What is it? | Why do I do it? | How to spot it | How to rise above it | When to get help

What is self-sabotage? Self-sabotaging meaning.

Self-sabotage is when we actively or passively take steps to prevent ourselves from reaching our goals. This behaviour can affect nearly every aspect of our lives, be it a relationship, a career goal, or a personal goal such as weight loss. Although very common, it is an incredibly frustrating cycle of behaviour that lowers our self-confidence and leaves us feeling stuck. There are many reasons why someone may choose self-sabotaging behavior, but many stem from a lack of belief in oneself.

Psychology Today provides good insight into why and how we self-sabotage. Substance abuse, turning to food, or procrastination can all be ways in which we self-sabotage. We may also self-sabotage by not committing to relationships or being a poor friend even when connection is what we truly want.

This blog post will help us to identify the reasons why we make decisions that prevent us from reaching our goals and will identify how we can rise above it and meet our potential so we can stop self-sabotaging behaviour.


Why do I self-sabotage?

We lack self-worth – when we do not believe in ourselves we cannot achieve our goals. Included in self-confidence is our self-worth. If we constantly tell ourselves that we are not smart enough, qualified enough, or good enough to have what we want, we will act accordingly to what we are telling ourselves. The way we speak to ourselves matters and directly affects how we present ourselves to the world. When we don’t have confidence, we will do things to stop ourselves from achieving our fullest potential.

We fear success – When we have worked so hard for something our success can sometimes become a stressor. This often happens when we have a lack self-confidence. We may worry that we truly aren’t qualified or prepared and that we will be exposed as a fraud. Our fear of success leads us to engage in behaviour that limits our success. When we are getting close to achieving a goal we may start doing things take to stop us from achieving the goal. A business coach can help if you fear success in your career.

We want to place fault elsewhere – When we believe that we aren’t going to do well or will fail no matter what, we begin behaving in a way that ensures we will fail. When we think things like “I won’t get the contract anyways” we displace our responsibility in achieving our goals.

When we do fail, because we already told ourselves we would, the blame can be transferred to someone else. We can justify procrastination or not preparing as we’ve already accepted that we won’t succeed.

We want to control – We feel better when we feel like we are in control. By accepting a negative outcome ahead of time, we feel like we are in control even though it is not what we want to happen. We in effect control our failure when we apply this self-sabotaging behavior and thought patterns.

We fear failure – we fear that we will give all we have to a goal and still not be enough. It is easier to give yourself reasons as to why you failed than to truly give it your all and still not succeed. This is the most overwhelming reason why we self-sabotage.


How do I know if I am self-sabotaging?

You should consider asking yourself these questions when you are failing over and over or are feeling stuck.

  • Am I prioritizing instant gratification?
  • Am I avoiding what needs to be done?
  • Am I not prioritizing self-care?
  • Am I always procrastinating?
  • Am I focusing on self-defeating thoughts?
  • Do I talk myself out of trying new things or new ways of doing things?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you could be allowing yourself to engage in self-sabotaging behaviour. You need to be honest with yourself and ask yourself if you feel you deserve better and determine what you are afraid of. Once you do this you may then be able to rise above self-sabotage.

How can we rise above and how to stop self-sabotaging?

Once we identify why we are exhibiting self-sabotaging behaviour we can then begin taking steps to overcome self-sabotage and rise above this destructive behaviour. Make a list of all the things that are preventing you from having what you want. Take time to evaluate why you want this and get real with your goals. Look at what is truly holding you back. Identify the small things, like complaining, that hold you back along with the big ones such as procrastinating for months or even years.

If you are afraid of failure, consider listing all the ways you have succeeded in the past. Take a look at all the wonderful things you have already achieved. Try to remember what you overcame to get there and work on boosting your confidence. Try to remember that failure is ok too, and it will happen! We’re not meant to be perfect, and we won’t always get what we want. Failure is simply data that can help us improve our next round.

Accepting this shouldn’t limit our belief in ourselves but should instead guide us to understand that we can keep working on ourselves and open up to new opportunities.

If you don’t feel worthy it may be time to focus on self-care. Stop focusing on what you think you do wrong and work on recognizing what you do right. Focus on giving yourself time to relax, eat well and get proper sleep. You need to feel good about yourself first to then move past your fears. Make yourself a priority. You deserve it. And most likely need it after the heaviness that comes with self-sabotaging behaviors. Prioritizing yourself will help you to boost your self-confidence and allow you to be better equipped to face your fear and move beyond self-sabotage.

When to get help?

Consider speaking with a therapist or a life coach if you are having difficulty working through your fear and self-sabotaging behavior. Sometimes we need to talk about what’s going on to understand why we are engaging in self-sabotaging.

As human beings, we often have blind spots, and working with someone who can help you uncover them can save you time and effort. Other times we may just need help to move beyond the negative patterns and develop a plan to move forward. Make yourself a priory and get help if you feel you need it.

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