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Self-Sabotage: What It Is and How It Holds You Back

“Why is this constantly happening to me?”

“Why do I keep doing this?”

These are the questions you will likely ask yourself when you keep repeating patterns that create problems in your life and hinder you from achieving your goals.

While you try to make changes to disrupt the patterns, somehow you still find yourself in the same place over and over again.

If this is something that resonates with you, chances are you are sabotaging yourself.

In essence, self-sabotage are thought patterns and behaviors that hold you back and hinder you from achieving whatever it is that you have set out to do.

What Causes You to Self-Sabotage?

Self-sabotage occurs when you do certain things that were once adaptive in one context  but they are no longer necessary.

In other words, they are behaviors that have once helped you cope in past situations like a toxic relationship or a traumatic childhood but are no longer applicable to your current situation.

Below are some of the key contributing factors that can cause self-sabotage:

Patterns learned in childhood

Patterns that were laid out in your earliest relationships often repeat themselves in other relationships throughout your life.

You become attached to the patterns and they would come to mean something to you.

Eventually, it becomes hard to give up.

Let’s say back when you were young, your parents never paid much attention to you unless they were mad.

When you become an adult, you have become aware that it’s not a good thing to get people mad.

However, getting people to be mad at you was the only way to get people to notice you so you continue to do the pattern.

Past relationship dynamics

If you don’t feel heard or supported when asking for what you need in previous relationships (romantic or otherwise), you will struggle to effectively communicate what you want in your current relationships.

If you had an abusive partner who didn’t care about your feelings or thoughts but you stayed quiet to avoid rejection, anger, and other negative consequences, you can end up not learning how to advocate for your own needs.

Fear of failure

If you don’t want to fail in your relationship, at parenthood, or at your job, you can sabotage your efforts to do well unintentionally.

Avoiding failure can lead you to avoid trying. 

If you don’t try, you won’t fail, right?

Your subconscious mind can present a million and one excuses and ways you can sabotage yourself.

Let’s say you are in a new relationship that’s going quite well.

If you tend to self-sabotage, you subconsciously believe it is only a matter of time until something happens to end your happy relationship.

You tell yourself, “This is too good. This can’t last.”

Since you don’t want to face the end, you begin to retreat from the relationship, treating your partner coldly and closing yourself off emotionally.

Essentially, you would rather bring about your own failure so you are prepared when the relationship eventually fails.

Need for control

Some types of self-sabotage provide some sense of control.

While it may not do anything for your relationships or emotional health, it can help you stay in control when you feel vulnerable.

Let’s take procrastination, for example. 

Maybe you have been putting off writing down your research paper because you think you won’t be able to write it as well as you could.

You are aware that writing the paper at the last minute won’t help but it helps you be in control of the outcome.

How Can You Overcome Self-Sabotage?

Behaviors that have helped you in the past won’t be as beneficial when your circumstances change.

In fact, they will cause more harm than good.

However, you keep doing them since they have worked so well for you at one point in time.

Fortunately, it is possible to disrupt self-sabotaging patterns and behaviors. For starters:

Determine the behaviors

Admitting to yourself that you are self-sabotaging can be painful. 

It is likely that it is the last conclusion that you will accept.

You will likely avoid acknowledging it as long as possible, until you are left with no choice but to face it.

Do you notice any glaring patterns?

For example, do you begin to pick fights or detach yourself from relationships once your partner says, “I love you.”

Do you quit jobs before your annual review?

Find out what sets you off

Once you figure out how you sabotage yourself, be mindful of when you do self-sabotage behaviors.

When do you feel like you have to act out?

Perhaps an angry tone in your partner’s voice reminds you of being yelled at in childhood. 

You can end up shutting down even if the anger is not exactly directed at you. 

Other triggers that can cause self-sabotaging behaviors include:

  • Fear
  • Boredom
  • Self-doubt

Consider tracking your triggers in a journal

Practicing non-judgmental awareness or mindfulness of your behaviors and thoughts can also help.

Each time you discover a trigger, come up with a couple or more productive reactions that can replace the self-sabotaging behavior.

Determine what you really want

Self-sabotage can occur when you are looking for a way out.

You might tell yourself you want to be in a relationship when in fact you know you are happiest when you are single.

To self-sabotage your efforts, you start creating conflict once you get past the dating stage.

Getting to know yourself better and finding out what you truly want can help prevent self-sabotage.

However, you also have to support and respect yourself enough to work through your self-sabotaging behaviors.

Over to You

At times, it can be difficult to recognise and stop self-sabotaging patterns and behaviors on your own. This is especially true if you have been following the patterns for so many years. If your efforts to fix self-sabotage behaviors won’t work, therapy is something you should look into. 

Photo by Sammy Williams on Unsplash