Self-sabotage is when we take steps or work in certain patterns in our lives that prevent us from reaching our goals. This can happen actively or passively. These patterns can leave us feeling stuck in a frustrating cycle that can feel impossible to get out of. Self-sabotage can present itself in numerous facets of our lives, it affects our relationships, career goals and personal goals. To learn to overcome self-sabotage, its important to first understand why we self-sabotage.

Why do we self-sabotage?

One reason self-sabotage may occur is because the maladaptive behaviour was once adaptive in one context but is no longer necessary. For example, a certain behaviour may have helped you cope with a childhood trauma but is no longer beneficial once the situation changes. Below are some of the main contributing factors to why we self-sabotage:

Lack of self-worth. If we lack self-belief, it is extremely difficult to achieve our goals. If we constantly have a voice in our heads telling us we are not worthy, not good enough, not capable, we will act accordingly. How we speak to ourselves affects how we present ourselves to the world, and if we think we are unworthy we will do things that fulfill that prophecy.

Past relationship dynamics. If you didn’t feel supported or heard when communicating your needs in past relationships, you may find it difficult to communicate effectively in current relationships. You may have stayed quiet to protect yourself from rejection, anger, emotional abuse or other negative responses. This means you didn’t learn to advocate for your needs and can make future communication in other relationships difficult. This can also manifest in a lack of vulnerability learned from previous relationships involving power struggles. If you aren’t vulnerable with your partner, you maintain what feels like the upper hand. But in the end, you aren’t receiving the benefits of building intimacy with your partner.

Wanting to place blame elsewhere. When we believe that we won’t succeed and will fail no matter what, we start to behave in ways that ensure we will fail. We can displace the responsibility by thinking things like ‘I won’t get that job anyway’, then when we do fail, because we told ourselves we would, we can blame someone else for the failure. Procrastination or not preparing for the task can be justified if we already believe we won’t succeed.

A need for control. When you’re in control you may feel safe, strong, and ready to face whatever the day has to bring. Some types of self-sabotage provide the feeling of being in control. Whilst the behaviour might not be helpful for your relationships or goals, it still feels good to be in control. You put off filling out that application for a job you want, because you don’t think you will write it well enough to succeed. You know that leaving it until the last minute to write, definitely won’t help you, but it does mean that you will be in control of the outcome because you chose to write it at the last minute.

Self-sabotage can present itself in a number of different ways. Some of these are harder to recognize than others. These can include:

  • Blaming other when things go wrong
  • Choosing to walk away when things don’t go as planned
  • Procrastination
  • Picking fights with others
  • Dating people who aren’t compatible
  • Difficulty communicating your needs
  • Putting yourself down
  • Prioritizing instant gratification
  • Not practicing self-care

Overcoming Self-Sabotage

Identifying the reasons we are self-sabotaging is the first step to overcoming its grips. Try making a list of all the things that are stopping you from getting what you want and achieving your goals. By really honest in this task and list all the small things holding you back such as complaining, as well as the big things. Take a good look at the list you have made and look logically at each point. If you’re worried about failure, write down al the ways in which you have succeeded so far, all you have overcome to get where you are and work on boosting your confidence. Try to remember that failure is ok, it will happen and it doesn’t mean that you need to stop believing in yourself. Use these failures as a guiding tool to open you up to new lessons and experiences.

If you spend a lot of time engaging in negative self-talk, you might need to make more time for self-care. Stop looking at what you think you’ve done wrong and look at all the things you did right. Take the time to relax and rejuvenate. Focus on eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep and some exercise. To be able to equip yourself to face what the world throws at you, you need to increase your self-confidence and prioritize you.