Self-Sabotage – How to Stop Sabotaging Your Success

Written by Karl Perera, MA, DipLC 

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Surprisingly, self sabotage is quite common. In fact, according to this article, most of us engage in self-sabotaging behaviour from time to time. However, as shown in the article above, self-sabotage can range from common behaviour such as procrastination, drinking, or being too modest, to the extremes of addiction to drugs or self-harm. On this page I plan to explain not only why we self sabotage, but show you what can you do about it.

You’ve heard the saying “You are your own worst enemy” and do you sometimes feel that? I know I’ve certainly experienced that feeling. Why is it that you can really want to be successful and happy and bring good things into your life but at the same time behave in a way that stops you getting what you want? What is behind self sabotage and why exactly do we sometimes do things contrary to what we want?

I read an interesting article last week written by Mike Bundrant about this miserable Great Human Glitch as he calls it. He also asks the question why we behave in ways that prevent us from getting what we desire and that make us unhappy, the opposite of what we truly want. He doesn’t really have an answer though and just declares that it must be programmed into us by God to make us miserable. I don’t agree with that at all. We can’t blame God and we should take responsibility for our own behaviour and thinking which causes our behaviour. It is your responsibility to ask yourself this question: “Why do I sabotage my own efforts at getting what I want so that I remain unhappy?”

What is Self Sabotage?

Here is a great quote which explains the nature of self sabotage very well:

Self-sabotage is not an act, it’s a process, a complex, tragic process that pits people against their own thoughts and impulses. Though we all make mistakes, a true self-saboteur continues to try to fix those mistakes by top-loading them with increasingly bad decisions.

Selby, Pychyl, Marano and Jaffe. (2014). Self-sabotage: The enemy within. Psychology Today.

Self-sabotage is a way to deal with emotions and situations that we find very difficult. Some forms of self-sabotage are attempts to escape from the reality of our problems, as in drugs or drink. Self-sabotage can simply lower our productivity at work or in studies, or it can actually become quite harmful to both mental and physical health, as with self-harm.

Whether self sabotage affects our ability to achieve our goals, become successful in our jobs or worse, affects our ability to control our daily lives, it is something that we all need to work on. You may need help to deal with self sabotage if it is harming you physically or mentally, so don’t be afraid to ask for help before it gets out of control.

Why do you sabotage yourself?

You are totally unique and the answer to why you sabotage yourself may be different from other people’s reasons, but you need to know and once you do. How do you free yourself of this “glitch” and start supporting yourself as a friend rather than your own worst enemy?

One word of warning here. If you are suffering from one of the extreme self sabotaging behaviours such as self-harm or drug abuse, then you absolutely need to get professional help. Why? Because the only way to get free of your self sabotaging behaviours is to understand why you are doing this. A professional therapist or psychologist can help you get to the root of the problem, which you probably are not aware of. You cannot hope to free yourself through simple self help techniques, although they can help.

I believe that self sabotage comes from the same place that all negative behaviours do – your mind. Your thinking either supports you in your goals or it opposes you. Negative thinking creates negative behaviours like self sabotage. Having said that I will help you to answer the question by giving you a few reasons why so many do this to themselves.

Ok, here we go – these are some of the most common causes behind self sabotage. Which one affects you?

Reasons Why You Might Self Sabotage

Photo by NeonBrand

Self-sabotage is an act of protecting yourself. It may look illogical but if something threatens your self esteem or your self concept you may put obstacles in your way to save yourself from failure. Of course this reasoning is faulty because you are actually stopping your success and making failure more likely. However, as this article suggests, if you fail you can blame it on your imagined barrier.

The above article by Peel et al also mentions that self esteem is closely connected with self sabotaging behaviour. For those with low self esteem, the cause of self sabotage is to avoid failure, but for those with high self esteem it can be used to avoid the consequences of succeeding.

The failure that you know is familiar, whereas the possibility of success is an unknown and therefore can appear scary. In other words, although you may wish to be successful you might be scared of what is necessary to achieve that success, or the consequences if you succeed. This fear of success may be hidden so well, you may not even be aware that of it.

One of the biggest fears people have is of change. Why is change so scary? It is the unknown that can cause you to worry about what might happen. You may believe that change will be bad for you and choose to stay where you are. Self sabotage is often the result of this fear, subconsciously it works against your goals, and you act so that change is prevented.

Probably the most common reason why you may sabotage your own plans to be happy is related to low self esteem. Many people with low self esteem feel unworthy of success or love. Feeling unworthy is a huge obstacle to your success.

One reason you may feel unworthy could be because of your self image. This is how you see yourself. For example, do you see yourself as a victim? If you hold a certain image of yourself which is negative, then you may act to prove yourself correct. This is known as victim mentality. For example, someone who has been abused may believe they are a victim, which they were, but remaining a victim is not an option. Such a person may begin to believe that they will always be a victim and even worse, deserve to be a victim, because they were told something that they now believe about themselves.

Your self talk is so important – following on from above you may tell yourself things like “I’ll never be a success” or “I am not attractive enough” or any one of a thousand other negative things. After a while you believe what you tell yourself and even if it is not true, you behave as if it is. In this sense, you become what you believe you are. Negative self talk holds you back and promotes self sabotage. If you tell yourself “you don’t deserve to be loved” then you will act in a way that stops you from getting what you want – love. If you tell yourself “I’ll never be happy” then you will keep doing things to justify what you have told yourself.

Low self esteem is often at the heart of this problem. It’s why you may feel undeserving or unworthy of the good things that you say you desire. If you lack self esteem then you can easily fall into negative thinking and behaviour that stops you improving your life.

Lack of self confidence causes self sabotage because if you fail to believe you can do something then you will be filled with the fear of possible failure and stop yourself from even trying to take positive steps to change your life. Low confidence can also cause you to become too self conscious and focus on yourself in social situations.

You may see the pattern above. There are many factors all connected that can make you your own worst enemy. The Glitch, if there is any, in my opinion, is that we tend to believe the negative and doubt the positive. The Glitch in your brain may mean that you have to put in some work to become more positive rather than take the easy road and give in to your negative feelings and thoughts.

What Are The Most Common Symptoms of self-sabotaging Behaviour?

What are the signs and symptoms that you are sabotaging yourself? You need to think about this because at times you may not even be aware that you are doing this. The very nature of this beast is that you may think that the reason you are not happy or successful, is that what you believe about yourself is true, and that you should just accept it. I hope you want to change! So here are some symptoms, do you recognize any of these in yourself?

  • Using words like “I should” or “I can’t”
  • Suffering from a conflict inside with your hopes and desires battling against your failure to change anything.
  • You feel powerless to achieve what you want
  • Feeling that no matter what you try you just can’t succeed
  • Procrastination is a very big problem and serves to keep you where you are. Do you put things off all the time and then try to justify that to yourself?
  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Putting yourself down and telling yourself “I’m not good enough”
  • Acting in ways that put the good things in your life at risk.
  • Remaining in an abusive relationship
  • Being angry with yourself all the time
  • Perfectionism – wanting everything to be perfect and holding very high standards can paralyze you into doing nothing or being unhappy with any action you do take. This kills your motivation dead!

These are just a few of the main symptoms that you are sabotaging your future and your happiness. You may blame everything and everyone for what is happening, (or not happening), to you. Try taking responsibility for what is in your life right now, it’s you that makes the decisions and choices in your life!

How to stop self-sabotage and its damaging effects on you

So what can you do to put things right and end self-sabotage so you can start to support yourself and become more successful?

The first thing is to understand your problem and I hope I’ve helped you with that.

The next step is to change the words you use and start telling yourself good things. Make statements like “I deserve to…” and “I can…” These are affirmations and you need to repeat them often.

Work on improving your self esteem and stop trying to please others.

Start thinking about what the possibilities might be if you succeeded and start using visualisations to help you reach your goals. You’ll soon leave your self doubt behind and know that you deserve better. Read this page about how to use visualisations and achieve your goals and stop allowing fear to sabotage your efforts.

Trust Yourself More

It is very important for you to start learning to trust yourself and make decisions to move forward with confidence so fill your mind with inspirational quotes that pick you up and give you the push you need. Here is a great page filled with inspirational quotes.

But the most important step you need to take is to face any fear or self doubt and go ahead and take action, positive action. Remember to be clear about what you want and break it down into easy manageable steps and take each one then see what happens. I am not saying that any of this is easy. It isn’t , it requires you to work on your attitude and your self esteem so that you believe in the possibility of your own success. If you believe in yourself, you can do anything you want. Happiness will come if you stop sabotaging your own success and visualise being happy.

One valuable piece of advice is to try : the awesome power of self hypnosis – “Stop Self Sabotage and Get Out of your Own Way”. – start the change now and download it.

Learn From the Habits of Successful People

When you are low on self esteem and confidence it is easy to fall into bad habits, which make your situation worse and stop you from becoming successful. This is especially true in terms of social communication. There is a link between level of self esteem and low confidence and ability to communicate effectively (Academia.edu). Most of this comes from sabotaging yourself and feeding your negative thoughts. One easy way to improve your life is to follow some of the habits of successful people and use the techniques that have made them what they are today.

Here are a few suggestions that successful people focus on:

Focus on Your Health

Before you can achieve anything in life, make sure you aim for good health. Eating healthy gives you energy and feeds your brain as well as your body. If you need to work on your physical or mental health, try visiting different types of health facilities.

3 Ways to Improve Your Health and Wellbeing

A proper diet and adequate exercise are at the top of the list when it comes to improving one’s health and well-being. Though great places to start in your effort to become physically and mentally whole, these aren’t the only factors that play into your health. Essentially, your quality of life is greatly impacted by your ability to make wise decisions that will improve happiness and well-being. Here are a few things you could start changing today that would help you in the long run.

Learn Something New Every Day To Allow Yourself to Grow

Your satisfaction with life can be damaged by stagnation. When you feel trapped or stuck in the same place all the time it can have a negative impact on your opinion about life. The more you question where you are in life or think negatively of your circumstances, the easier it is to fall into depression and suffer from serious mental health problems.

The key to preventing all of this is making a conscious effort to learn something new on a daily basis. Whether it’s reading a book that teaches you how to organize your finances, taking a class that will further your career, or trying a new hobby to develop new skills it reduces stress and pushes you past the feeling of stagnation.

Discover the habits of successful people.

Lighten Your Load and get Out of Your Way

The average adult has so many responsibilities that they don’t have any time to care for themselves. Though you love your spouse, children, parents, and pets, you’re only human. Taking on too much by yourself could result in burnout, resentment, and other health problems.

If you’re constantly stressed or feeling pulled in so many different directions in life you may need to lighten your load. This may mean paying extra for your kids to go to before and after care, or looking into assisted living that supplies predictive analytics in healthcare like a home monitoring device for your aging parents, or hiring a maid to clean up on weekends. The fewer responsibilities you have, the less stress there is and the more time to take care of yourself.

Stop Handling Overwhelming Emotions Poorly

As you know, life isn’t always easy. There will be times when things seem almost impossible to deal with. It may drudge up emotions that are complicated to deal with like depression, anxiety, fear, anger, and more. It is during these times that, unfortunately, many individuals turn to self-medicating with the use of food, drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, and more. Their desire to fill a temporary void, however, results in addiction and the need to check into facilities like this Lake Arrowhead Recovery Center for rehab.

Turning to temporary forms of pleasure to mask what you’re going through only hurts you worse physically and mentally. It is ideal to learn safe coping mechanisms like meditation, journaling, exercising, and even taking a break to allow yourself time to feel and heal. These are great steps to improve mental health and well being.

Anything that changes your attitude and lifestyle to healthier modes of living will help you feel better inside and out.

A person who has their physical and mental health is regarded as the most successful in the world. Getting to this level of happiness means taking a look within and making changes in your life for the better. Beyond eating right and working out regularly, you must effectively learn how to move past stagnation, reduce your stress levels, and learn how to safely cope with overwhelming emotions. If you can master these three areas of self-improvement, you’ll find that life is a lot easier to navigate.


Low self esteem has many varied causes but there’s one effective solution

Find out more >>

Develop the Right Mindset for Drug Addiction Recovery

Drug addiction and abuse are challenges that are difficult to face. However, many people recover from the clutches of addiction, and their mental state has a lot to do with it. What that means is that the way a person thinks can push that person into getting help. It can also help the person to form an ironclad shield and prevent a relapse. The following is some information about the state of mind that one must have to beat addiction:

Optimistic vs. Pessimistic

Optimism is one of the most important components that a person must have to succeed against any addiction. Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, gambling or love, the individual has to believe that he or she can win against the addiction. Self-pity and lack of faith about recovery are two things that can kill the spirit and block recovery almost immediately. That’s why so many people who have their heads down are still caught up in the cycle. The mindset should be an “I can” mindset and never an “I can’t” or an “I don’t know.”

Honesty Without Shame

Honesty is the element that often sets recovery in motion. As soon as a person is honest with everyone, he or she can then agree to go to a drug rehab center for help. Getting help becomes something desirable instead of a hideous burden. Many people carry shame about their addictions. They feel embarrassed that they let anything or any person get hold of them like that. People often spend additional time inside of the addiction because of that shame, and the unwillingness to admit that the problem exists. An honest and accepting mindset is the only one that can make recovery work. All people are humans, and as humans, they have a tendency to make mistakes fall victim to various sins. No one should feel worthless because of an addiction.

Patience and Acceptance

The recovery process takes patience. It’s not something that will occur overnight, and it’s not something that anyone should expect to be easy. However, an accepting and patient mental state can make the entire process seem a whole lot easier. For example, the addicted person must be willing to accept the fact that a problem exists. The person must also accept that recovery may take a few tries. Some people have to go through the process three or four times before they grab hold of the addiction. Others conquer it the first time. The important thing is that the struggling ones continue to believe that they will succeed one day.

Options for Recovery

Once an individual has the right mindset to succeed, that person can try a variety of solutions. Inpatient drug rehab centres are the best option because they shield the recovering persons from exposure to harmful people and elements. Other options that are available are options such as 12-step programs, faith-based programs, activity-based programs, outpatient treatment, counselling and more. An interested person can match the program to his or her circumstances and preferences. The right mindset for success will only flow from this.Get the inner strength you need to beat any addiction! Self Hypnosis gives you the power to overcome it naturally click for more

Many resources are available that can connect an interested person with some good options. A toll-free number may be available for those connections. Referral providers often agree to protect the privacy of people who call there for suggestions.

Develop a Positive Attitude

Regardless of their circumstances, successful people always try and see the positives in the situations they face on a daily basis. I cannot stress enough how vital this mindset is if you want to achieve your goals and be happy. No matter what you’re going through, your attitude towards life and whatever it is it throws your way can make all the difference. Considering failure, doubting yourself or focusing on even the tiniest flaw you can find is often the first step towards failure.

Surround yourself with positive people who believe in you and can help you push your limits. Count your blessings, accept what you have available to you and always strive to do your best with the cards life has dealt you. Most importantly, remember that failure is the greatest teacher and that the most successful people in the world have failed countless times before they were able to reach their true potential.

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, to stumble and fall, cause most of the time, the greatest rewards come from doing the things that scare you the most. Maybe you’ll get everything you wish for. Maybe you’ll get more than you ever could have imagined. Who knows where life will take you. The road is long and in the end, the journey is the destination.” 

Set Goals that Challenge You

In order to be successful, you need to set yourself some goals. These should be set so that they can challenge you and push you to achieve. There is no such thing as dreaming too big when it comes to setting out your aims. The obstacles and boundaries you think of are often a creation of your mind and not based on facts. I don’t want this to sound cliché, but it’s true, once you believe in yourself and aim for the fences, the world really is your oyster. There is living proof of this all around you, you just need to look a little closer and realise your own potential.

Be Eager to Continuously Learn and Improve

Successful people have one extremely important trait in common: they are always hungry for more. They accept that they can always learn more and do better rather than settling for what they have. The majority of this learning does not take place in schools but out there in the real world, particularly outside your comfort zone. The more you expose yourself to activities and interactions outside your own bubble, the more room there is for improvement and success! Here are my recommendations for books you MUST read for your success and personal growth.

Be Proactive

There is no point in setting goals if you’re not willing to take action and start working towards them. If you want to be successful, you need to focus your energy on action. It can often be hard to get started and to maintain your motivation for the long run. Breaking your goals down into smaller, simpler tasks can make daunting tasks a lot more achievable, and help you build your motivation as you go ahead and start ticking your boxes one at a time. Make sure you give yourself credit even for the smallest of achievements and remain proactive!

Determination, Dedication and Hard Work

It may be a given, but I still need to stress how important this point is. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to be willing to put in your best effort. If you’ve found something you’re truly passionate about, this shouldn’t really be a problem. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, to accept your mistakes and learn from them, sooner or later you will enjoy the fruits of your dedication.

Control Your Emotions So They Don’t Control You

Emotions are temporary and ever-changing, yet many people allow them to affect their decision-making process. Regardless of how you feel, your decisions should be fact based. Emotions often lead to quick decisions which have not been fully considered, and often result in unsatisfying outcomes and regret. Learning to take control of emotions is one of the stepping stones to finding success in life.

Let Your Self Esteem Help You Make Good Decisions

This section is taken from one of my early newsletters (number 5 in fact, from 2002). Click here to get my weekly inspirational newsletter.

Have you got an important decision to make? Your self esteem will play a part in every aspect of your decision making.

Here’s a few points to remember when making important decisions:

  • Make decisions only when you feel good and your self esteem level is highest.
  • Work hard always to keep your self esteem high.
  • When your self esteem is high you will focus on your needs and those of others as well.
  • When considering various courses of action never take one which will hurt your self esteem. All decisions should boost your self esteem. 

An example: If you resign and take a less demanding job you will suffer a drop in your level of self esteem. BAD DECISION! If, however, the new job gives you much more satisfaction and you perceive it to be of more value then you will increase your self esteem. GOOD DECISION!

Self esteem is not always based on logic as it is more to do with your emotions.

When you draw up a list of pros and cons and try to make your decision based on logic you are neglecting an important aspect of the problem and that is how you feel. Ask yourself does this decision increase or decrease your self esteem, do you feel good or bad about the decision? What about others involved? How does your decision affect their self esteem?

Self esteem will also affect your carrying out the decision. Low self esteem will prevent you from having the self confidence to back your decision with action especially if it is a hard or important decision. So:

Work on your self esteem and have the confidence to back your decisions! 

Build Your Self Confidence 

Build your Self Confidence – Hypnosis downloads – quick, easy and guaranteed to help you build your confidence (prepared by experienced psychologists and gets my full recommendation). With more confidence you will be able to make better decisions and succeed!

Successful People Read Inspiring Books, So Should You!

There are many helpful books on self esteem. Check out the self help bookstore for my personal selection of the best of these.

Improve Your Communication Skills

Successful people are confident and extremely good at communicating, but you have to realise that no one is born that way! Communication skills can be improved through practice and perseverance. Confidence when communicating will result in more people paying attention to the points you are trying to put across, can aid you in conflict resolution and help you develop stronger relationships with those around you, all of which are extremely useful in your quest for success.

Balance Risk-Taking And Reward

There are times in life when we truly can’t tell what may or may not work, and sometimes we just have to roll the dice. That’s not to say you should take risks 24/7, but sometimes you need to remember that if you never try, you’ll never know. The fear of failure is often the biggest obstacle in taking risks. You should remember that failure is one of the biggest teachers and there is no shame in failing. Failure can only increase your chances of success the next time around!

Make Sure You Get The Facts  

Those who are successful weigh the positives and negatives and make sure they get the facts before making a move. Weigh both sides of the coin before making critical decisions, making sure you are well informed and ready for all scenarios. Don’t allow fears to stop you from achieving what you want. Fear is simply False Evidence Appearing Real. Stick to the facts instead, and you will get there.

Be As Honest As You Can!

If you want to be successful, honesty is extremely important. Lies have a way of catching up to us and causing even greater problems than those they were attempting to cover up in the first place. Being honest helps you in your relationships, makes you dependable and helps you obtain trust, all of which are extremely important.

Understand that just a small change each day can give you HUGE improvements and remember that the aim should never be to change who you are but to bring out the real you!

References

  • Girodo, M., Dotzenroth, S.E. & Stein, S.J. “Causal attribution bias in shy males: Implications for self-esteem and self-confidence” Cognitive Therapy Research (1981) 5: 325.
  • Peel, R., Caltabiano, N., Buckby, B., & McBain, K. (2019). Defining romantic self-sabotage: a thematic analysis of interviews with practising psychologists. Journal of Relationships Research10.
  • Selby, E. A., Pychyl, T., Marano, H. E., & Jaffe, A. (2014). Self-sabotage: The enemy within. Psychology Today.

Website Author and Your Guide

Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA), and author of the book Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 since suffering from low self esteem for more than 25 years overcoming it in his thirties.