Why Do I Self-Sabotage? And How Can I Break Free of Self-Sabotage?

by Jonathan Turpin  - September 26, 2023

“Why Do I Self Sabotage?” If you’re asking yourself this question, as desperate as you may feel, you’re part of the way to solving this common and painful habit. Awareness is step one.¬†¬†Read on to discover other key steps in overcoming self-sabotage.

What is self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage is when you are compulsively and powerlessly driven to get in your own way. You may be close to achieving your goals, only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Or you might be starting your journey and unable to get past the beginnings. Either way, you’re stuck in a vicious cycle of your own making.  

This pattern can leave you feeling desperate because unconscious beliefs, identities, or emotions bubble up from inside of you and thwart your efforts. You become your own worst enemy.  

And while you may or may not be aware while you’re doing it, you have little to no understanding of why you’re doing it. If you’ve ever wondered, “Why do I always do that? What was I thinking? Why didn’t I stop myself?”… you’re asking yourself, “Why do I self-sabotage?.”  

In this article, we’ll explore the psychology behind self-sabotage and provide insights into how to overcome it.

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What Are the Potential Causes of Self-Sabotage

Self-sabotage has a variety of underlying causes. It often arises from a combination of psychological, emotional, and experiential factors. By understanding the sources of self-sabotaging behavior, you can get to and heal the the root cause. 

Here are some common origins of self-sabotage:

  1. Fear of Failure:  When you’re afraid of failure, you’re afraid of disappointing yourself or someone you value. This creates a high-risk and high-stress situation, which may prompt you to self-sabotage in order to avoid potential disappointment or embarrassment.
  2. Fear of Success: Surprisingly, success can be just as scary as failure. Success often brings change and increased responsibilities, which can be intimidating. You may self-sabotage to maintain your current comfort zone and avoid the unknown.
  3. Low Self-Esteem and Self-Worth: Feelings of inadequacy or a lack of self-confidence can lead to self-sabotage. You may unconsciously undermine your efforts if you don’t believe you deserve success, happiness, or positive outcomes.
  4. Perfectionism: Striving for perfection cuts both ways. While it can drive high standards and excellence, it can also lead to self-sabotage when you’re afraid of making mistakes or not meeting impossibly high expectations.
  5. Past Trauma or Negative Experiences: Previous failures, trauma, or negative experiences can create a fear of repeating those experiences. You might be sabotaging yourself to protect yourself from perceived harm or disappointment.
  6. Lack of Self-Awareness: Self-sabotaging behaviors can feel like a blind spot. You might not be fully aware of your self-sabotaging behaviors. They might feel like strong impulses that are uncontrollable. If you engage in actions unconsciously, it can make it challenging to address and overcome them. Becoming aware is the first step in overcoming self-sabotage.
  7. Coping Mechanism: Self-sabotage can be a way of coping with stress, anxiety, or overwhelming emotions. Engaging in self-destructive behaviors may serve to provide you with temporary relief from emotional pain or discomfort.
  8. Fear of Rejection or Criticism: Fear of rejection, criticism, or judgment from others can drive self-sabotage. You may sabotage yourself to avoid putting yourself in situations where you might face disapproval or scrutiny.
  9. Self-Doubt: Chronic self-doubt can erode your confidence and lead to self-sabotage. You may undermine your efforts when you repeatedly question your abilities or worthiness.
  10. Negative Self-Talk:  Your self-talk influences your behavior. Negative self-talk can reinforce self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors.
  11. Environmental Factors: External factors, such as a toxic work environment, unsupportive relationships, or peer pressure, can contribute to self-sabotage by creating additional stressors and challenges.

It’s essential to recognize that self-sabotage is not a character flaw but rather a complex and often automatic response to various internal and external factors. Overcoming self-sabotage typically involves a combination of self-awareness, self-compassion, and strategies to address the underlying causes. 

Seeking support can also be beneficial in understanding and tackling self-sabotaging behaviors. With time, effort, and the right resources, you can learn to manage and ultimately overcome self-sabotage.

Now that we’ve discussed the primary reasons that cause self-sabotaging behavior let’s discuss some solutions.

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How to Overcome Self-Sabotage

Overcoming self-sabotaging behavior can be challenging, but it is possible with self-awareness, commitment, and the right strategies. Keep a journal, use the below to make a plan, and seek assistance if doing it alone isn’t getting you the desired results.

Here are steps to help you start tackling self-sabotage:

Recognize and Acknowledge Self-Sabotage:

  • The first step is to become aware of your self-sabotaging behaviors. Pay attention and journal patterns, triggers, and situations where you tend to undermine your goals or well-being. Acknowledge that self-sabotage is a problem you want to address.

Identify Underlying Beliefs and Triggers:

  • Explore and change the beliefs and emotions that drive your self-sabotaging behavior. What are you afraid of? What negative thoughts or self-doubts are you experiencing? The answers to these questions are not always obvious and can take time to uncover. Be patient and persistent in your journaling. Understanding the root causes is essential for addressing them. Schedule a free belief clearing session with me.

Challenge Negative Self-Talk:

  • Question negative self-talk and replace it with neutral, positive, and constructive affirmations. When you think self-sabotaging thoughts, consciously challenge them with more empowering and realistic beliefs.

Set Realistic Goals:

  • Break your goals into smaller, achievable steps. This reduces the fear of failure and makes success more manageable. Set clear and specific goals that are within your reach. You’ll gather momentum and build upon your accomplishments as you accomplish and review your goals.

Practice Self-Compassion:

  • Be kind and gentle with yourself. Understand that everyone makes mistakes and faces setbacks. It only makes it more difficult if you come down hard on yourself.

Visualize Success:

  • Create a vivid mental image of your success and the positive changes it will bring to your life. Visualization can be a powerful tool for motivation and overcoming self-sabotage.

Stay Accountable:

  • Share your goals with a trusted friend, fellow goal-seeker, family member, or coach who can help hold you accountable. Having someone to support and encourage you can be immensely beneficial.

Practice Mindfulness:

  • Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing, can help you stay present and manage stress and anxiety, reducing the urge to engage in self-sabotaging behaviors.

Replace Self-Sabotaging Habits:

  • Identify specific self-sabotaging habits and replace them with healthier alternatives. For example, if you procrastinate, create a structured schedule and break tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Build a Support Network:

  • Surround yourself with supportive and positive influences. Seek friends, mentors, or support groups that can encourage personal growth and offer guidance.

Celebrate Your Successes:

  • Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small they may seem. Recognizing your progress can boost your self-esteem and motivation.

Stay Persistent:

  • Overcoming self-sabotage is a process. You can expect to experience setbacks, especially if the behaviors are deeply ingrained. Stay persistent, and don’t give up. Learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward.

Seek Professional Help:

  • If self-sabotage is deeply ingrained or related to past trauma, consider working with a coach or a therapist.  

As a coach, I can help you explore underlying issues and provide strategies to overcome self-sabotaging behaviors faster than you may be able to do on your own. 

Remember that overcoming self-sabotage is a journey that takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself when you experience setbacks, and maintain a growth-oriented mindset. Stay focused and consistent. You can break free from self-sabotaging patterns and move closer to achieving your goals and living a more fulfilling life.

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