Self Sabotage: What is it? Why do you do it?

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Nov 30, 2022 | 0 comments

Self sabotage halts our forward movement in life, relationships and work. It gets in the way of us achieving our goals and sets us up to betray ourselves over and over. It may feel like a one off (i.e. this time I will let the abusive language go). Over time, these moments tell us we are failing, unworthy, or unable. It is easy to spot patterns of self sabotage in others but difficult to see how we may be engaging in it ourselves.


Maladaptive behaviors and negative thought patterns become entrenched and leave people feeling stuck. The fear of change, even when it is for the better, is a major reason someone may continue in a self destructive pattern. The very clichéd reality is that change can be frightening and people will often choose toxic familiarity over healthy uncertainty.  Deeply held feelings of worthlessness often lead people to act in ways designed to confirm those beliefs. All living things work to maintain homeostasis, and when our internal self feels terrible, we do what it takes to make our external reality match what we feel on the inside. One of the myths about therapy is that it will help you change your life by helping you change your behavior. As a therapist I can say unequivocally that your behavior, and thus your life, cannot change until your beliefs do.


Fear of failure also leads to patterns of self sabotage. Paradoxically, that fear makes us act in ways that lead to failure. Taking full ownership of our choices feels very scary because it means that we are taking responsibility for the results as well. Instead of taking productive action, you may choose the path of least resistance, ceding your agency for the sake of avoiding ownership of an uncertain outcome. For example, you might be passively participating in a lonely marriage because talking to your partner and saying you are unhappy will make it necessary to do something to change the situation. It may require you to face your part in creating the loneliness within your marriage. Instead, you silently continue to participate in the patterns that make your marriage dysfunctional because as miserable as it is, it is still easier than doing the gut wrenching work of fixing it or worse, facing the possibility that the marriage is beyond repair.


People who believe that they do not deserve to be happy or successful will often find themselves feeling overwhelmed by their own success. When hard work pays off, you may start to sabotage yourself. You may cheat on a partner when a relationship is going well or start partying excessively when midterm grades promise a good semester. It is the negative beliefs that need to shift so that you know with certainty that the good coming your way is not luck. You earned it and you get to receive it. 

Fearing change or failure, many of us may choose to stay in a situation or engage in behaviors that are self destructive. More often than not it is because we hold limiting and negative beliefs about ourselves. In our heart, we just don’t feel good enough. As we work to change these patterns in ourselves, it becomes important first to learn to recognize them. In part 2 of this 3 part blog series on self sabotage, I will discuss the signs that indicate self destructive behavior.


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