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 feel like being stuck in a frustrating cycle that’s 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. First, it’s important to understand why we self-sabotage to learn how to overcome it.

Why do we self-sabotage?

One reason self-sabotage may occur is that once useful behaviour in one context may no longer be necessary. For example, certain behaviours may have helped you cope with childhood trauma. Now,  it’s no longer beneficial.

The other main contributing factors to why we self-sabotage may include:

Lack of self-worth. If we lack self-belief, it can be challenging to achieve our goals. If we constantly have a voice in our heads telling us we are not worthy, not good enough or 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 fulfil that prophecy.

Past relationship dynamics. If you didn’t feel supported or heard communicating your needs in past relationships, you might 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, making future communication in other relationships difficult. It 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, we can blame someone else. We might justify procrastination or not preparing for the task 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. While the behaviour might not be helpful for your relationships or goals, it still feels good to be in control. 

You might put off filling out that application for that job you want because you don’t think you’ll write it well enough to succeed. So you leave it to the last minute, even though you know this definitely won’t help you. But, it does mean that you will be in control of the outcome because you chose to write it then.

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

  • blaming others 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 practising self-care.

Overcoming Self-Sabotage

Identifying why we are self-sabotaging is the first step to releasing its grip over you. Try making a list of all the things stopping you from getting what you want and achieving your goals. Be really honest. Add all the small things like complaining and the big things. 

Take a good look at the list you have made. Consider it from a logical perspective. If you’re worried about failure, write down all the ways you’ve succeeded so far and all that you have overcome. 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 equip yourself to face what the world throws at you, you need to increase your self-confidence and prioritize YOU.

Where to get help:

Your doctor Your local community health centre Find a GP near you who specialises in mental health issues through the beyondblue website beyondblue Info Line Tel. 1300 22 4636

Lifeline Tel. 13 11 14

Kids Helpline Tel. 1800 55 1800

Suicide Helpline Victoria Tel. 1300 651 251

Mental Health Foundation Tel. (03) 9427 0407, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Relationships Australia (Victoria) Tel. 1300 364 277