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What Is Self Sabotage

Updated on May 12, 2012

Have you ever felt you weren't living up to your full potential? Maybe you have a dream, but it feels like there are too many obstacles between you and the big prize. Do you look around at other people and wonder how they can achieve success so easily, when your journey has been filled with strife and struggles.

Self sabotage is hard to define because it can take so many forms. In essence it is any behavior, action, or thought-pattern that prevents you from getting what you want or being the person you want to be. I think self sabotage is mostly unconscious, but that doesn't mean we have no way to change these harmful behaviors.

Some Examples Of Self Sabotage

I have a friend who seems to sabotage every romantic relationship before it begins. I've known her for over ten years, so I've seen first hand how this long string of failed relationships has wrecked her life. She has an uncanny ability for picking out men who are dishonest and untrustworthy. I've tried introducing her to more suitable partners but she never seems interested. Honestly, I gave up giving her advice because she never listens. It's frustrating for me to watch her get hurt repeatedly. She says she wants to change, and I have to believe her. I don't think anyone wants to be abused, mistreated and taken advantage of.

I have a family member who constantly struggles with their finances. He complains about not being able to afford necessities, and has resorted to borrowing money just to keep a roof over his head. It's hard not to have sympathy towards anyone going without the basics when funds are low. On the other hand he changes jobs frequently. A few times he's been let go, but often he just up and quits. When he a bit of money saved he can't seem to resist temptation. He treats himself to expensive video games and new gadgets, but neglects to save for monthly expenses. If his terrible financial planning causes him so much trouble, why does he keep doing the same things over and over?

Just so you don't think I'm picking on everyone else I'll include my personal form of self sabotage. I don't take care of myself health wise. It's something I'm working on, and making some progress, but it's been a life long struggle. I've always been overweight, since childhood, besides a few short lived episodes of being thin. Thinking about my own problem is what got me interested in writing this article in the first place. If being healthy and fit is something I want (trust me I really do!), then why have I failed again and again?

The Most Typical Types of Self Sabotage affect

  • Relationships
  • Career
  • Finances
  • Health

Self sabotage can affect other areas of your life too. Any situation that leaves you scratching your head wondering "Why me?" could be an example. My friend who feels she is just "unlucky in love" never questions her own decision making when picking a new suitor. If it seems you always have the worst luck in one area of your life it might be you're secretly self sabotaging.

I've spent my own fair amount of time blaming a slew of diets for my inability to lose weight. In my mind, it seemed like all the weight loss tricks and tips had failed me. In the end I've had to face the fact that the common factor in all these weight reduction attempts was ME. I was the only one failing myself. It's tough looking in the mirror and facing your own worst enemy. If you have a laundry list of people and things that cause you trouble in one area of your life, chances are you are self sabotaging.

The sky is the limit once you stop self sabotaging
The sky is the limit once you stop self sabotaging

Why Is Self Sabotage So Hard To Recognize?

Life is busy. If you have a family and job, that leaves little time for introspection at the end of the day. So many of the little decisions we make either work for us or against us, and they are just knee-jerk responses. We don't pay them much attention, but it's too our own peril. If you have been self sabotaging for years it's harder to recognize, because it's all you've ever known. Sometimes we pick up bad habits and faulty thinking patterns in early childhood that carry over into adulthood. Even if they do us no good, they seem safe and familiar.

If you are like me it's much easier to recognize this self defeating behavior in others. You watch a friend or family member make the same mistake over and over, and no amount of advice seems to help. It's frustrating and painful to watch them suffer by their own actions. If you can recognize self sabotage in another, why can't you see the same in yourself?

It might help to take the perspective of a third party. They can't read your thoughts or hear the excuses you tell yourself, but they can see your actions and the havoc they cause. What would this imaginary and impartial third party have to say about your career or your love life? If you're like me this is when you want to chime in "But hey, this imaginary person doesn't have all the facts!" Maybe so, but often those "facts" are just excuses we use to take the easy way out.

Why do we Self Sabotage?

The next step is determining why you sabotage your dreams and ambitions. This is a very personal thing that usually requires a lot of soul searching and honesty. Many times the root cause is hard to pinpoint, and it's possible multiple issues drive your self sabotaging behaviors. Here are a few examples that might be to blame.

Feeling unworthy or having low self-esteem

If you don't feel you are good enough to achieve your dreams, you may unconsciously make poor choices.If you feel unworthy of love and affection you might seek out partners who will reinforce your belief.

Failure has become familiar

Maybe you've been beat down so long you can't imagine life going any other way. If you've spent a long time around dysfunctional people or situations they begin to seem like the norm. Change seems scary and hard. It's easier to stick by what's familiar.


Have you ever met someone that says they hate drama, but they seem surrounded by it. Things are going good and they pick a fight for no reason. Maybe they've settled into a good job, but quit suddenly, only to regret the decision later. Sometimes they've grown up around, or become accustomed to a chaotic lifestyle. They secretly sabotage a possible peaceful existence by creating problem where there are none.

Fear of failure

Maybe you are afraid of trying your hardest to succeed and falling short. If that happened there would be no one to point the finger at but yourself. In a twisted train of thought it seems safer to not try at all.

How to Stop Self Sabotaging

Congratulations. If you've come this far and recognize a pattern of self sabotaging behavior in your life, you've made the first step. Recognizing the deep-seated reason behind this maladaptive behavior is another huge hurdle that deserves a pat on the back. Believe it or not some people spend their whole lives blaming their short comings on fate or luck.

Unfortunately there is no quick fix. I can't provide you with X easy steps to stop self sabotaging! Just recognizing the behavior and thinking about why you behave that way puts you on the right path. I personally believe people sabotage themselves without realizing it most of the time. Those knee-jerk responses are long held habits, and old habits are hard to break. They stem from faulty logic in our subconscious. It's not something you can change over night.

If you are ready to make a positive change, I say there's no time to start like the present, so pull out a piece of paper and write a few things down.

  1. What is your goal? Be as specific as possible. If you don't know what you want, how will you know if you are moving toward it? If you have more than one that's great. List them all on a separate page.
  2. What steps can you take to reach your goal? A dream without a plan is just a fantasy. It's wishful thinking, which is fine in it's own right, but not helpful here.Think of at least a few things you can do in the next day or week that will propel you towards your goal. They don't have to be huge. Small incremental changes lead to big changes over time. Leave some space for more ideas that may come later.
  3. What obstacles will prevent you from achieving your dream? Take a few moments and list all you can think of. There's no right or wrong answer, just jot down the first things that pop in your head.

Now go back to step 2. Pick one thing from that list you can do in the next day and circle it. It can be as easy or as hard as you like, but I would suggest an easy task since you are just starting out. Make it something you can 100% commit to doing in the next day. Now comes the hard part, following through. Remember those core reasons for self sabotage; the ones buried deep in our subconscious? They will start bubbling up, telling you this is never going to work, or it's a waste of time. You may be thinking them already. If you really want to stop sabotaging yourself you have to stand up to those nagging doubts and insecurities. It's hard, really hard, in the beginning. The good news is it gets easier with time. Success breeds success. Each small victory brings you one step closer to achieving your dreams.

Now what about that list from step 3? We're going to go back over it, really mulling over each obstacle. Are any of them things within your control? If you listed anything like you don't have the willpower, strength, or determination to follow through go ahead and put a line through those right now. You absolutely do have those qualities inside of you already! Maybe it's been a while since they surfaced, but believe me they are there. If you listed anything about not having the time, I think most people can mark through this one too. If your goal is important enough you'll find the time. Achieving something great is going to require some dedication on your part, and it might cut into some leisure activities.

There might be some items from step 3 you really can't cross off. These are obstacles out of your control. Chances are there aren't many, if any, remaining obstacles that stand in the way of your dream. Your challenge now is to find a way up, under, or around them. If haven't got that part figured out yet, don't sweat it. Focus on the the things you have control over.

The hardest part to achieving any dream or goal is persistence. You might have a lot of motivation in the beginning, but find it wanes over time. It's the prime reason new year's resolutions fall through, sometimes before February. I like to hang reminders in places I will see them everyday. Keep that list of small steps, and check them off one at a time. Make a commitment to do at least 1 thing, no matter how small, each day that moves you forward.

You are worth the hard work and persistence it requires to change your self sabotaging ways.


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