Self-Sabotage – The Vicious Cycle And Ways To Overcome It

Self-sabotage damages your self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as your interpersonal relationships. Every time you fail to achieve your goal, you “prove” to yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t.

Have you ever worked hard toward a significant goal only to fail tragically because you made a mistake?

Perhaps you’re concerned and anxious when you’re attempting to accomplish something significant. As a result, you may become increasingly disappointed, disheartened, and furious with yourself. These emotions entrap you and prevent you from accomplishing your goals.

All of these are indicators of self-sabotage.

Self-sabotage damages your self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as your interpersonal relationships. Every time you fail to achieve your goal, you “prove” to yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t.

The self-sabotage cycle

When behavior causes issues in daily life and interferes with long-term goals, it is said to be self-sabotaging.

Procrastination, self-medication with drugs or alcohol, comfort eating, and self-injury such as cutting are among the most common self-sabotaging activities.

People aren’t always conscious that they’re sabotaging themselves, and just because a behavior has self-defeating effects doesn’t mean they’ll stop doing it.

Some self-sabotaging people spend a significant portion of their life battling overwhelming cravings for food, drink, gambling, or other vices that have a negative impact on their health or relationships. Self-sabotage can also be caused by more subtle influences, such as an accumulation of dysfunctional and erroneous ideas that cause people to underestimate their skills, hide their emotions, or lash out at others around them.

Types of self-sabotage

Procrastination, perfectionism, self-criticism, resistance to change, and poor self-care are all examples of self-sabotage. In the end, it’s a fairly common human behavior—with variations, of course. It is possible to overcome the behaviors that are keeping you from accomplishing your life goals, no matter what form your self-sabotage takes.

The following are five different types of self-sabotage:

1. Procrastination

Procrastination is the act of putting off a task rather than starting it right away. Delaying action and indulging in distractions might help people avoid stress, anxiety, or other emotionally distressing situations, even if they do eventually contribute to growth. Stopping self-sabotage can be as simple as learning how to fight procrastination.

2. Perfectionism

Perfectionism is an insatiable desire for everything to be flawless, and it can be self-defeating. Because it sets an impossibly high standard, perfectionism stops people from progressing in their careers or enjoying happy, long-term relationships. At work or school, perfectionism can prohibit people from taking essential risks or even finishing projects. There are, thankfully, solutions to overcome perfectionism.

3. Self-criticism

Negative self-talk and severe self-criticism can have a negative impact on our actions and impede us from achieving our objectives. It’s often automatic, rushing through our heads uncontrolled as a reaction to ourselves, people, and the situations we face on a daily basis. Self-sabotage occurs when we listen to harsh self-criticism because it hinders us from feeling that we have what it takes to attain our goals.

4. Resisting change

Uncertainty intolerance is a symptom of anxiety, and resisting change can keep people stuck in their old habits. It entails sticking to previous habits, making excuses (such as being too busy), setting objectives without taking the necessary actions to achieve them, or not setting goals at all. People who are resistant to change are less likely to take healthy risks or attempt new things that could lead to progress.

5. Poor self-care

Self-sabotage might keep you from thriving if you don’t take adequate care of yourself. Poor eating habits, a lack of sleep, a lack of exercise, or avoiding visits to a doctor or therapist for medical or mental health issues are examples of this. Self-medicating with drink or drugs, comfort eating, gambling, or reckless sex are all examples of dangerous habits.


What causes it?

Self-sabotage, according to Joseph, occurs when you do activities that were adaptive in one context but are no longer necessary in another. Nonetheless, almost any form of self-sabotage can be overcome. People can use behavioral therapy to break old thought and behavior patterns while also enhancing thoughtfulness and self-control. Another alternative is motivational therapy.

In other words, these actions assisted you in adapting to and surviving problems in a past environment, such as a painful upbringing or a poisonous relationship. They could have comforted or defended you. However, when your situation changes, these coping mechanisms may become problematic.

Here’s a look at some of the big contributing factors in more detail.

1. Patterns learned in childhood

According to Joseph, the patterns established in our early relationships often repeat themselves in later partnerships. “These patterns have a strong hold on us.” “They mean a lot to us, and it’s hard to let them go,” Joseph says.

Let’s pretend you had a parent that only paid attention to you when they were upset.

“You realize it’s not a good thing to make people angry,” Joseph explains, “but there’s something really fascinating about it because of this background.” The only way to grab people’s attention was to make them upset, so you’re locked in this pattern where it’s tempting, even pleasant, to make people furious with you.”

This could manifest itself, for example, at work, when you consistently fail to arrive on time.

2. Past relationship dynamics

You may find it difficult to communicate successfully in your present relationships if you haven’t felt supported or heard when asking for what you need in previous relationships, romantic or otherwise.

You may not have been able to stand out for yourself if you had an abusive partner or one who simply didn’t care about your views and feelings. To protect yourself from anger, rejection, and other terrible experiences, you remained silent. As a result, you never learned to speak up for yourself.

3. Fear of failure

When you don’t want to fail at your ideal job, in your relationship, or even as a good parent, you may unknowingly sabotage your own efforts to achieve.

You will avoid attempting if you do not want to fail. Isn’t it true that if you don’t attempt, you can’t fail? As a result, your subconscious mind may come up with reasons for you to harm yourself.

Consider the case below: You’re in a brand-new relationship that’s going swimmingly. You assume it’ll only be a matter of time before something drastic occurs to put an end to it. “This is too good,” you think to yourself. “This isn’t going to last long.”

You don’t want to confront the truth, so you begin to isolate yourself from your lover, emotionally closing yourself off.

4. A need for control

Your desire to maintain control over a situation might lead to self-destructive behavior. When you’re in authority, you may feel safe, strong, and ready to face anything that comes your way.

Some acts of self-sabotage provide this illusion of control. While what you’re doing isn’t beneficial for your mental health or your relationships, it does assist you in maintaining control when you’re feeling vulnerable.

Consider the case of procrastination. Maybe you’re putting off writing that research paper because you’re afraid you won’t be able to write it as well as you’d like. You know that writing it at the last minute won’t improve the quality, but it will give you influence over the outcome because you choose to do it.

This can also occur in romantic relationships. It can be frightening to open out emotionally to someone. You maintain what appears to be the upper hand by keeping things inside. However, you aren’t getting the benefits of creating intimacy by discussing vulnerabilities at the end of the day.

 5 possible causes we self-sabotage

Why do we engage in these damaging activities on a regular basis?

These are some of the causes that have been discovered through research:

1. Approach–avoidance conflict

According to Dr. Judy Ho, author of Stop Self-Sabotage (2019), self-sabotage is a biological response that was once necessary for life. She uses Kurt Lewin’s approach-avoidance conflict–to explain goals that have both positive and negative features, resulting in competing forces.

The approach dynamic, which releases dopamine, is triggered by setting goals. The avoidance loop begins when a threat, such as physical or psychological threats, or perceived risks, such as change, is avoided. Self-sabotage happens when the urge to reduce threats overcomes the desire to achieve goals.

2. Modeling

Childhood models and patterns, such as a parent who lacked confidence in their ability to succeed, can lead to self-destructive habits. When a parent repeatedly advises a youngster to be careful on the playground, the child may absorb the world as dangerous and avoid exploration.

3. Rejection or neglect

Low self-esteem and other negative self-image difficulties can result from being rejected or ignored by a parent. To prevent additional vulnerability and rejection, we may feel compelled to damage intimate connections.

4. Adaptive to maladaptive behaviors

We establish behaviors that are initially considered adaptive for surviving obstacles; nevertheless, these behaviors might become maladaptive if they remain long after the difficulty has passed.

5. Trauma

A child who has been mistreated by anyone, even a trusted adult, may regard the world as dangerous and believe that they are unworthy of good things, leading to self-sabotage.

Understanding yourself for defeating self-sabotage

You can overcome self-sabotaging and replace it with self-confidence.

Follow these steps to defeat your inner saboteur:

1. Recognize your self-sabotaging behaviors

To stop self-sabotage, you must first acknowledge your own self-destructive tendencies.

Consider the ambitions you’ve had for a long time yet have yet to achieve. Do you have any areas where you’re delaying making a decision? Do you find it difficult to stay motivated, especially for crucial tasks?

Consider an area where you consistently fail for no apparent reason. Is there something you do or don’t do that constantly irritates others (particularly your boss)? Is there a certain activity or task that nags you and makes you unhappy because you know you could perform it better?

Asking yourself these kinds of questions can be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary.

2. Understand the emotions that lead to the behavior

Anxiety, rage, and feelings of worthlessness are common causes of self-sabotage.

For example, you may have purposefully left a report incomplete because your supervisor blanked you in the corridor, angering and upsetting you. The occurrence elicited an emotional response, which resulted in a self-defeating action.

In fact, your manager may have been preoccupied with something else and would be surprised and disappointed to learn that they had upset you. However, your emotional reaction is unaffected by this.

Always strive to control your emotions so that you don’t engage in acts that are harmful to others or have unjust outcomes. Before you make a decision, look for indicators of wrath and anxiousness.

3. Spot the thinking or beliefs that cause the emotion

Irrational ideas are likely to blame for the emotion that leads to your poor behavior. Consider the evidence for those beliefs: in the case above, your supervisor wasn’t dismissive because they didn’t like you; they just had a lot on their minds.

When you participate in self-sabotaging conduct, pay attention to what you say to yourself. Make a list of all your negative self-talk, no matter how ridiculous or impractical it may appear.

When you’re engaged in the behavior, this is the best time to do it. Keep a close eye on your “stream of mind” and jot it down. “I’m such a failure, my employer has surely reached the end of their patience with me!” you could think in our case.

If writing down your observations at the moment isn’t possible, read our memory enhancement article for particular memory techniques, such as image clues, that can help you recreate the event in your mind afterward and recall what you were thinking.

When you’ve identified your negative self-talk, consider what fundamental beliefs are at the root of this self-defeating behavior. Are these convictions logical? Are they based on any solid evidence?

4. Change your behaviors, emotions, and thoughts

You can begin to address negative feelings, behaviors, and beliefs that trigger self-sabotage as you become more aware of them. And if you can alter one of these three factors, the other two will follow suit.

Use logical, positive affirmations to combat negative thinking. Change your mindset and obtain some much-needed perspective.

Then, connect your new positive self-talk to what you can and want to do. You can generate the mental, emotional, and physical states required to do everything you set your mind to when your skills, beliefs, and habits are in sync.

But be warned that simply changing your behavior is unlikely to beat your self-sabotage habit in the long term, if you don’t also change the emotions and thoughts that lie behind it. But it can help if you notice, learn from, and give yourself credit for more positive outcomes, as this helps to break the cycle of negativity.

5. Develop self-supporting behaviors

You can begin to recover your self-esteem once you’ve identified and begun to combat the false rationale for your self-destructive activities. Think about the following issues:

What uplifting or encouraging things may you say to yourself?

What are your options? Is there more than one approach to accomplish your objective?

Can you boost your self-esteem by setting and achieving minor goals on your path to bigger ones?

Then, using your answers, create a message that motivates you to take positive action.

“Even if I don’t finish this assignment in time, I know I have the resources and talents I need to go through it,” for example. I know what I’m going to do when I start working on the project.

8 tips for stopping oneself from self-sabotaging

It is possible to replace self-sabotage with self-advancement because self-sabotage is not an intrinsic part of your character, nor does it define who you are or erase your skills and talents. Start small and progressively add more self-improvement techniques until your inner critic no longer stands in the way of your achievement and happiness.

Here are eight suggestions for avoiding self-sabotage:

1. Boost your self-awareness

Spend time in self-reflection to become more conscious of your own self-destructive tendencies. Try keeping a daily notebook to track your actions and thoughts to see if you can figure out where they’re coming from. Check in with yourself multiple times throughout the day. You can become more intentional about where you need to make improvements as you gain knowledge into yourself.

2. Look before you leap

This old adage rings true for today’s self-saboteurs. Ask yourself whether your negative behaviors, thoughts, and feelings are helping or hurting you as you observe them. Fear often causes us to feel compelled to do something (or avoid doing something), so taking a moment to consider whether something will hold you back or propel you forward might help you avoid self-sabotage.

3. Set me aningful goals & pair them with an action plan


Goals that are meaningful to you can help you live a more intentional life. Combine relevant goals with specific activities for even more impact. When making goals, keep your core values in mind. What would you like to have more of in your life? What gives a person a sense of purpose and meaning? What makes you feel alive and energized? Then figure out what tiny measures you can do to get closer to your objective.

4. Make small changes

Positive behavior certainly outweighs self-defeating action, but keep in mind that changing habits in little increments is the most effective way to do so. Consider how you can make little changes. Every day, replace one idea or behavior and give yourself time to make the new behavior a habit.

5. Befriend yourself

Because the inner critic is a major cause of self-sabotage, replacing habitual, critical thoughts with more loving ones is a necessary first step in preventing self-sabotage. Acknowledge your feelings and accept past mistakes as part of the human experience to develop a gentle, accepting attitude toward yourself.

6. Know & embrace your strengths

Everyone possesses character strengths that, once found, acknowledged, and embraced, can help them prosper. Consider your strengths, not simply the things you do well, but also the attitudes you hold dear and the good emotions you feel. When do you feel the most at ease? Knowing your strengths and finding methods to utilize them on a daily basis can aid in the development of self-love.

7. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a state of being fully aware and grounded in the present moment. It assists you in distinguishing between the past and the present, as well as thoughts and realities. As a result, you’ll be better able to decide how to respond to a difficult scenario or individual.

8. Work with a mental health therapist

A therapist can help you gain a better understanding of yourself by gently guiding you. They also offer advice on how to deal with self-defeating ideas and how to improve your emotional self-care. Find a therapist with whom you feel at ease and begin the process of changing your life.

Types of therapy for self-sabotage are:

  • Behavior and motivational therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Mindfulness-based therapies
  • Strengths-based therapies
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

Regardless of your own wants, dreams, or principles, self-sabotage hinders your success.

It is frequently caused by low self-esteem, negative self-talk, and unpleasant emotions, all of which are reinforced by failure.

Self-sabotage can be avoided by keeping track of your actions, feelings, ideas, and beliefs about yourself and confronting them when they get in the way of your goals. You may adopt positive, self-supporting behaviors to keep you on track after you understand what causes self-sabotage.

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