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Self Sabotage and How it Works

Written by Karl Perera BA, MA, DipLC
Updated: June 8th, 2020

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In this article I look at a strange but common kind of behaviour called self sabotage and consider why you may do it. We also look at common symptoms that show you are doing this and then consider the most important question of all “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?”

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?

I do not agree that God has implanted this into our nature. 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?

Common Causes of Self Sabotage

  • The failure that you know is more familiar than the possibility of success. This means that although you want to be successful you are scared of what is necessary to achieve that success or what it will mean if you succeed. This fear of success may be hidden well so you may not be aware that you suffer from this. If you do then your behaviour will stop you from taking the right steps towards getting what you want. One of the biggest fears here is of change. Why is change so scary? It is the unknown factor that makes you worry about what might happen. If negativity gets hold you’ll begin to think that change will be bad for you and choose to stay where you are. Self sabotage usually happens when you don’t really know that you have this fear but subconsciously the fear makes you work against your goals so that you do not change anything.
  • Probably the most common reason why you may sabotage your own plans to be happy is that deep down you feel undeserving or unworthy of the good things that might happen to you. This is a very bad thing because you will never succeed in life if you feel you don’t deserve to be happy or successful. The reason you feel unworthy may be because of your self image. This is how you see yourself. Some people see themselves as victims. If you hold a certain image of yourself which is negative then you may act to prove yourself correct. For example, someone who has been abused may believe they are a victim which they are but if life continues in a negative fashion they may begin to believe that in some way they are always going to 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 – 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 that way. 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.
  • Of course low self esteem is often at the heart of this problem. This is why you may feel undeserving or unworthy of the good things that you say you want with all your heart. If you lack self esteem then you easily fall into negative thinking and behaviour that stops you improving things.
  • 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 together that set you up to be 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

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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 (or whatever it is you want), is down to the fact that your belief about yourself are true and that you should just accept this. I hope you want to change this! So here are some symptoms, do you recognize any in yourself?

  • Using words like “should” or “I can’t”
  • Suffering from a conflict inside with your hopes and desires battling against your failure to change anything.
  • Low self esteem because 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.
  • Seeking or remaining trapped in an abusive relationship
  • Being angry with yourself
  • Perfectionism – wanting everything to be perfect and holding very high standards can paralyze you into doing nothing and never being happy with any action you do take. This kills your motivation too.

These are just a few of the main symptoms that you are sabotaging your future and your happiness. Most of the time we do not understand we are doing this. You may blame everything and everyone for what is happening (or not happening) to you. Try taking a look at your responsibility for what is in your life right now.

Improving Things

So what can you do to put things right and start helping yourself, start being a friend to yourself instead of sabotaging your happiness?

The first thing is to understand your problem and I hope I’ve helped you with that. Next step would be 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 without allowing fear to control you.

It is very important for you to start learning to trust yourself and make decisions to move forward with confidence so fill your mind wih 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.

One last peice of advice and a recommendation to try the awesome power of self hypnosis – “Stop Self Sabotage and Get Out of your Own Way”.

More About Self Sabotage

Here is a fantastic resource I just found and wanted to recommend to you. Self Sabotage – The Solution You Weren’t Expecting (from the INLP Center).

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Website Author and Editor Bio

Photo of Karl Perera, MA, DipLC Karl 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 since 1997 and is an expert in Self Esteem and Self Confidence.

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