My partner and I sabotage ourselves all the time, it’s actually pretty ridiculous how bad we are for doing it. Thus, I thought it might be useful to help other people to see if they’re doing the same so they can work on changing their behaviours so they can live happier and more successful lives. To that end, I’ve tried to make this article more interactive.
What Is Self-Sabotaging?
First, let’s start with a definition of what exactly it means to sabotage yourself. Basically, what it means to sabotage yourself is to either actively or passively, through your thoughts and/or actions, prevent yourself from achieving something you desire, such as completing a goal or taking action on an idea that you have. This is especially true when it affects your day-to-day life.
For example, you may want to learn the guitar because you love music and you’d like to be able to play an instrument. However, you start thinking about how you’re too old to learn an instrument, and what would be the point anyway, it’s not like you’re going to become a rock star. This is a case of you sabotaging yourself. It doesn’t matter how old you are and it doesn’t matter if you become a rock god or not; if it’s something you’d love to try out, try it. Learning a new skill simply because you can is more than enough of a reason to do so.
The Different Ways We Sabotage Ourselves
There are several ways we can sabotage ourselves. Some you might instantly realise you’ve been doing, others you might not. But being aware of as many ways that you do or could sabotage yourselves will help you improve your present and future. Knowledge is power, after all.
Familiarity with failure
You’re so used to failing and things going wrong that when something is going right for you, you are fixated on something eventually going wrong, which can result in you throwing a spanner in the works.
In short, because you expect something to go wrong, you ended up causing something to go wrong, causing a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The feeling of things having to be in your control can be important to a lot of people, and this need for control, if it gets out of hand, can manifest itself in a number of mental health conditions. Furthermore, this need for control can be created as a result of trauma as well. A few examples of this is: hair pulling (Traction Alopecia: The Hair Pulling Question), skin picking, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc.
Thus, people can sabotage themselves as a means of believing they are gaining control, even though it’s harming them. That’s because when you feel like you’re in control, you can feel safe and stronger, rather than feeling vulnerable.
An example from my life would be how I struggle to try something new. I have difficulty getting myself to try something new because I have to be seen to be perfect at something, and I can’t be seen to be a novice or having to try. I want to control how people perceive me, and because of that, more often than not, I won’t try anything new, not even slightly changing my appearance.
Feeling unworthy is a clear sign you have low self-esteem issues. If you don’t think you deserve something, like deserving to succeed in life (such as getting a promotion), then you’ll be demotivated and lack the drive need to push yourself to try.
Due to having low self-esteem, you might also worry that friends, family, coworkers, etc. might think less of you if you fail to achieve the goal you’ve set out to accomplish.
Furthermore, Mind Tools believes that some people sabotage themselves so they can then rescue the situation, which could give that person a short-term boost to their self-confidence. However, this type of behaviour is self-destructive.
Struggling with motivation, poor time management, and doubting your skills or abilities are all classic ways to get you procrastinating. How many of you are left doing your school/college/university coursework or work projects until the last minute? It may feel like there’s no rhyme or reason to why you’re procrastinating, but 9 times out of 10, there’s actually an underlying reason.
I am king at procrastinating, which is made worse by the fact that I have a lot more time than most to do the tasks that I could be doing. I’ll often put off one task to do another task I’ve been putting off, which is less important to do.
The weirdest thing for me about my procrastinating habit is that I know I’m procrastinating to avoid doing something at the time, and often before I start procrastinating. But knowing that doesn’t stop me from actually procrastinating. I also have huge issues with self-doubt that intensify my lack of motivation, which I really need to work on.
There are a number of common behaviours we use to sabotage ourselves, such as procrastination, which I mentioned above, as well as self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, self-harming, and comfort eating (Psychology Today).
When these habits get out of hand, causing substance dependency, eating disorders, and unhealthy coping strategies of using pain to feel better (self-harming), they will sabotage your life, goals, and motivation to achieve.
For example, if you’ve become dependent on alcohol and drugs and are unable to function without satisfying that need, then everything else will become secondary to meeting that need, that ‘wanting‘ of the alcohol/drug.
Need for excitement
The need for excitement isn’t always positive or constructive. Sometimes it can be detrimental to the situation, whereby you sabotage yourself. Some people will, from time to time, sabotage themselves simply for the excitement of causing drama. Drama is dramatic – the clues in the word.
Sabotaging ourselves creates the familiar feeling of instability and chaos; plus, if we’re stuck at the bottom, we might as well brandish power while we’re down there.
This is one form of sabotage I don’t do. I try to avoid drama at all costs. That’s the people-pleaser in me. I don’t intentionally push buttons or pick fights for the sake of it. I’d rather keep my life drama free as much as possible.
Are we subconsciously sabotaging ourselves because of long-established patterns of behaviour that we haven’t noticed or haven’t done anything to change?
Our brains love a shortcut, and shortcuts for the brain are using the same established patterns of behaviour rather than trying to create novel ones. This could be why your attempts to become healthy, your efforts to improve your financial situation, and your relationships always end up the same way. We’re doomed to repeat ourselves unless we change our established behaviours to something better.
In a nutshell, if it can’t be done perfectly, then maybe it shouldn’t be done at all. The problem with that is that nothing is perfect, and we’d never do anything if we applied that to everything we did in our lives, so why apply it selectively in order to sabotage ourselves? I was terrible at this one, although nowadays it’s not I’m not so bad at it.
Dwelling on too many options
As is the problem with modern society, there are just so many options available to us that for a lot of us, it can lead to decision paralysis. We simply can’t make up our minds, and thus we become stuck. You might also know this as overchoice or the paradox of choice.
According to Psychology Today, research shows that if you have an abundance of options before you, you’ll end up less satisfied with your final decision than if you’d had fewer options, to begin with. I would hypothesise that with more options comes more doubt about if you made the right choice.
This one only really bothers me when it comes to food unless I’m craving something particular, as I find it hard to pick something to eat. I have a weird relationship with food (Did Poor Mental Health Cause My Unhealthy Relationship With Food?), and I can struggle to eat food I’m not craving, which results in an unsatisfactory eating experience. I use to just starve myself until I craved something, then eat. But I can’t do that now I have reactive hypoglycaemia.
Worry too much about what others think
We all like external validation, and to a certain degree that’s fine, we’re social creatures after all. But it becomes a problem when external validation is more important than our internal validation. When what others think of you is more important than what you think of yourself. People-pleasers will be much too familiar with this one.
This is me all day, 100%, no 1000%. It’s the bane of my life. It drives my anxiety disorders, my depression, and ruins my quality of life. That’s what a childhood full of racist abuse will do to you.
When needing external validation reaches dangerous levels, we can behave in ways that are completely counter to who we are as a person. I slept with a former best friend’s ex, just so they wouldn’t feel guilty about dating their ex’s best friend (who they’d been cheating on them with for months). I’ve never felt so dirty or guilty in my life, and I rarely ever feel guilty. My desire to please others and get their approval was more important to me than anything else. I put my friends before everything else.
Quitting when it gets hard
It’s easier to give up and accept a negative outcome ahead of time than to risk the unknown. Often we still do this even when there is no unknown risk, and we know all the possible outcomes will be good for us.
It could be argued that this is a part of our need to feel in control, and yeah, it probably is, but I felt it deserved its own section as people might recognise this, but not see themselves as having a broader control sabotage issue.
To hammer that point home, Lifehack said that if you rationalise not following your dreams or making desirable changes as “being practical” or if you’re thinking “things really aren’t that bad,” then you’re suffering from this form of sabotage. Unfortunately, most people won’t take action until the pain of their current situation becomes more than they can bear, overriding their fear of the unknown.
I use to never quit anything until I started doing A-Level Law, where my dyslexia and my teacher’s terrible teaching style made it impossible for me to learn anything. I instead just slept in class until I decided to break my own rule. Since then, this has led to a slippery slope of quitting when things get too hard for me.
Although I didn’t have a formal diagnosis of dyslexia at the time, I was aware of my issues and thought I was dyslexic. My issues meant I couldn’t make notes in class due to the teacher exclusively using shorthand and abbreviations. How was I meant to spell Latin words I’d never heard or read before when I can barely spell words I use every day?
Ruminating on “If only….”
Regrets are a part of life, but most mentally well people can move past their regrets. The, “what if…” and “if only…” paradox. What if I had said that? If only I had done that instead. There probably isn’t a person alive who wouldn’t want to be able to change one thing that happened, to create a different outcome. But like I said, you can’t change the past, so trapping yourself in this cycle will only make you feel worse. While we’re fixated on wanting to change what can’t be changed, it can hamper our present and our future.
But it’s not always about the past. We also use these “if only” thoughts to sabotage our present and our future. For example, you might not apply for a new and better job because you might think you’re not suitable for the role, telling yourself, “if only I was better at my job and had the training needed, I’d apply for that job” even though you already have everything needed for the role.
However, people like me can often be trapped in over-analysing regrets, as if we can somehow change what’s already happened. When I was jumped by three people back in my early teens, I analysed that event a million different ways, day and night, for a decade. It even gave me insomnia. This kind of sabotage can trap you in an event from decades ago, and it’ll hold you back until you can at least remove its power.
Listening to your inner critic
If you’re anything like me, then your inner critic is a beast to live with, and it’ll stop you from even attempting to try anything by crushing your thoughts and ideas with waves of pessimism. I am critical of everything and everyone. No one is exempt from my inner critic, but I’m far worse a critic of myself. I’ll also believe my inner critic without question when it comes to what it says about me, but I can ignore it when it’s about anyone else.
Your inner critic will hold you back if you let it. This voice in your head is not your friend when it’s bringing you down and stopping you from achieving the things you want to achieve.
Afraid to ask for help
No person is truly self-sufficient. We all need a little help from time to time, so we shouldn’t feel any less of a person for asking for help. It takes courage to ask for help, and the majority of people are normally willing to offer that help when it’s requested. Asking for help doesn’t make you vulnerable. Being vulnerable is trying to do it all alone and burning out in the process.
Saying that, I’m a mental health blogger, I’ve worked for mental health and addictions charities, but yet I still don’t always ask for help. My partner is the most supportive person I’ve ever met, and yet I still don’t ask them for help, in regard to my wellbeing, anyway.
I grew up enduring constant abuse and where my cries for help were ignored (Suicidal Child #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek), all whilst having the gender stereotype forced upon me that men don’t show emotions. With all that, you learn pretty fast not to look for others to help you. But you’d think I’d know better by now, but there you go.
Ask Yourself, Do I Sabotage Myself?
After reading through all the content about how we sabotage ourselves, do you believe you’re a self-sabotager?