Self-sabotage is the term given when we do something that gets in the way of our own progress, our dreams and goals.
We experience many obstacles in life, but none of them will be as harmful as the ones we create for ourselves (4).
Self-sabotage happens when our logical conscious mind gets in conflict with our subconscious mind. The subconscious mind is known as the anti-self, that critical inner voice, that holds us back and undermines our efforts and best intentions (4).
Self-sabotage is any action that gets in the way of achieving your goals. There are millions of ways that we can self-sabotage, some of the most common ways are procrastination, to self-medicate by using drugs or alcohol, stress eating and interpersonal conflict (3).
Reasons Behind Self-Sabotage
The reasons behind our self-sabotaging behaviour may include:
Patterns that were learned in childhood – It is a known fact that patterns that were formed in our earliest relationships will most definitely repeat themselves throughout life (2).
Self-worth – Some people feel they do not deserve to be successful. It can happen that a person will work very hard and just when he is about to reach success, he shoots himself in the foot (3).
I have a friend who enrolled in a few courses over time. He never finished any one of them, because the moment he reached the last unit of the course he found some reason not to complete it. With therapy he came to the realisation that he subconsciously believed he was not intelligent enough and did not deserve to graduate from a course.
With further exploration a counsellor helped him realise that the source of this behaviour was a close family member who had continuously put him down while he was at school, telling him he would never achieve anything academically in his life.
Due to this knowledge he challenged himself and completed a diploma and following that, a Bachelor degree in his field of study. Without counselling he still would not have been able to complete any form of study. His low self-worth was causing him to self-sabotage his studies.
Control – For many people it is better to control your own failure than to be blindsided by it. Some people view self-sabotage as a more dignified alternative to spinning out of control (2); “I would rather control my own failure, than failure control me”.
Familiarity – People choose what they know. It might sound strange, but it might happen that a person who is used to neglect, abuse, being ignored and rejected, finds it oddly comforting to be in that position, and is scared to do something to change their life (3). This can be a reason why we find that a person in an abusive relationship stays, or keeps returning to that relationship; “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”.
A Scapegoat – If things do not work out, the scapegoat can be blamed and not the person’s self (3). There is always something to blame for things not working out.
Self-Sabotage in Relationships
One area where we find many examples of self-sabotage is in our romantic relationships. Dating people who do not tick all the boxes is a common example of self-sabotage; here are some of the tell-tale signs:
- Although all relationships with this type of person end badly, we seem to keep going for the same type of person.
- Constantly trying to resolve issues with a partner that has very different future goals.
- Refuse to leave a relationship that is going nowhere (1).
Tips to Stop Self-Sabotaging
If you have recognised that self sabotage may be a problem for you, here are some tips:
- Develop a psychologically sophisticated understanding of how you think. A counsellor will help with this process of discovery.
- Prioritise one-time behaviours to ensure that stress levels over time can be reduced.
- Make use of rules of thumb for decision making. Rules of thumb must suit your personality, circumstances and preferences.
- Create strategies to help you combat avoidance and procrastination. With the help of a counsellor these strategies can be created and implemented.
- Get an understanding of the irrelevant decisions that you make, the why and the how of decision making can be better understood when speaking to a counsellor.
- Get in the habit of making active decisions to practice acceptance and self-care (1).
- Pinpoint your habits that lead to the self-sabotaging behaviour.
- Find an outlet for all the uncomfortable feelings that may come up for you. Talking therapy and mindfulness can be very helpful tools in this regard (5).
It is important that when you are aware of any self-sabotaging behaviour, you make active decisions not to allow this behaviour to continue in your life, and a counsellor or therapist can be a valuable support to help your break free of the bonds of self-sabotage and your subconscious.
Corey Human has nearly 20 years’ experience working with teenagers and young people at risk, or struggling with self esteem, depression, video game addiction and other problems. He provides counselling to adolescents, adults, couples, parents and families in both English and Afrikaans.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129
- Boyes, A. (2018). How to Stop Sabotaging Yourself. [online] Greater Good. Available at: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_stop_sabotaging_yourself [Accessed 8 Jan. 2020].
- Brito, J. (2019). Self-Sabotage: 17 Things to Know. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/self-sabotage#signs [Accessed 7 Jan. 2020].
- Hendriksen, E. (2017). 6 Reasons Why We Self-Sabotage. [online] Quick and Dirty Tips. Available at: https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/mental-health/6-reasons-why-we-self-sabotage?page=1 [Accessed 7 Jan. 2020].
- Patel, D. (2018). 8 Ways to Stop Self-Sabotaging Your Success. [online] Entrepreneur. Available at: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/324900 [Accessed 7 Jan. 2020].
- Viera, M. (n.d.). Overcoming Self-Sabotage: How to Stop Attracting Pain – Tiny Buddha. [online] Tiny Buddha. Available at: https://tinybuddha.com/blog/overcome-self-sabotage-stop-attracting-pain/ [Accessed 23 Jan. 2020].