Have you ever noticed that you struggle to meet goals? I’m not talking about a rare, lazy Sunday when you opted for binging Netflix over laundry. This is a bigger picture question that involves life, career, health and even relationships. It’s a chronic list of excuses and self-doubt that you might be completely aware of, but can’t seem to find the reason for and you can’t seem to stop. It’s persistent, toxic behavior that brings on failure and increasing feelings of low self-worth. It has a name and it’s called self-sabotage.
Although very common, self-sabotage can be an incredibly frustrating and vicious cycle that lowers self-confidence and leaves those it affects feeling stuck. There are many reasons why someone may develop self-sabotaging behavior, but first we need to understand the triggers that may cause it and how to move past them.
What is Self-Sabotage?
Self-sabotage is thoughts or behaviors that interfere with your own goals and create problems in your health, career, and relationships. Whether conscious or unconscious, these behaviors eventually lead to feelings of chronic insecurity, resentment, self-judgment and self-doubt.
Think: Is there something you genuinely want and believe is good for you (losing and keeping off 20 pounds, working for a promotion, staying away from a toxic person), but then your actions directly obstruct that goal? You might be self-sabotaging your life.
We promise there’s hope. Awareness is the first step to getting out of your own way.
Self-sabotage comes in many forms. The person who self-sabotages might be considered their own worst enemy. It can be incredibly frustrating to those around them or even to themselves. Behavior that seems so simple to stop is the one thing that’s holding them back from achieving goals and having true peace and happiness. Is this you? Here are a list of common self-destructing thoughts and behaviors of those who create constant self-sabotage in their lives:
- Constant self-defeating thoughts
- Questioning your own self-worth
- Putting yourself down
- Emotional eating/binge eating/mindless eating
- Addictions to harmful indulgences like drugs, alcohol, and sugar
- Procrastinating when it comes to important tasks
- Struggling with even short-term goals
- Pushing away or picking fights with people you love and people who love you
- Blaming others/refusing to hold yourself accountable
- Developing imposter syndrome/feeling inadequate or that you do not belong
- Dating people who do not treat you well
- Expecting instant gratification
- Never feeling satisfied, even after achieving a goal
Why does it happen?
It may be difficult to understand why you struggle with self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors, but a good place to begin is to understand your role in it. You can start with practicing self-awareness to identify the triggers that may be causing it.
There are many reasons why someone might develop self-destructive tendencies:
If you have experienced trauma, abuse, abandonment, neglect, etc., your self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors might stem from this. Those who experience any kind of trauma often have trouble trusting others and positive situations. Abuse, neglect, rejection, etc. can cause low self-esteem and many other difficulties with self-image. You might even find yourself sabotaging relationships in an effort to avoid further vulnerability, hurt and rejection.
Addiction to food, alcohol, drugs, gambling and other temptations can certainly cause dysfunctional behaviors, thoughts and beliefs. The guilt and shame that stems from the inability and failure to quit could result in damaging feelings and an incredibly low sense of self-worth. Until you understand that you deserve and are capable of better, self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors only get worse and tend to take you to rock bottom.
Low Self Esteem or Self Image Issues:
If you do not believe in yourself you will not achieve your goals. Feelings of not being good enough, smart enough or qualified enough can be deafening and will hold you back. The way you think of yourself and speak to yourself matters.
If you surround yourself with toxic people or hang onto toxic relationships, you yourself will develop toxic behaviors. It’s that simple. When dealing with an abusive partner, you might begin to only see yourself through their eyes. If they are constantly putting you down, commenting on your appearance and your overall ability to do well, you could grow to believe them. This can lead to destructive behaviors such as overeating/starving yourself, sabotaging your own success, and feeling as though you just don’t deserve to be happy.
Fear of Failure:
You might fear that you will work so hard to achieve a goal and still not be enough. It is easier to give yourself reasons as to why you failed than to truly give it your all and still not succeed. This is the most common reason for self-sabotage. You might feel as though you’re incapable of losing weight or not good enough for a promotion. When you truly believe that, you will consciously or unconsciously give up or even let go of the dream.
Fear of Success:
When you work so hard for something, the very thought of success can sometimes become a stressor. You might worry that you really aren’t qualified or prepared. Others might find out and you might be exposed as a fraud. This fear of success could lead you to engage in behavior that limits your success because you could start doing things to stop yourself from achieving the goal.
Tips on how to STOP
Practice self-love through these positive techniques and apply them every day. Remember, it takes 23 days to create a habit.
- Speak positively to yourself. You could have a million people who love you, but the one person who needs to love you is YOU. Even if you have to remind yourself every day, every hour and every second, do it. What are you most proud of yourself for? It could be the color of your eyes or your ability to do complicated math problems in your head. Find it and go from there.
- Develop your purpose, achieve goals and aspirations. Make a list. Find your passion and what means something to you. What gets that fire going? What do you WANT?
- Practice and stick with self-development and self-care. If it makes you feel good about yourself, keep going! This could be anything from developing a talent to exercising and meditation. As long as you’re taking care of YOU, keep it going.
- Lower impossible expectations for yourself—remember, no one is perfect. We are not air-brushed in real life. Stop trying to look like a Kardashian. Remember: Kardashians don’t even actually look like Kardashians.
- Find someone else who might be feeling the same as you. There’s nothing more motivating than the buddy system! If you can relate to each other and communicate, as long as you lift each other up instead of dragging each other down, hang on to that relationship.
- Understand the signs of self-sabotage and what you can do about it. Pay attention. When you’re about to eat something that will hinder your health goals, you started an argument with your loved one, or you’re procrastinating when you should be working on a project for school or work, notice it and try to identify what’s causing it. Ask: What’s happening now? What happened right before? What made you feel this way? What can you do to change it? Take time to identify your patterns and how they might have led you to self-sabotage in the first place.
- Seek Therapy. This is especially helpful in challenging any self-destructive and limiting thoughts, beliefs and behaviors. If you have access to it, a therapist or life coach can help you identify triggers and give you the tools to address them.
- Practice positive communication with close family members and friends. Be honest with them about what’s happening. Ask for help and patience.
- Attend support groups. You might receive ideas from those who understand. These groups are often led by a professional who is trained to provide the tools you need.
- Get involved in charity work. Nothing warms the soul and gives purpose like doing things for others who are less fortunate.
- Create a vision board to visualize goals and prioritize your values. When you see it every day, it just becomes more tangible. Make it BIG and hang it somewhere you can’t avoid.
Remember that healing comes when the whole self is aligned~body, mind and spirit. When you struggle with any or all, it might be time to ask yourself how you’re contributing. Are your actions hindering your goals in health, career and relationships? At Forum Health Clarkston, our experts give you the lifelong tools for balance. Call today to get started with our Lifestyle program! 248-625-5143
Forum Health Clarkston
7300 Dixie Hwy. Ste. 5oo
Clarkston, MI 48346
Ruggeri, Christine, “What Causes Self-Sabotaging Behaviors? (And How Do You Stop?),” Dr. Axe, 2021.
“Self Sabotage,” Psychology Today, 2021.
Wilson, Christina, “What Is Self-Sabotage? How to Help Stop the Vicious Cycle,” Positive Psychology, 2021.