason that we procrastinate is fear of failure. Another is fear of success. However, another interesting dynamics goes as follows: It is fairly common for Procrastination to be at least partly motivated by a desire to fight against a part of you that is pushing you to work hard. In other words, there are two parts of you at war-your Procrastinator and your Taskmaster. The Taskmaster Pattern involves pushing and demanding long, hard work, and also possibly judging you when you don’t meet these standards.

Let’s look at four possibilities:

Inner Rebellion Against Your Taskmaster

Your Procrastinator Part might be angry at being controlled by your Taskmaster, so it rebels against this control, just the way you might rebel against another person whom you perceived as trying to control you. This is an attempt to express anger, fight back, and declare your autonomy. It may sound strange to think that one part of you could react this way to another part of you, but this is a fairly common underlying dynamic, and it is almost always unconscious.

This is related to an inner version of the Defiant Pattern, where you defy a part of yourself. It often goes back to a childhood situation in which you were dominated or controlled by a parent. In order to work this through, you may also have to work on your Taskmaster Pattern.

Inner Rebellion Against a Perceived Taskmaster

You might just be trying to get tasks done or engage in a helpful discipline, so you don’t really have a Taskmaster Pattern. However, your Procrastinator has a Defiant Pattern and therefore thinks that you have a Taskmaster Part that is trying to control it, so it rebels against this control.

In this case, the Taskmaster isn’t the problem-it’s your inner Defiant Pattern.

Assertiveness Against a Controlling Taskmaster

You might have a harsh, dominating Taskmaster, and therefore it makes sense to not give in to its demands for workaholism. When you don’t work as hard as your Taskmaster expects you to, it may get demanding and judgmental, and accuse you of Procrastination, among other things such as laziness and worthlessness. However, in this case, you aren’t actually procrastinating-you are just choosing to take time for fun, relaxation, family, friends, and other life pursuits. It just looks like Procrastination to your Taskmaster Part.

In this case, your work needs to be on the Taskmaster Pattern.

Polarization Between Taskmaster and Procrastinator

You may have a Taskmaster Pattern as well as your Procrastination Pattern. These two parts of you would have very different ideas about how much work you should be doing in a particular situation and so continually get into fights about it. These fights may or may not be conscious. I will use the term polarization to describe such an inner conflict between two parts of you. Taken from Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), polarization means that the two parts of you are not only in conflict, but each believes that it must be extreme to counter what it considers to be the destructive tendencies of the other part.

In the process of these fights, each part becomes angry, stubborn, and disparaging toward the other part. They each become set in their ways.

This article is an excerpt from Taking Action:  Working Through Procrastination and Achieving Your Goals. Click here for more information or to purchase.