Have you ever found yourself working towards something important to you only to end up failing or putting it off? I know I have, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Maybe you have felt so stressed or anxious when trying to achieve something or work something out that negative thoughts start to creep in, where you begin to overthink everything, and you begin to doubt yourself every step of the way. You start to get frustrated, discouraged, and upset with yourself that you sink further into a trap that you end up sabotaging yourself from doing what you need to. But what exactly does it mean to self-sabotage? Is it something that you can even possibly do to yourself?
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What is self-sabotage?
The word sabotage means to “deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct (something). When you add the word self to sabotage (self-sabotage), the meaning remains the same, but you are doing it towards yourself.
Self-sabotage is a behavior that can deteriorate your self-confidence and well-being, and it can trickle down and affect your relationship with others. Self-sabotage sounds like a complicated term, but it isn’t. Simply put, it means that a person is chronically doing something that undermines their goals, dreams, and values. You engage in behaviors or develop thought patterns that hold you back from getting things you want.
When you self-sabotage, you create problems (subconsciously or consciously) that interfere with your long-standing goals. Sometimes you may not recognize your actions and thought processes as self-sabotaging behavior, but in the long run, the behavior tends to hamper, hurt, or even destroy who you are.
What causes us to self-sabotage?
Everyone engages in self-sabotaging behaviors from time to time. We get so deep in our negative thoughts and start to engage in self-sabotaging behaviors without even realizing it right then and there. Many people (including myself) aren’t always aware that they are sabotaging themselves because it may not have gotten to the point where it is creating problems in their daily lives.
Even though self-sabotaging behaviors may not be recognized initially, once you see it for what it is and know what it means to self-sabotage, understanding why the behaviors occur is key to rising above to move forward and grow.
So why do we self-sabotage, and how do we know that we are sabotaging ourselves? There are many reasons why a person acts in a way that proves damaging to their well-being. On top of that, it can be hard to pick up on self-sabotaging behaviors because the consequences usually do not follow the behavior immediately, thus making it hard to connect the two. One approach is to examine whether your actions are lining up with your long-term goals. If not, then the behavior may be self-defeating.
Self-sabotaging behaviors always start with a negative thought. We pause and start to think and doubt that we are not good enough, that it won’t work out in the long run, and it’s too much to handle. This leads us into a frustration cycle that starts to lower our self-confidence, and we become stuck. Here are five reasons why we self-sabotage:
1. We fear losing control
If it’s one thing I hate more than anything, it is losing control. No one likes to feel like they are losing control. We do better when we feel as though we can control things around us. So if we fear that a negative outcome will take place, we end up telling ourselves this ahead of time to have a sense of control even though it is not the outcome we wanted to happen.
2. Our self-worth is not strong enough
When we do not believe in ourselves wholeheartedly, we cannot achieve what we want, and that this is something I have been learning more about recently. We start to say negative things and, as a result, will start to act accordingly to what we are telling ourselves. If your self-worth is not strong enough, it leads to behaviors that can damage your potential of who you are meant to be.
3. We are afraid of failing
For a long time, we have been told that failing shows we are not good enough at something. We set so many goals in place, but the fear of not succeeding stops us in our track as a safety net, and we end up protecting ourselves from failing by not pushing ourselves to try first.
It is easier to give ourselves reasons why we would fail instead of giving it our all. The idea of failing is too painful, and we at times escape it by making excuses.
4. We fear being hurt and rejected
Some people may cheat, pick fights, exert control, point blame, or become needy/clingy as a way to push a person away. But what’s interesting about this is that these behaviors are unconscious ways that our brain fears rejection if we get too close to someone.
Many of these patterns stem from childhood and how your caregiver treated you. You may have been neglected, rejected, or received inconsistent love, and when you feel yourself getting too close, your brain goes into a child-like phase in your adult relationships. You unconsciously fear going through that pain again.
5. We fear success
Huh? That doesn’t’ sound. We fear success? Yup! You read it correctly!
We all want to achieve some level of success in our lives. But when we have to work hard for something, it can become a stressor. This happens if we are experiencing burnout or if we are in need of boosting our self-confidence. We start worrying that we are not qualified or prepared enough to take on the tasks, and as a result, we start to engage in behaviors that limit our success.
Examples of self-sabotaging behaviors
Before diving into some examples, I want to reiterate that we all engage in self-sabotaging behaviors whether we recognize them right away or not. As you read through these (they are categorized), you may relate to many of them, but don’t be discouraged because we all will relate and that it is entirely OKAY!
- You take on more than you can handle, even when you need a break.
- You procrastinate on things that need to get done.
- You do not feel challenged or motivated at work, so you binge watch Netflix instead of completing daily task assignments.
- You quickly blame others for the situation you are in. You do not take time out to look inward and see what you can work on within yourself.
- You give the silent treatment instead of trying to communicate.
- Instead of listening to what a friend/partner/spouse is saying, you quickly shut down or turn on your self-defense.
- You justify your actions without even trying to understand why a person feels the way they do about your actions.
- You always think that your relationship would end and cause you pain, so you do not show your vulnerable side.
- You continuously compare yourself to others.
- You feel unworthy of great things.
- You feel uncomfortable stepping out of your comfort zone and may start to accept settling for less.
- You give yourself to others despite feeling drained and not feeling your best.
- You say yes when you should say no, and you end up taking on more than you can handle.
- You don’t prioritize working on your mental health.
How we self-sabotage
Self-sabotage sets us up for failure in a different number of ways. It reinforces negative behaviors and limits our potential for growth and success. It stunts our growth and negatively impacts our relationship with others. Such failures and disappointments create feelings of guilt and frustration, which often lead to low self-esteem. Here’s how we can self-sabotage ourselves without even realizing it:
- Having a lack of awareness
- Not setting smart and realistic goals
- Not trying to step outside of our comfort zone
- Engaging in negative self-talk or thought patterns
- Creating an atmosphere of self-doubt and shame
Rising above self-sabotaging behaviors
Self-sabotaging behaviors erode your being and disarrange your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Fortunately, you can rise above and escape such actions to become a more fulfilled, happy, and confident YOU:
Recognize your behaviors and why you are having them
In order to do anything, you need to take a moment to recognize what your self-sabotaging behavior is. Think about things you want to accomplish in your life, or think of what you want out of your relationship. Do things seem to be aligning? If not, then is it because of fear, or are you unmotivated? These are tough questions to ask, but it is essential to tackle these challenging situations to better understand the motive behind the behavior.
Understand that your thoughts influence your emotions
You think it, you feel it. Self-sabotaging behaviors stem from negative thoughts that are usually irrational and just merely emotions. Notice the thoughts that creep into your mind, and be mindful not to engage in negative self-talk. It is a recipe for disaster. Ask yourself what the reason behind these thoughts and beliefs is. Are they rational, and are they factual? Learn how to combat your negative thoughts here.
Become aware that your emotions influence your behaviors
Self-sabotaging behaviors come from feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem (worthlessness). Take a step back to think about what is causing you to feel this range of negative emotions, then learn to manage and regulate your emotions so that you don’t engage in behaviors that will have a negative consequence. Know what your triggers are, and don’t ignore them!
Challenge your behaviors, emotions, and thoughts
As you become more aware of the underlying reasons and feelings behind your self-sabotaging behaviors, you can challenge them. Challenge your thinking with journaling, positive affirmations, and setting smart goals. By doing these things, your beliefs, thoughts, actions, and skills will start to align.
Embark on a self-discovery journey
If you don’t know who you are, what you want, and your values, it will become increasingly difficult to overcome self-sabotaging behaviors. It is important to embark on a self-discovery journey because you will learn to recognize the power that you have to help minimize behaviors that will limit your success. Self-discovery takes work, but it is a beautiful and humbling experience where you learn more about yourself. Learn how to start your self-discovery journey today by clicking here.
Work on building your self-esteem
When you genuinely feel comfortable in your skin, it shows through your actions. If you are confident in yourself, you feel good and have this sense of pride where you would be less likely to engage in self-sabotaging behaviors.
When you lack confidence, it creates room for you to engage in behaviors that can negatively affect so many things around you:
- Your values
- How you assert yourself and make decisions
- How you treat yourself
- Your self-worth
- Your ability to move past mistakes and grow
Positive self-esteem can significantly improve your way of life and help you to build and maintain a healthy relationship with yourself foremost and with others.