We can self-sabotage in various areas of life. For example continuing to eat junk food rather than healthy food, being constantly late for meetings, even job interviews. In relationships, self-sabotaging is undermining the relationship, consciously or unconsciously. This can happen with friendships, family or romantic relationships.
Watching yourself or someone else in self-sabotage mode is painful. It is not always clear why we do this to ourselves. It can be any one or a combination of factors.
Some people can’t drag themselves out of their own discomfort! Why is that? Why do we continue to be our own worst enemy? For many of us it’s because we prefer the devil we know (like being in an emotional mess that’s familiar) to stepping away into an unknown situation that could be even worse. Our negative thinking patterns have become habitual and we don’t know how to change them.
2. Feeling stuck
There is a sense that you need to do something, to get yourself you out of your current situation or state of mind – but you can’t see a way to do that. And you end up procrastinating. Or you may be in a grief state following a traumatic experience, and you can’t move forward.
3. Unhelpful comparisons
You may be constantly comparing yourself to others and feeling as though you aren’t good enough leading to poor self-esteem. Your inner perfectionist is at work and you may feel like an imposter. Whatever the reason, comparisons are not productive.
Feeling angry can trigger self-sabotage. We may think that showing anger is harmful or bad. But when we don’t express our feelings, our anger can turn inward – on ourselves. The negative feelings that are not expressed in a direct way may find an outlet in damaging behaviour (that we might not even be aware of).
5. The Past: childhood, families, teachers
The memory of harsh comments (even if they happened only once) can weigh down on what we do many years later. A teacher expressing disappointment about our work or behaviour. We remember or imagine parental and family disapproval and disappointment about something.
The thought of failing at something we try, being publicly embarrassed, or being rejected bothers most people – understandably. We may be feeling lonely and have a fear of being further excluded. We worry about the moods of others and imagine things going wrong, making a mistake or causing a problem.
7. False pride
Healthy pride is linked to self-motivation, confidence, respect and acceptance. False pride is only ego. With false pride a person could be proud of being lazy, stubborn or bullying others.
Some ways to tackle self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviour
- Learn to express anger, frustration, hurt, fears in a constructive way.
- Recognise when you are being moody and in victim mode.
- Stop negative self-talk or extreme self-criticism.
- Ask for help if you need it.
- Avoid serious arguments or conflict with colleagues or loved ones.
- Set goals that are realistic – not too high but also not too low.
- Socialize, connect, and build relationships. Don’t turn away from others.
- Don’t make excuses or blame others if things don’t go well.
- Don’t always look for approval from others.
- Stop controlling or micro-managing behaviour.
- Speak up for yourself if you feel things are wrong or unfair.
- Avoid the compare and despair trap by recognizing what makes YOU special.
- See your own merits and judge your own achievements.
Short-circuit dark thoughts with a little action, a dose of self-belief, and some help from trusted friends. Below are some self-sabotaging, unhelpful thoughts. Try to adopt a helpful approach that gets you moving and constructive.
It’s too much, I can’t cope.
I’ll never get all this work done.
I will never get over this mistake.
I’m overwhelmed and stressed and I feel stuck.
More useful perspectives
It’s upsetting and frustrating but I’ll get through it.
Everyone makes mistakes, I will learn from this one.
There’s a lot to do, but I’ll chip away slowly and eventually get there.
I’ll ask for help.