Do You Tend to Self-Sabotage?

Businessman engaging in self-sabotage by popping balloons holding him up in the air

Self-sabotage seems like it should be a pretty unnatural thing to do, but that’s just not the case, so I thought it would be interesting to chat about it. And since I scheduled this post, my friends Cynni Pixy and Doriondori also posted about self-sabotage, so good timing.

What self-sabotage is

Self-sabotage involves getting in the way of our own success and undermining personal goals and values. We can do it either consciously or unconsciously. Self-sabotaging behaviours can include avoidance, procrastination, or more overtly destructive behaviours like substance misuse, overeating, overspending, and self-injury. Negative self-talk tends to be part of the package deal. Perfectionism and impostor syndrome are both forms of self-sabotage.

Why it happens

There are a number of possible motivators for self-sabotage, including a desire to reduce threats that outweighs the desire to achieve goals, parental modelling, avoidance of potential rejection, using maladaptive rather than adaptive coping mechanisms, and a sense of being undeserving of good things.

We human folk like to have a stable self-concept, and we like to self-verify to keep that self-concept intact. When we’re confronted with things that contradict that self-concept, it brings on the inner squirmies of cognitive dissonance. If you have imposter syndrome, failure keeps you consistent with your self-concept. If you have low self-worth, succeeding at something could bring on the squirmies, which could make failure as a result of your own choice to [insert self-sabotaging behaviour of choice here] start to look like the more appealing option. And if you fail because you chose to procrastinate, for example, that might feel better than feeling like you failed because you just suck even though you tried your best.

What to do about it

Changing self-sabotaging patterns requires first identifying what those patterns are. If self-sabotage happens because the consequences of the sabotage seem less scary than the alternative, what is that alternative that you’re more scared of, and why is it so scary?

Strategies that can help with change include leaning into difficult emotions, radical acceptance, self-compassion, and cognitive defusion (an acceptance and commitment therapy concept that involves untangling yourself from your thoughts).

Getting personal

I don’t think I self-sabotage all that often. It helps that I don’t have a strong inner critic, I’m not a perfectionist, and I don’t have imposter syndrome.

While my self-esteem is generally good, I am quite emotionally sensitive. I will sometimes self-punish if I’m feeling hurt by something, although that tends to be negative punishment (as in deprivation of good things) rather than positive punishment (as in causing some form of self-harm). It’s not much of an issue now, but it was when I was younger. I remember my mom calling this martyring, although I’m not sure that’s really the right word for it.

My go-to reason for self-sabotage relates to being a stubborn moose. As I was saying to Em recently, I am the poster child for reactance. I am fiercely independent, and if someone tells me what to do and it feels like they’re impinging on that independence, I will dig my heels in and either refuse or do the opposite. I’ll do this even if what I’m being told to do would’ve been the best course of action or something I would have done anyway. This has definitely been an issue in terms of my mental illness treatment. I think this is a sort of indirect self-sabotage, as it’s not done out of fearing or trying to avoid a certain outcome but rather as a choice to prioritize my value of independence. Not necessarily a healthy choice, but a values-congruent choice.

Now it’s your turn. Do you tend to self-sabotage? How do you do that, and what motivates it?


67 thoughts on “Do You Tend to Self-Sabotage?”

  1. I self-sabotage. I used to a lot when it came to receiving “high end” jobs. I most likely didn’t think I was good enough and didn’t understand why I’d even be considered.

    1. I remember reading somewhere that when looking at job listings, men are more likely to think that they should still apply if they only meet some of the requirements or preferred experience, whereas women are more likely to think that if they don’t meet almost all of them they shouldn’t bother applying.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Ashley, and your experience with it. I like the way you described yourself as fiercely independent – I so relate to that and can find it both a blessing and a curse.
    I definitely self sabotage- its hard because I am quite self aware as well so I know when I am doing it and I still struggle to pull myself out if it. I also deal heavily with imposter syndrome, I wonder how big the correlation is between that and self sabotaging.
    I love your work, it always makes me think more introspectively.
    Sending lots of love your way <3

  3. Love this post! I’m a stubborn moose, too 😂 I used to sabotage things I didn’t really want to do anyway – like when I “forgot” to send my GRE scores in w my application to a graduate program I wasn’t sure about. I’ve also caused chaotic situations and gotten sick as avoidance. Now, I don’t do it so much because I’ve gotten better at saying no.
    I’m not sure this counts as self-sabotage. It seems like regular sabotage?
    Anyway- if I do catch myself procrastinating or talking myself out of something I know I really want, I’m pretty good at halting that promptly and tapping it out with EFT. Journaling and making lists of negative/positive beliefs about the thing also help a ton!

      1. Yes! Journaling makes it impossible to avoid the issue! And sometimes seeing my thoughts on paper helps me use kinder, gentler language.

  4. Hey girl, I’m alive. I am so good at self sabotage.
    One thing I would say about this

    We know that most of us do not like change. Keeping this in mind, changing ourselves for the positive, can feel like relief at the start,
    But when it becomes less of a relief and more like “work”, it is easy to miss the – Familiarity – of the way things used to be.

    We get stuck in what feels normal, even if it is unhealthy.

    It proves CHANGE is Hard.

      1. Amen to that. I have been so freaking exhausted. I am not feeling awful but not feeling great. I have a PICC line and have been doing daily levo Infusions just trying to get my thyroid in a “normal” range.
        But I have been literally stuck in the same place since I left the hospital on April 30th.
        And of course, doctors…
        My Endocrinologist won’t increase my dose so I left the hospital at .65. And I am now at… wait for it .67
        Awesome huh…

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