Have you ever reached a point in life where you become frustrated in your pursuit of a goal, only to look back and see that your own poor decisions are the reason why?
The feeling is discouraging. For some people, “I am my own worst enemy” is more than a statement made in frustration; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why do some people sabotage their own lives? We examine some of the psychological elements of self-sabotage and explore some effective remedies.
Self-sabotage is best explained as any behavior that you choose that gets in the way of you fulfilling your goals. This behavior can be active or passive, deliberate or unintentional. In many cases, the individual is unaware that he or she is doing it. But in every case, the behavior is disempowering, and a nuisance.
Self-sabotaging behavior comes in many forms. Addiction is an excellent example. Addictions often cost money and time, taking the individual off-task. If it causes health consequences, then this distraction can become compounded. Procrastination is a common form of self-sabotage, as are binge-spending, and excessive use of television or social media. Some forms of self-sabotage are especially dangerous, like self-cutting, or putting oneself at risk of injury or death.
An interesting note about self – sabotage is that it often kicks in right when you are about to achieve some new level of success or growth in your life.
This reflects that it has something to do with your underlying, unconscious negative core beliefs. If deep down inside yourself, you don’t believe you are capable or worthy, your underlying fears will sabotage you and keep you stuck. Self-sabotage triggers equate to your automatic negative thoughts. If you don’t know what those are, you may need help to uncover them and specifically to uncover your core negative beliefs, of which you still may remain unaware. This will be the first step in undoing self – sabotage. Once we make the unconscious conscious, we have something to work with.
Causes of self-sabotage will vary from person to person, and some people may have more than one. Here are a few common reasons for self-sabotage:
1. Fear of the Unfamiliar/Desire for Control
The human brain tends to stick to what it knows. When confronted with a new reality, an individual may experience a sense of insecurity or unease, prompting it to return to familiar patterns. When doing this, the mind adds value to the behaviors that are familiar to the individual, and fear to those that are not. Thus, the individual tends to conform to familiar patterns of behavior.
2. Fear of Intimacy, Rejection, or Failure
Most people experience some form of rejection at some point in their development. When it happens, that person needs to be ready for it. Good parenting can provide a healthy perspective on it, and a strong support network can help someone heal when that feeling hits harder than normal. But when a person lacks support, the blow can cause long term damage.
For example, that person may develop a fear of rejection. Such fear can limit a person by making them unwilling to take risks, or make less of an effort. Because there is a potential for pain, that person may (instinctively) assign less value to a potential relationship or partnership with the person they are reaching out to.
3. Lack of Worth or Self-esteem
As with a fear of rejection, sometimes we can experience traumatic events or situations that make us feel unworthy of success or good fortune. When a person internalizes these thoughts or feelings, it can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby a person’s own mind creates convenient excuses to avoid making the effort necessary to achieve great things. Then the individual makes choices that conform to those excuses. For such people, missing out on life may be disappointing, but at least for them it is reasonable, or justified.
4. Lack of Trust
Suppose there is a person that you know you need to talk to in order to grow in your career, or for some other similar reason. What if you have trouble trusting others, and you don’t really know the person well? On one hand, your conscious mind might be telling you to press forward. On the other hand, your instincts are telling you to back off out of concern. If the second voice is loud enough, it can cause you to sabotage your own behavior as you attempt to partner with that person.
5. Irrational Thinking
Sometimes people set goals and step forward in pursuit of them with earnestness and ardor and yet fail because they don’t really know what they are doing. If a person lacks objectivity, they can begin an endeavor without a clear roadmap toward their objective. When this occurs, they make foolish or ill-informed choices which can undermine their efforts. They simply don’t know enough, or don’t know how to apply what they know.
How do you know if you sabotage yourself?
If you are wondering whether you are sabotaging yourself, you are not alone. Here are a few signs to look for:
Searching for Inspiration is on this list because it can be a form of procrastination. On one hand, you consciously believe that the “inspiring speech” is helping you, and to a degree, perhaps it is. On the other, you aren’t really investing your time in your goal, and probably already have enough motivation to achieve it. After all, you made it a goal, didn’t you?
Entrapping oneself is a concern, because a truly effective self-saboteur will make all kinds of commitments that make it impossible for him or her to achieve the goal. Instead of pursuing what the individual truly wants, he or she must make good on all of his or her commitments, to make ends meet, to keep his or her word, or for other reasons that seem important.
Perfectionism can be tricky, because – as any creative person can attest – having high standards is essential for demonstrating mastery, and thus commanding respect in your industry. However, a true perfectionist will never be happy, as he or she will continually reject work that is excellent because it has minor flaws. Such a person is not honest with himself/herself about actually wanting success.
This is a question that many of us should dare to answer. The best of us can drop the ball from time to time. But it is critical that we not make it a habit, or let it define who we are. Here are some suggestions for dealing with self-sabotage:
1. Find a Therapist / Mentor
When you have an objective source of wisdom in your life who understands what you are trying to change, then that person should have the freedom to tell you when you are beginning to lose focus. If that person is willing to help, you should empower him or her to do so. Let them call you on your mistakes and excuses. Listen to them! Two heads are better than one.
2. Take Good care of Yourself
Practice Self-Compassion. Note: This does not include indulging in luxury or hedonism. It simply means that you will not tear yourself down with negative self-talk, or allow yourself to become encumbered with unhealthy food choices or addictions. The problem is, many of us have no idea how to be compassionate towards ourselves. This is not something that is taught in our culture. And, it is possible to develop Self–Compassion. Get some exercise and quality sleep. Budget time to relax and be social. Find time to quiet your mind and heal. Take care of the people in your life that matter to you.
3. Know your Thinking Patterns
This will take time. Use a journal or other strategy for identifying when your poor choices are becoming a pattern that interferes with your objectives. The more unhealthy choices you identify, the more thoroughly you can mitigate them with proven strategies. You have to become self-aware. Even decisions that seem irrelevant can come up for you as significant. Once you see the impact of your choices on your life, you will be in a stronger position for addressing them.
4. Develop Strategies for each Defective Pattern
This is the hardest step. Many go through life aware of how they sabotage their own goals; however, that does not mean that they have the patience and resolve to replace those defective patterns with new, healthy habits. Again, a mentor can prove critical here. Your mentor should be able to help you come up with something that is simple and reliable. Once you have a strategy, then strive to use it consistently. Over time, your failures will provide the feedback necessary to refine it.
Jim Brillon has helped many people throughout Orange County and beyond identify and mitigate the problem of self-sabotage. Jim’s approach is gentle and empowering; he listens carefully to enable you to recognize your own patterns, and helps you construct solutions that work.
With Jim in your corner, you will have the confidence that you can overcome self-sabotaging behavior, and begin to see new results as you move unhindered toward your new self and purpose.