Self-sabotage happens to the best of us, and we’re sometimes not even aware that we’re doing it. Self-sabotage describes actively or passively taking steps that prevent us from achieving our goals or becoming our best selves. This kind of behavior can affect every aspect of our lives, from our careers and relationships to our finances and personal development.
The term is used to describe behaviors, actions, omissions, or even thought processes that create difficulties in daily life and have a negative impact on long-term goals. Quite often, people are unaware that they are self-sabotaging, thus repeating cycles and patterns of negativity throughout their lives.
Only by identifying our self-sabotaging habits do we begin to take the necessary steps to stop. With further introspection, we can uncover the origin of our self-sabotaging patterns, which better enables us to disengage from these habits.
Signs and Examples
Sometimes, it’s hard to identify these behaviors. You can sabotage yourself in many different ways. Some may be obvious (such as overspending on shopping when you should be saving towards a goal), but some are much more difficult to spot.
A simple way to identify self-sabotaging behavior is to think back through your past to determine any negative patterns. For example, you may realize that all your former romantic partners were unaffectionate, or that you’re always late to job interviews. Consider how your actions, omissions, or thought patterns have perpetuated the patterns. Ask yourself if the patterns are in alignment with your values and your long-term goals.
The clearest sign of self-sabotage is your life being misaligned with your values and your vision for the future. Identify the goal that you want to achieve (such as having a clean, decluttered environment) and then identify which of your behaviors are undermining that goal (such as going to bed without washing the dishes or clearing off your desk).
One of the most common examples of self-sabotage is procrastination. Though we want to achieve our goals, we delay or avoid doing the things that will help us to achieve them. Other forms of self-sabotage include poor money management, overworking, substance abuse, or not taking prescribed medication. Self-sabotage can be as simple as forgetting to cancel subscriptions that you don’t use or as complex as repeatedly allowing childhood trauma to manifest in adult relationships, without taking steps to address the trauma.
Another common example of self-sabotage is chronic lateness. Lateness can negatively affect both our professional and personal lives. Substance abuse is another common form of self-sabotage, which can impact all aspects of our lives, including our finances, health, career and relationships. A fear of intimacy commitment is another common way that we sabotage ourselves. These fears can make it incredibly difficult to maintain both romantic and platonic relationships.
Negative thought patterns can also manifest in self-sabotaging behaviors. For example, if you have the unhelpful core belief that you will never find love, you may be reluctant to do the very things that would lead to you finding love. If you have the unhelpful core belief that people are not to be trusted, you could be preventing yourself from enjoying the benefits of being vulnerable in your close relationships or from getting the help that you may need.
Of course, there are countless other examples of self-sabotaging behaviors. Working with a therapist is a great way to unpack the ways that you may be undermining your own success or growth. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an effective form of therapy that helps you to identify and modify your unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors.
Causes of Self-Sabotage
These behaviors can be caused by a variety of reasons. When it comes to relationships, self-sabotage is often caused by fear – fear of rejection, fear of being hurt or fear of repeating an unpleasant experience from a previous relationship. Fear can lead to self-sabotage in many aspects of our lives. For example, a fear of rejection may cause us to not go after opportunities that could improve our lives. Fear of failure may prevent us from launching that business or writing that book.
Sometimes, these behaviors are the product of observing and mirroring the behaviors of our parents. For example, a child who grew up in a poor household may still maintain a scarcity mindset well into adulthood, even after improving their financial situation. This can manifest in self-destructive behaviors such as hoarding or a lack of generosity.
After you’ve identified your self-sabotaging behavior and considered its origin, you now need to understand the purpose it serves. For instance, procrastination serves the purpose of avoiding something unpleasant or intimidating. Substance use/abuse serves the purpose of temporarily making us feel good or alleviating stress.
Can you think of a healthier behavior that can serve the same purpose? Let’s say your self-sabotaging behavior is oversharing on social media when you’re angry. Posting online allows you to vent and to voice your opinion, which feels good when you’re angry. How else can you achieve this? Could you write in a journal or call a friend instead? Could you listen to some music until you’re calmer and then revisit the situation? Have a plan in place for the next time you feel the need to engage in self-sabotaging behavior. The next time you feel like overspending after a hard day, you’ll remember your plan to call your mom and put your credit card in a hard-to-access location.
Set yourself up for success. If you want to eat healthier snacks instead of junk food, keep a healthy snack in your bag. If you want to stop using video games to procrastinate while working from home, put the console away at the beginning of your workday or week. Make it easy for you to choose healthy behaviors while putting up barriers for self-sabotaging behaviors.
By working with a therapist, you’ll have the support of a qualified and experienced mental health professional. Therapy is an excellent tool for identifying negative thought and behavior patterns that you may not even be aware of. The clinicians at Flourish Psychology specialize in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other forms of therapy that can help you to live your best life.
Contact us today to schedule your first session.