Self-Sabotage – How to Stop Sabotaging Your Future

Written by Karl Perera, BA, MA, DipLC - Any purchase you make helps support my work on this website

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?

self loathing

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.



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  • Enjoy the excitement of an amazing new journey to unstoppable self confidence.
  • Finally understand the steps you can take to build your confidence.
  • Believe in yourself more.
  • Experience the motivation of setting goals that matter to you.
  • Enjoy a positive sense of hope and optimism in your own future.
  • Enjoy the benefits of visualisation.
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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

wrong direction in life
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.

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 being a friend to yourself?

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 see yourself as a success. You’ll soon leave your self doubt behind and begin to believe you deserve better. Read this page about how to use visualisations and achieve your goals and stop allowing fear to sabotage your efforts.

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 thinking and to change. But if you believe in yourself, you can do anything you want. Happiness will come if you expect it and visualise being happy.

One last piece of advice for you to try now: the awesome power of self hypnosis – “Stop Self Sabotage and Get Out of your Own Way”.

References

  • 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.
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Website Author and Editor Bio

Photo of Karl Perera, MA, DipLCKarl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA) and author of Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 and is an expert in Self Esteem and Self Confidence.