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Updated on August 17, 2013

What Does Self-Sabotage Mean?

Let's say that a person had every intention to get the best grades he/she possibly could in college. He/she apply to the college of his/her dreams and get accepted, and he/she is really excited about the opportunity to attend this institution. He/she arrives and settles into his/her living situation and get a great start on the term. He or she is doing well.

Friends are made and social opportunities present themselves which provide a much needed release of stressful energy. Then, in spite of dreams of honor roll or academic achievement of some kind which open up more opportunities to achieve even greater standing, he/she begins to procrastinate on assignments, attends parties that work against that role as a good student, and he/she begins rationalizing why it is not necessary to get the grades he/she set out to get.

By the end of the term the report card reflects C's for the most part. The person will have to come to terms with failure, or he/she will suffer guilt and shame and deep emotional torment that may completely destroy the chance of any kind of success. This would be an example of self-sabotage. I could come up with a million examples as you could as well I'm sure.

What's The Big Deal?

My example probably seems pretty innocuous. I mean, a person can easily graduate from college on all C's. In reality it's true, no big deal; C's instead of A's big whoop. I suppose if a person were to truly accept the shift in perceived importance, and adjusted the dream accordingly with a new understanding of what they want in life there would be no real problem. If it was a case of over-estimation of the person's capabilities.

But that is not what I'm describing. I'm describing someone that could have achieved the goal with diligence, but let it go in favor of something less than what was desired. Then the person somehow lies to him/herself about how important the goal was, and continues on in life forming dreams and letting them go because it is impossible for that person to follow through to real success.

I wonder how many people get to the end of their lives saying, "I did okay, I didn't achieve what I really wanted, but I had a good life." (unstable grin)

The extreme is all around us in the news media. Suicide, self-mutilation, murder, drug addictions, destructive relationships, poverty, homelessness, etc., etc., etc. All these things are extreme results of self-sabotage.

Self-Sabotage is Actually a Symptom.

It's a symptom of something deeper in the psyche. We've all been raised by imperfect human beings in an imperfect way. Most of us were undermined by our parents in some way, or at least they failed to really comprehend what we individually needed to arrive at adulthood fully matured and emotionally healthy.

On top of this, we are fed lines of propaganda which lead us to believe that we can do anything we set our minds to, which is simply not true. We are not all capable of getting straight A's in college, but we're told that we should be. And the mass media machine inundates us with all kinds of false definitions of success, such as nice cars, expensive houses, designer clothing and accessories, perfectly proportioned bodies within the ideal weight range, beautiful spouses, and money to do whatever we want. None of which is any indication of success whatsoever.

I could name numerous celebrities that are idolized around the world that engage in self-sabotage. In fact, we the public love to see a train wreck like Lindsey Lohan. She hasn't done anything good in a very long time, not since she was a child in fact, but she is still one of the most famous people on the planet because of her train wrecking life. I think we like to see this because it helps us feel better about ourselves.

Have You Sabotaged Yourself?

Have you ever done something so insane that you wondered why you did it?

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So What Can Be Done?

First step is to recognize the self-sabotaging behavior. When we're feeling bad about something we've done and wish we had done it differently we have to assess the situation. Is it a pattern we've established, have we seen it before? A big red flag is that we knew that what we were doing would work against our desires but we did it anyway. This is most obviously self-sabotage, but it's not always that easy.

Once the behavior is decidedly self-sabotage then we must look at why we did what we did. What was it that we thought we wanted from acting so? What were we feeling before the failure? I highly recommend an educated counselor or therapist to help with this part of the process, because all of us are experts at lying to ourselves and a good social worker can help us see the truth, if we are willing.

I think that is the most important element of the process, the willingness to see what is truly happening within us and accept what we don't want to know about ourselves. We must admit our failures and faults and accept them to move on. If we refuse to see and accept, then we live in denial and will continue to derail our progress toward happiness and self-satisfaction; which is the only gauge for success. Happiness and self-satisfaction.


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    • Goodpal profile image

      Goodpal 4 years ago

      We do need people, particularly well wishers, to share our feelings and have the opportunity to get sincere feedback. Doctors do the same thing but that costs money.

      However, when it comes to emotional/psychological issues I would personally be more vigilant and mindful about what is happening inside. As a practitioner of mindfulness meditation for several years, I have found the path of self discovery more reliable. It also gives a better sense of control; that itself is rewarding.

      Needless to say, people are different and have their own preferences and make choices that best suit them. Regardless of the tool, what ultimately counts is whether the sense of self worth and satisfaction is increasing.

      Thanks for responding, CMH.

    • C. M. Hoisington profile image

      C. M. Hoisington 4 years ago

      Thank you so much for a very thoughtful comment, Goodpal.

      Mindfulness is essential. But to really get in under the crap we need people, because other people help us see what we cannot see alone. All doctors are not out to take money. Most of them are really serious about helping people, but it does take some shopping around to find the right one. Especially with regard to psychological issues which is what we're talking about after all.

      Thanks again Goodpal, for a great comment.

    • Goodpal profile image

      Goodpal 4 years ago

      If people stop pushing themselves to "achieve" things and try to learn the art of becoming who they actually are, they will have a much rewarding life surrounded by loving relations and truly honest and caring people. However, what society promotes today is just the opposite: put on false persona; impress people, as many possible; gather as much money and technological gadgets as possible; and keep doing it till you are out of energy and reached near the end of life. By chance, if it becomes too stressful and you begin to lose competition there is plenty of room for self-sabotage; picking up a suitable addiction is a good way to ruin yourself. If you happen to see a doctor, he will be only too pleased to coin some brand-new label for your symptoms.

      You rightly pointed the correct remedy "... the most important element of the process, the willingness to see what is truly happening within us." It means leading a mindful life - mindful of what we are doing, how we are doing, and why we are doing. Such a thinking puts everything in the right perspective - job, money, people, and relations.

      Thanks for a good hub.