Self-Sabotage: Signs You're Doing It And How To Stop For Good

Pooja Maheshwary , 11 Mar 2021
Woman Feeling Distressed By fizkes | www.shutterstock.com
Woman Feeling Distressed By fizkes | www.shutterstock.com

When our behaviour negatively affects our daily life and interferes with our goals, it is said to be self-sabotaging. For instance, procrastination, comfort eating, and forms of self-injury are the most common behaviours associated with self-sabotage. We may not always realise we are self-sabotaging, but by correctly identifying the signs, we can work towards overcoming them for good.

To understand self-sabotaging behaviours, we reached out to Dishaa Desai, Psychologist & Outreach Associate at MpowerMinds and asked her to share her expert inputs on why we self-sabotage, signs to watch out for, ways to overcome it, and when to reach out for professional help. Scroll down to read all that she shared!

What is self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage is actively or passively behaving in a way that prevents one from reaching goals, interferes in one’s functioning and impacts relationships negatively. It can become a frustrating, repetitive cycle that differs in every individual’s life depending on their context. 

Why do we self-sabotage?

The causes of self-sabotage vary greatly and are context-specific. Generally, self-sabotage could occur due to a deep-seated fear of failure. The possibility of an unexpected outcome such as not doing well or any perceived failure might create distress that leads to feelings of helplessness and avoidance. Wanting to avoid failure at any cost inevitably leads to the avoidance of even trying.

It presents as a way to prevent the feeling of helplessness and distress and may cause one to act in a way that is counter-intuitive to one’s progress. It could also stem from a reduced sense of self-belief—for example, consistently telling yourself that you are not good enough, might lead you to act in a way that fulfils that outcome as well. 

Relational self-sabotage could also stem from past experiences a person may have had in different relationships—this is highly specific to each person’s context. Family conflict, difficult or abusive parental relationships, childhood trauma—all have an impact on self-sabotaging behaviours. Broken trust in the formative relationships may have led individuals to believe this will happen in future relationships too, thus leading to self-sabotaging behaviours. 

Signs of self-sabotaging behaviour

This manifests very differently and widely. However, if you find yourself behaving intentionally in a way that interferes with your functioning and progress in the short term and long term, it is possible that it is self-sabotage. 

This could be in different realms of life (relational, professional and personal) and could take different forms. This could be through consistent avoidance of what needs to be done, excessive focus on self-defeating thoughts and procrastination, to cite a few examples. 

How can one overcome it?

  • Be aware and identify specific behaviours that you feel are self-sabotaging.
  • Understand the deeper roots where these behaviours stem from, in a safe space with a professional therapist. 
  • Engage in making small and meaningful changes in thoughts and behaviour at a comfortable pace (for you). 

When to seek help?

It is not easy to confront the possibility of self-sabotage and it can often be painful to realise this. The journey from awareness to meaningful change can seem long and daunting. Seeking therapy will certainly help in the process of awareness, understanding and growth. The point at which you feel you need the space to safely engage in this exploration is the point at which to seek help. 

Have you ever experienced self-sabotaging thoughts or behaviours? How did you overcome it? Please share it with us in the comments below!

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