“Why do I keep doing this?”
“How does this keep happening to me?”
These are questions you might ask yourself when you feel trapped in patterns that are creating problems in your life, problems that keep you from reaching your goals. Even though you are trying to make changes and disrupt these patterns, somehow you end up in the same place, again and again. Like Groundhog Day.
Sound familiar? You could be sabotaging yourself. When we talk about self-sabotage we are referring to behaviours and thought patterns that hold you back, preventing you from doing what you want to do and achieve.
What does it look like?
There are several ways you can sabotage yourself . Some obvious, though others can be a bit harder to recognise.
Blaming others when things go wrong
Sometimes, shit just happens. No one has to be at fault. Yes, some things might be solely the fault of someone else, but not always.
If you are tending to find fault elsewhere whenever you face struggles, it may be worth taking a closer look at the part you played in any events.
Say your partner has some relationship behaviours that affect you both. You decide they won’t change and break up with them. You feel good about the breakup, since their unwillingness to change kept you from moving forward together. Those close to you agree you did right.
Step back and take time to explore how you might have contributed to some of the issues in that relationship. See if there is anything to learn from it. Don’t sabotage your chance to learn and grow from the experience.
Walking away when the stuff hits the fan
There’s nothing wrong with moving on from situations that don’t meet your needs. There are times when this might be the best option. However, it can usually be wise to take a quick step back and ask yourself first if you really put the effort in.
Maybe you can’t seem to stay in a job for very long. You left one job because your manager treated you unfairly. You were let go from a second because of overstaffing. You left your next job because of toxic colleagues, and so on.
These are valid reasons, but such a prevailing pattern could have something to do with it. Doubts about your own ability to succeed or hold a steady job could lead you to do things that disrupt your performance or keep you from succeeding at work. Maybe you’re afraid of conflict or criticism.
It is hard, however working through struggles and problems helps you grow. If you give up before you’ve put in any effort, you will not learn how to make different choices in the future.
Have you ever found yourself stuck when faced with an important task? Had a mental block and lost for inspiration? We’ve all been there so you’re far from alone in this.
You’ve prepared, done all your research, and sat down to get started, only to find you just can’t begin. Your motivation has completely disappeared. So you avoid the task by cleaning out a cupboard or starting a binge TV session.
Procrastination can happen for no apparent reason, but it typically has an underlying cause, such as you are feeling overwhelmed by what you need to do, you are struggling to manage your time, or you may be doubting your ability or skill to do the task in hand.
Picking fights with friends or partners
You can undermine yourself in a number of ways.
Maybe you’re always quick to argue, even over things that don’t really matter, like who chose the last place you went for a meal. Or you do things to provoke reactions, like leave the dishes in the sink, or purposely “forget” important dates.
On the other hand, you might be quick to take offence or take things personally whether comments or actions are meant for you or not.
Maybe you have a hard time talking about your feelings, especially when upset. So you end up displaying behaviour characterised by the expression of negative feelings, resentment, and passive aggression instead of more effective communication methods.
Being in relationships with people who aren’t right for you
Self-sabotaging behaviours do often appear in relationships. Being with people who don’t tick all your boxes is one common type of relationship self-sabotage.
• keep going out with a similar type of person although your relationships keep ending badly
• try to make things work with a partner who has very different goals for the future
• stay in a relationship that’s going nowhere
Maybe you’re single but keep developing attractions to people in relationships. You give non-monogamy a try but end up frustrated and hurt each time as well as hurting others.
Perhaps you want children but your partner doesn’t. Everything else is fine, so you stay in the relationship, secretly hoping they’ll change their mind.
When you fall into these patterns, you’re preventing yourself from finding someone who’s a better match long term.
Trouble stating your needs
If you struggle to speak up for yourself, you may have a hard time getting meeting all of your needs.
This commonly happens in:
• family situations
• among friends
• with colleagues at work
• in romantic relationships
• in everyday interactions
Imagine you’re in line at the shop with a sandwich for lunch. Someone cuts in front of you with a full cart of groceries. You’re in a hurry to get back to work, but you can’t bring yourself to say anything. You let them go ahead, perhaps hoping someone else complains. You end up late back for work when you really couldn’t afford to be.
Putting yourself down
People often set much higher standards for themselves than they do for others. When you fail to meet these standards, you might give yourself some pretty harsh feedback:
• “I can’t do anything right.”
• “I won’t make it, so why should I bother?”
• “Awesome, I really messed up there. I’m terrible at this.”
Whether you have a go at yourself in public or have a habit of negative self-talk, the same thing can happen: Your words may eventually be taken as truth. You start to believe these criticisms, you start to promote an attitude of self-defeat that keeps you from wanting to try again. Eventually you may even give up before you even begin.
What causes it?
Self-sabotage happens when these behaviours helped you adapt to a previous situation, perhaps trauma in your childhood or a toxic relationship, and survived the challenges you faced there. They may have calmed you or defended you. But these methods of coping only cause difficulties when your situation changes.
Lets have a look at some of the contributing factors.
Patterns learned in childhood
The patterns laid down in early relationships often repeat in relationships throughout life. People get attached to these patterns. They mean something to us, we are comforted by them and they’re hard to give up.
Maybe you had a parent who never paid much attention to you unless they were angry.
We know it’s not a good thing to get people mad, but there is something very compelling about it due to this upbringing. Getting someone angry was the only way to get interest, so you feel stuck in this pattern where it’s tempting to get people mad at you.
This might present itself, for instance, in your job. You just can’t seem to show up on time. Initially your Manager
is forgiving and encouraging, though as time goes on and you’re still late that manager gets a bit miffed and eventually disciplines you.
Past relationship problems
If you haven’t felt heard or supported when asking for what you have needed in previous relationships, you may struggle to communicate effectively in your current relationships.
Whether a previous partner had been abusive or someone who simply didn’t care about your thoughts and feelings, you may not have felt able to speak up for yourself. You felt it best to have stayed quiet in an effort to defend yourself from anger, rejection, and other negative experiences. But as a result, you didn’t learn to care for your needs.
Although your present situation differs from the past, it can be difficult to break out of the same destructive patterns.
Fear of failure
When you don’t want to fail at your job, in your relationship, or even at being a good parent, you might unintentionally sabotage your own efforts to do well. We fear that we will give all that we have to a goal and it still won’t be enough.
Wanting to avoid failure can lead you to avoid trying. If you don’t try, you can’t fail, right? You will find it easier to give yourself reasons as to why you failed than to really give it your all and still not succeed.
So imagine you’re in a new relationship that’s going very well. So well, in fact, that it can’t be true, right? You believe it’s only a matter of time before something happens to end it. “This is too good,” you tell yourself. “It can’t last.”
You don’t want to face the end, so you begin retreating from your partner, closing yourself off emotionally and starting arguments. In reality, your motivation is to bring about your own failure so you aren’t surprised when it happens.
A need for control
Self-sabotaging behaviours can also develop from your need to control a situation. By accepting that negative outcome ahead of time we feel like we are in control, even if it is not what we want to happen. We feel better when we feel like we are in control. When you’re in control, you might feel safe, strong, and ready to face anything that comes your way.
Some types of self-sabotage provide this sense of control. What you’re doing may not be great for your emotional health or relationships, but it helps you stay in control when you feel vulnerable.
In effect we control our failure when we apply this self- sabotaging thought pattern.
Take the procrastination example. Perhaps you’re putting off writing that report you’re manager has asked for because, deep down, you’re worried you won’t write it as well as you’d hoped. Writing the at the last minute won’t help the quality, but you know it will put you in control of that outcome because you chose to write it at the last minute.
This also happens in relationships. Opening up to someone emotionally can make you feel vulnerable. But by keeping things in, you maintain what feels like the upper hand. But at the end of the day, you aren’t reaping the rewards of building intimacy by sharing vulnerabilities. Opening up can produce an incredible freedom and release.
Behaviours that worked for you in the past generally don’t help as much once your circumstances change. In fact, they often cause some harm. But you keep doing them because they worked well for you, once upon a time.
The good news? It’s possible to disrupt self-sabotaging patterns with a little effort.
Identify the Behaviours
Once we identify why we are exhibiting self-sabotaging behaviour we can then begin to take steps to overcome and rise above this destructive behaviour.
It’s not always easy to examine your actions deeply enough to note patterns of self-sabotage. Yes, admitting we are self-sabotaging is painful.Nobody wants to rush to that conclusion, tending to avoid it for as long as possible, until there is no choice but to face it. We know there is a problem, but it can feel easier stay with it that to find a fix.
If you feel comfortable examining your behaviour to find patterns, it helps to look at areas of life where things seem to regularly go wrong.
Do any common factors stand out? For example, maybe you detach from relationships and begin picking fights once your partner says, “I love you.” Or maybe you have a pattern of quitting jobs right before your annual review.
Learn what sets you off
Once you figure out how you sabotage yourself, take note of when you do these things. Make a list of all the things that are preventing you from having what you want. Take time to evaluate why you want this, why you want to get real with your goals. What is holding you back?
Maybe an angry tone in your partner’s voice reminds you of being yelled at in childhood. You always shut down, even when the anger isn’t directed at you.
Other triggers that often put self-sabotaging behaviours into motion include:
• things going well
Track your triggers in a journal. Practicing mindfulness. Silence that inner critic and grow an awareness of your thoughts and behaviours in the present moment, can also help.
If you still don’t feel up to it, don’t worry. It takes time. Try to remember little successes from the past, boost your confidence. Focus on self care – stop focusing on what you think you do wrong, recognise what you do right. Give yourself time to relax, eat well and get enough proper sleep. You need to feel good about yourself to move past any fears. You are the priority.
Each time you uncover a trigger, try to come up with one or two productive reactions to replace the self-sabotaging behaviour.
Get comfortable with failure, it’s life.
It’s normal to feel afraid of rejection, failure, and other emotional pain. They are not fun to deal with, and so you take steps to avoid them.
This can become problematic when the steps you take involve self-sabotage. It can prevent unwanted experiences, but you’re also bound to miss out on things you do want, such as strong relationships, close friends, or career opportunities. Just to grow and develop.
To manage this fear, work on accepting the realities of failure and pain. Yes, it is a hard task, and won’t happen overnight. Start small by attempting to view your next failure, whether it’s a relationship gone sour or a missed opportunity at work, as a possibility.
Maybe the end of this relationship means you have the freedom to look for someone more you. Or the missed work opportunity means you’ll have a bit more free time to get back into your hobbies or an opportunity to progress a skill you possess.
Talk about it
If you notice certain patterns keep appearing in your relationships, try talking to the people you’re closest to about them.
You might try saying this to your partner: “I want our relationship to work, but I’m afraid of it failing. If I seem to shut down or pull away, it’s because I’m afraid of losing you. I’m trying to work through it, but I don’t want you to think I don’t care in the meantime.”
Simply opening up and talking through a self-sabotaging pattern out loud can prevent you from carrying it out. Plus, it can be a good learning experience when the situation plays out along a different path — not down the path of self-sabotage.
Identify what you really want
Self-sabotage can happen when you’re looking for an exit, a way out. These behaviours help suggest something about your situation isn’t working for you.
If you feel unfulfilled at work because your daily tasks don’t use any of your specialised skills, you might start watching Netflix whenever you’re bored.
Or you might tell yourself you want a relationship even though you’re happiest when you’re single. In response, every time you move past the casual dating stage, you start to create conflict.
Get to know yourself better, explore what you truly want from life. This can help prevent this kind of self-sabotage. It isn’t enough to know what you want, though. You also have to respect yourself, care and support yourself enough to work for it.
When to seek help
It’s not always easy to recognise and stop some self-sabotaging behaviours, especially patterns you’ve followed for years, on your own. If your efforts to try different behaviours and responses haven’t worked, or only work for a while, therapy may be an option, and there is no shame in needing professional support. There may be something present you don’t see. It is sometimes not possible to uncover all underlying factors on your own.
Therapy can be particularly helpful for self-sabotage because you never know, due to an issue you probably aren’t aware of, you might unintentionally start to sabotage the therapy process. A good therapist will pick up on this and help bring the issue to the surface.
The bottom line
Self-sabotaging behaviours are often deeply ingrained and hard to recognise. Once you do recognise these behaviours, noticing how you hold yourself back can be hard to come to terms with.
Keep in mind, however, that by recognising these behaviours you’ve put yourself on the right path to changing them. And you don’t have to do it alone. Friends and loved ones can all offer support. (And I happen to know a good Life Coach).
Maybe you doubt you have what it takes to win that next challenge. But instead of saying, “Why bother?” and not filling in the entry form, do it. Do it and do your best.What you learn about yourself will have just as much value as winning.
You can do this, The important stuff stays…