I know that you want to be your best self. But, if you’re anything like me, then there are times when we find ourselves doing things that hurt our ability to get what we want. This is called self-sabotage. 

Self-sabotage is a type of behavior in which an individual undermines their own efforts and goals because they are afraid or unwilling to deal with the personal consequences of success. 

Self-sabotaging behaviors are very common. Unfortunately, many people cannot identify the signs of self-sabotage until it is too late. Self-sabotaging can have a massive impact on your life and prevent you from reaching your goals. 

But don’t worry! This post will provide some tips for recognizing and overcoming these self-sabotaging behaviors so that you can live a more fulfilling life.

Self Sabotaging Definition

Self Sabotage Definition

Self-sabotaging can be defined as self-defeating behavior. It is when people have negative thoughts and beliefs, which lead to negative behaviors that keep them stuck in the same place or make things worse for themselves. Self-sabotaging can manifest itself in many ways, such as procrastinating on tasks or being too critical of oneself. 

Self Sabotaging Behaviors

There are many reasons why we might engage in self-sabotage. 

It is essential to note that self-sabotaging behavior is often not apparent to the person engaged in the behavior. Many of us self-sabotage without even realizing it, as there are many forms of self-sabotage.

Be honest and open with yourself as you evaluate. The only way to improve is by first being honest and identifying the self-sabotaging behavior holding you back.

Self Sabotaging Behaviors

The following are some behaviors that may be associated with self-sabotage: 

Criticizing Yourself – Constantly

Do you have a harsh inner critic or unrealistic expectations of yourself? Is there a negative voice in your head which tells you that whatever it is you are doing is not good enough?

stupid angelina jolie GIF

The inner critic or harsh inner voice can also be from family, friends, and teachers who expect you to be perfect. As a child, this may have taken the form of pressure on academics in primary school years. Or perhaps you were surrounded by high-achieving peers that made it difficult for you to feel like you fit in if you weren’t outstanding.

This unhealthy voice in your head can hinder your progress and ability to find happiness.  

Putting off tasks 

Fear of failure can cause one to procrastinate. As a result, you may do things that are unnecessary or have no purpose whatsoever. This is self-sabotaging because you put off important tasks. It can lead to a vicious cycle where you put off things you need to do and then feel rushed or stressed when you complete them, resulting in subpar results. Even worse, you may not complete the task at all. Thus, it creates the failure that caused the procrastination in the first place, self-sabotaging oneself. 

Giving up when things get difficult

Perfectionism is often at the root of self-sabotaging. Like the last point, a fear of failure can cause you to give up entirely when things seem difficult. Rather than risking the shame, guilt, and unworthiness that can come with failure, self-sabotaging can lead you to give up and walk away at any sign that failure is a possibility. 

For example, you may quit after a month of following a budget when you see you aren’t hitting your numbers. Rather than realizing that most people struggle with their first few months of budgeting and continuing to try, you give up and continue with bad spending habits. This is self-sabotaging, as you gave up on yourself without really giving yourself the full opportunity to win with money. 

Over It I Give Up GIF by CBC

Blaming Others When Things Don’t Go As Planned

Some people tend to blame others when things don’t go as planned. There can be a lot of guilt and shame from owning up to your mistakes, and it’s often easier to point the finger. But suppose you don’t take the time to learn how you may have contributed to a problem. In that case, you lessen your chances of growing and learning to avoid the mistake in the future. You are self-sabotaging by allowing yourself to stay stuck in negative cycles and patterns that will often repeat themselves.  

Breaking Promises to Others or Oneself

Self-sabotaging often means letting yourself or others down. Not following through on promises or breaking them is often an easier way of dealing with challenges at the moment. Rather than admitting inadequacy, you self-sabotage my letting others or yourself down. 

Long-term, however, it can be costly. Self-sabotaging in relationships is very common, and it’s often done subconsciously to push others away.

Schitts Creek Comedy GIF by CBC

Engaging in Bad Relationships

Some people find it hard to form healthy relationships. A lack of confidence in themselves and their value leads them to form bad relationships. They may stay in this kind of relationship because they feel like it’s easier to be mistreated and hurt than to face rejection or loneliness. It is a self-sabotaging behavior as people will continue at the expense of themselves, leading to unhappiness, depression, stress, and anxiety.

Not Sharing What You Need

Sometimes people do not ask for what they need. They may be scared of being rejected or having to tell their needs in public, leading them to self-sabotage by continuing on without being fulfilled.

Not Taking Care Of Yourself

People who are suffering from depression will often neglect themselves and focus on others instead. They may try to hide what is going on with them from others or avoid interacting with people altogether.

In other cases, self-sabotaging behaviors can be a way to protect oneself from getting hurt again and feeling abandoned in the future. They may also be used as an escape when one feels overwhelmed by life’s challenges. In turn, they may turn to drugs, alcohol, or other self-destructive behavior to help mask their feelings from themselves.

This is why it can be important to seek professional help when dealing with self-sabotaging behaviors. A therapist or mental health counselor will work with you on finding healthier ways of coping and safely connecting your needs.

Don’t worry. You are not alone with this issue! There is always hope for recovery. Awareness of the patterns will help you break out from them while practicing new behaviors that may lead to better results. 

Why do we self-sabotage?

Self-Sabotage Causes

So you’ve realized that you may be self-sabotaging in some way but don’t know why. The reasons for this can vary from person to person, though there are often several commonalities.

Here are a few common reasons why you might self-sabotage:

Emotional Protection

Self Sabotage Emotional Protection

Self-sabotage is often a way of protecting yourself from getting hurt. It can be used as an escape when you feel overwhelmed by life’s challenges or want to avoid the responsibility that comes with success and accomplishment. A person may feel like they need to stay in their comfort zone, so dealing with emotional discomfort will seem more comfortable than actually feeling the good feelings that come with achieving success.

Self-sabotage can also be a way to keep up the appearance of being perfect or feeling like nothing is wrong with you, even when it feels so clear that there are problems in your life.

Many of these behavior are a way to avoid feelings of shame, fear, and guilt. They are often used to find a sense of control.

Often we don’t recognize self-sabotage tendencies because they are often disguised as self-preservation or an unwillingness to open up. 

Lessons from Childhood

Self-Sabotage Childhood

Self-sabotage tendencies frequently develop as a result of childhood patterns. If you had parents who always made you feel like you had to please them for them to love or approve of you, it could cause you to overanalyze and fear future relationships. It can feel better to reject yourself and self-sabotage before you get rejected by others.

If you had a very emotionally volatile parent who made you feel like you had to walk on eggshells, forcing you to constantly decide: Do I please my parent or do what’s best for me? It can make it confusing for you to know when you’re doing the right thing.

Largely aloof parents can also lead to self-sabotage in children. If you primarily received the attention you craved when doing bad behavior, it could be easy to self-sabotage to get the attention, even if it’s negative attention. 

And if you were only rewarded for doing what your parent wanted, you might have learned to put your own desires aside and only do what other people want. If you didn’t learn how to set boundaries with people or were constantly walked on as a child, this might lead to self-sabotage as an adult.

Fear of Failure

Self Sabotage Fear of Failure

When you really don’t want to fail at something, your fear of failure may subconsciously cause you to self-sabotage. It’s like thinking, “I can’t fail if I don’t try.”  

You then reject yourself before someone else has a chance. That way, you feel you maintain some sense of control and don’t have to admit failure to yourself.

For example, if you’re in love with someone and are scared it will end, you may start pushing that person away.

Perhaps you start arguments or close off emotionally so that, if the relationship ends, you aren’t caught off guard.


Self Sabotage Perfectionism

This is a compulsion to do things perfectly or as well as possible. Rather than feeling uneasy when they make a mistake, people who are perfectionists feel awful.

Perfectionism can lead to procrastination because you might not start tasks until you think they will be done perfectly – which usually doesn’t happen.

You, essentially, self-sabotage before you have a chance to fail. 

It can also lead people to “play small,” just sticking to easy tasks or roles where they know they can win versus fully pursuing their full capabilities.

How do you stop self-sabotage?

It can be challenging to stop self-sabotaging, but there are a few things you can do. Here are five things you can do to break the cycle:

Step 1- Pinpoint the Self-Sabotaging Behavior(s)

It’s hard to stop self-sabotage if you don’t first recognize a self-sabotaging behavior.

The first step is to ask yourself, “How does self-sabotage show up for me?” and then look out for three areas that seem like they could be potential culprits (ex: procrastination, being too self-critical, quitting too easy).

Be really honest with yourself. If you’re reading this, you probably struggle with highlighting anything that feels like a flaw, but doing it in this context can help you drastically improve self-sabotaging behavior in the future.

Step 2- Identify What Leads to the Self-Sabotaging Behavior

This step is about understanding the triggers that lead to self-sabotage. Pay attention to when self-sabotage happens. 

Know what events activate this behavior, and notice any thought patterns or beliefs that seem to make you more likely to engage in it. 

Does the way your boss talks to you before a deadline remind you of your dad’s tone when he was angry?

Do you only feel like quitting when something is more complex than you expected?

Does it happen when you’re bored, lonely, have too much attention on you, etc..?

Write down these triggers as you notice them. Remember to have self-compassion and not to judge yourself as you go through this identification process.

Step 3- Talk It Out

If you have someone you trust, like a therapist or close friend, ask them to listen as you talk about the things that trigger self-sabotage.

If not, then write about these triggers in your journal and see how they feel when you read them aloud.

Think through the consequences and the benefits of each behavior.

Then work through a strategy on how you can better respond when met with triggers. The strategy you develop may not be your first instinct, but it will help prevent self-sabotage and lead to more fulfilled moments in life. 

If you are especially comfortable with the person you talk about this with, perhaps they can serve as an accountability partner as you seek to change.

Step 4- Get Clear On Your Goals

When we self-sabotage, we often lie to ourselves about what we really want. We set lower bars to match our low self-esteem versus pursuing what we truly want out of life.

It’s time to work on your self-worth and get clear on the vision you’d have for your life if you weren’t afraid of failing.

You should have a clear vision for all the things you want to accomplish and work on getting there.

This way, when you are tempted to go back to your old tendencies, you can refer back to this list and know that you have an alternate path.

Create a vision board for the life you want or a list of goals. Refer back to it when you need the reminder that there are other ways to live.

If you are looking for a better partner in life, list the qualities you want and behaviors you will not tolerate.

To stop self-sabotaging, it helps to know what you truly want out of life.

Step 5- Get Comfortable with Fear and Failure

It is normal for fear to arise when we are trying something new.

The trick is learning how to deal with it without surrendering back to our old ways of self-sabotaging.

To do this, practice facing your fears and doing things where you know you’ll likely fail. And even if you feel self-doubt, and do it anyways.

I like the Hello Fears project, where a woman realized she was living her life in fear and decided to face 100 fears in 100 days. She transformed her life.

While you don’t have to go as extreme, be willing to put yourself in situations where you know you won’t win. Then practice responding more healthily. For example, if you’re bad at sports but have always wanted to join a club team, do it- even if you’ll be embarrassed by your skills. Instead of criticizing yourself, practice self-compassion and kindness.

The more you get comfortable in your own skin and raise your self-confidence around fear and failure, the more you significantly increase the chance you’ll stop self-sabotaging behavior.

One Step Further

If you’ve gone through all the steps and still feel stuck, consider seeking therapy.

Emotional trauma, PTSD, physical abuse, or deeper mental health struggles can also be the root of self-sabotage. While you may be able to make some changes that last temporarily, you might need the help of a trained therapist to get to the root cause.

Avoiding therapy when you know it could really help can be a form of self-sabotage in and of itself. If you truly want to change your self-sabotaging behavior, it might be time to seek a therapist.

Your Best Life

If you are struggling with self-sabotage, I promise you; you are not alone.

Often having my self-esteem wrapped up in my work- coupled with being a perfectionist- has led me to struggle with self-sabotage.

I’ve often set impossible standards for myself and compared myself to highly successful people, leaving me paralyzed by fear.

Working through these steps, I’ve dramatically reduced my tendency to self-sabotage, although I still have to be mindful sometimes.

The weight lifted off you from confronting your tendency to self-sabotage makes life feel so much freer.

It also helps you get closer to the life you truly want to live- your best life.