You know when you do something that will definitely bite you in the butt later on?
Like, binge-watching 3 hours of Netflix the night before you have to wake up early for a work meeting.
Or spending hours and hours making something unnecessarily perfect, which causes you to hand in assignments and projects late.
We all know these behaviours are bad for us. They cause more harm than good, but for some reason, we can’t seem to get rid of them.
In these situations, we are engaging in self-sabotage, whether we realize it or not.
So let’s talk about it in this blog post: what is self-sabotage and what do these behaviours look like? How can we overcome them?
What Is Self-Sabotage?
Self-sabotage is when we engage in behaviours that create problems in our lives, and interfere with our relationships, goals, and overall well-being.
Self-sabotaging behaviours can be conscious and unconscious. Sometimes we know what we’re doing is harmful but other times, we may be unaware of the negative consequences of our behaviours.
Some common examples include:
Giving up too easily when things get hard
Picking fights with loved ones
Talking down to ourselves
All these behaviours prevent us from achieving our goals and can undermine our well-being.
And I’m not just talking about goals related to professional and academic achievements, like getting a job or good grades. Our goals can also relate to things like being in a healthy romantic relationship, fulfilling friendships or even optimal mental health.
Examples of Self-Sabotaging Behaviours
Ah, good ol’ procrastination. We’ve all been there: we have something due, we know we should be doing it. But for some reason we keep putting it off, again and again...
And then we’re scrambling last minute to get it done. This situation is a cause for major anxiety, stress and a whole cycle of guilt and self-blame.
So why the heck do we keep doing it? You’d think we learn from every previous situation of procrastination, but for some reason, it keeps happening.
Procrastination occurs because we are trying to avoid the task itself or the feelings that come with it. Procrastination gives us temporary relief of our discomfort. But at what cost?
For example, you may procrastinate calling your doctor to book an appointment because talking on the phone gives you anxiety.
Or, you may procrastinate on that project for work because you’re afraid you won’t do a good job. You know you’re capable of producing high-quality work, but you still put it off.
Other times, we procrastinate as a defence mechanism to avoid attributing failure to our own abilities.
For example, you may put off studying for an exam. You know that if you fail, it’s not because you aren’t smart but because you didn’t have enough time to study.
It’s easier to blame external factors for our failures rather than our own abilities.
Self-Sabotaging in Relationships
Even if a person is in a healthy, loving relationship, they may have a tendency to resort to maladaptive behaviours that end up harming it.
Like procrastination, consciously or unconsciously sabotaging our relationships (both romantic and platonic) can be an avoidance tactic.
Perhaps you’ve entered a new romantic relationship but you feel the need to pull away when things get serious.
Why does this happen?
It may be because you’re afraid to get hurt. The closer you get to that person, the greater the chance that they may hurt you. Maybe you’ve been hurt before and in order to avoid it happening again, you pull away from this new relationship.
Other ways of sabotaging a relationship can include the opposite – instead of pulling away, you do everything you can to make sure the other person doesn’t leave.
This can manifest itself as what we colloquially call being “too clingy” or in psychology, exhibiting an anxious attachment style.
Because of your conscious or subconscious fear of abandonment, you may worry that your partner or friend may leave you. You become overly dependent on them, and you’re sensitive to any small indication that they may be upset with you.
Sabotaging Our Health & Well-Being
Have you ever told yourself that you need to “deserve” a break in order to actually take one? You feel exhausted and completely burnt out, but you don’t really feel like you accomplished much. So, you push yourself to keep working without any breaks.
Another example of sabotaging your health is when you promise yourself you’re going to go to bed early….and then you end up staying up until 3am scrolling through TikTok (not based on a true story or anything, I swear).
Or maybe you’re the kind of person who doesn’t take breaks or time to enjoy themselves on a regular basis but will end up on 4-hour Netflix binge starting at 10pm…only for you to have work at 9am the next morning.
Other self-sabotaging habits that affect our health include unhealthy eating & drinking habits (yes, not drinking water for days counts as unhealthy), not exercising regularly and spending too much time on our phones.
Self-sabotage can affect our mental health, as well. One example that we’ve discussed before on this blog is the concept of the inner critic.
This inner voice can be our own worst enemy, as it consistently and systematically undermines our self-worth and confidence, making us unable to achieve our full potential. Lower self-esteem and undermined confidence can lead to greater levels of anxiety and depression.
Creating a healthy balance between working hard and taking care of ourselves is difficult. However, we all need to recharge on a regular basis and allow ourselves to take a break.
Why Do We Self-Sabotage?
Perhaps you’ve noticed a common theme in the examples of self-sabotage above. No? Ok, well I’ve give you a second to think about. Don’t worry take your time *Jeopardy music plays*
Did you figure it out? Ok, I’ll just tell you then.
Many self-sabotaging behaviours act as a defence mechanism against unpleasant emotions, such as a fear of failure or abandonment. These behaviours are rooted in a lack of self-esteem and self-worth, making you feel guilty and ashamed.
Self-Sabotage As A Learned Behaviour
Like many maladaptive behaviours, we learn to self-sabotage from difficult situations we encountered growing up. These situations are often related to encounters we’ve had with our primary caregivers, such as our parents, as well influential authority figures, such as our teachers.
Growing up, maybe your parents were very strict about how you spent time outside of school. They insisted that you prioritize getting good grades over spending time with your friends or enjoying yourself.
As an adult, you now have difficulties with taking time off or relaxing outside of work. This manifests itself as self-sabotage when you insist on working even outside of work hours, making you feel burnt out and resentful when it comes to doing your job.
You never really learned how to relax, and now when it’s necessary, you’re having a hard time.
A Fear Of Failure
Other behaviours are rooted in a fear of failure, causing feelings of guilt and shame. Growing up, you may have been taught that failure is a terrible thing that needs to be avoided at all costs. Anything less than perfect is not worth it.
As an adult, you now do everything you can to make sure that you do not fail or produce anything that is not perfect. However, that can backfire when this fear manifests itself as perfectionism.
You worry about not being able to do something to the best of your ability. You make yourself extremely anxious and stressed trying to come up with something that meets your expectations, even though your expectations may not be reasonable.
A Need For Control
Finally, self-sabotaging has a lot do with a need for control.
When we feel we are not in control, we may resort to these maladaptive behaviours to fill that need.
For example, you feel that by opening up and being vulnerable in a relationship, you’re losing control. You may resort to shutting down communication in a bid to gain the upper hand.
Similarly, procrastinating on an assignment allows you to feel some sense of control because you get to decide when you sit down and do it.
You may not want to because you’re worried you won’t do a good job, or you just really don’t like the subject matter. You have to do it – you have no choice there. But when you do it is up to you, so you put it off until the last possible moment.
How To Stop Sabotaging Yourself
1. Identify Your Self-Sabotaging Behaviours
The very first step is figuring out what kind of self-sabotaging behaviours you tend to engage in. The best way to do this is by taking a step back and looking at your patterns of behaviour from an objective perspective.
I know it’s definitely easier said than done, but start by identifying something you have trouble with.
Do you tend to procrastinate your most important tasks? When does this happen? How do you feel when you’re given something to work on and what kind of emotions are you trying to avoid by procrastinating?
Similarly, find out when you engage in the opposite behaviours. In the case of procrastination, when do you not procrastinate? What kind of tasks or responsibilities do you give yourself enough time to complete? How do they differ from the tasks you put off?
Taking a closer look at your patterns of self-sabotaging behaviour and what leads up to them can help you recognize how you may be undermining your own wants and needs.
2. Find Out Why You Self-Sabotage
Next, figure out why you tend to self-sabotage. What are you afraid of? If you catch yourself in a self-sabotaging spiral, take a minute to identify what it is you’re running away from.
For example, you may be feeling the need to ghost that person you were matched with on a dating app – even though they’re cute and seem really cool.
Ask yourself – what are you afraid of? Are you worried that you’ll get too attached and end being hurt again? Why do you think so? Have you done this before? Are you sure this will happen again, or should you give this person a chance?
You can also reflect on past self-sabotaging behaviours. Making notes and writing down these instances can help you create some distance and look objectively at the kinds of patterns you tend to fall into, and what triggers them.
3. Plan Ahead & Develop Healthy Alternatives
The next step is to manage these self-sabotaging behaviours by planning ahead or developing healthy alternate behaviours.
For example, if you know that you’re going to procrastinate on an assignment, plan ahead. Find out the due date, and think about how much time you would need to work on it to get it done on time if you didn’t procrastinate.
It might take you over the span of a few weeks. If you procrastinate, you may get it done in a day or two, but will cause a lot of stress, anxiety and self-loathing. Be generous, and add on a few days to give yourself a good cushion.
Next, create a schedule where you work on the assignment a little bit every day. It doesn’t have to be hours every single day, but enough time that you can get through a section and make some progress.
You’re not putting pressure on yourself and you’ll feel much better with smaller, regular accomplishments than having to pull an all-nighter in the end. You may miss a few days here or there, but plan for them, and you won’t be scrambling at the last minute.
4. Be Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable
Self-sabotaging behaviours are based in a fear of uncomfortable feelings. No one wants to feel this kind of discomfort, but these kinds of habits may end up causing more long-term harm.
Our goal here in the long run is to become comfortable with discomfort. Instead of fighting feelings of anxiety, fear and worry, we need to learn to accept them first. These are of course, difficult feelings, but running away from them can exacerbate our experience of them.
Overcoming self-sabotaging behaviours has a lot to do with emotional tolerance. Our emotions are not bad. The information that they give us can be helpful in identifying what we need in that moment.
Often times, we need to sit with our emotions to understand them before acting out. In those cases, try to take a break.
Go for a walk, distract yourself. Come back with a refreshed mind and a new perspective so you can understand your emotions in a more balanced way.
5. Find Out What You Really Want
Self-sabotaging behaviours stop us from achieving our full potential. They interfere with our success, our relationships and our mental health.
At this point, ask yourself: what do you really want? What are things that matter the most to you? How is your behaviour preventing you from achieving them?
This is probably the most difficult step in this process, but it is necessary if we want to truly overcome our maladaptive behaviours.
We often engage in these habits because we feel as though we are not good enough or deserving enough to get what we really want - whether that’s a good job, good grades, or a healthy relationship.
Our self-sabotaging behaviours are often so ingrained and internalized that we forget we have a choice. We are allowed to change them and we are capable of doing so. We just need to give ourselves a chance to develop healthier habits.
Before You Go
I hope that this post gave you an opportunity to reflect on your own self-sabotaging behaviours. Because they're so ingrained within our sense of self, it can be difficult to separate them from who we really are.
We are allowed to realize our full potential. But sometimes we forget that we are often our own worst enemy. Hopefully, this post gave you that wake-up call.
I want to hear from you: what are some self-sabotaging habits you tend to engage in? How do you plan on overcoming them?
As always, if you have any questions about this topic or need some additional support, flip me an email, or book an appointment with anyone from my awesome team! You can also book a free phone consult at anytime.
Until next time!