How many times have you said that you choose the totally wrong romantic partners and then complain that you are unlucky in love?
Consider how often you have stuck to a strict, calorie-controlled diet all week, only to pig out on that delicious pepperoni pizza at the weekend.
Think about how often you have been going to ask your boss for a pay rise but didn’t because you probably won’t get it.
I think you see where I am going with this. You may WANT to do things differently, but you DON’T because you feel that you aren’t worthy, good enough, capable, or any number of other reasons. Instead of pursuing your goals and dreams, you subconsciously or consciously find ways to prevent that from happening and, before you know it, have let opportunities and positive experiences pass you by.
When that happens, you are the first to scorn yourself for your inability to succeed or find fulfilment and it all winds up in a familiar ‘I told you so’ narrative. It does sound weird, doesn’t it?
But it all comes from the negative mindset that is setting you up for failure; a mindset that thrives on your failure. Self-sabotage and self-criticism can destroy you physically, mentally, or emotionally, throwing a spanner in your chances of happiness.
How? By undermining you and putting stumbling blocks in your way as you strive to reach your goals. Self-sabotage is dangerous because it is so sneaky that you hardly even notice you are doing it, so this article is about recognizing it and stopping it before you self-combust.
A lot of self-sabotaging behavior has to do with fear: the kind of fear that takes over our mind even when there is no real threat. Negative thoughts like, “I’m not going to make it”, can paralyze us and instead of moving on, we prefer to veer away from our goals.
This is a very subtle process and you have to be aware of your inner self to catch it. Often, that perceived threat is a construct of your brain, which can’t tell the difference between actual threats and perceived ones.
As I said earlier, self-sabotage can be conscious or unconscious, depending on how much self-awareness you have. One example of consciously self-sabotaging is when you go on a shopping spree, knowing full well that you will be left short of money for basics if you do so.
An unconscious example could be anything that undermines your goals or values, even though you just can’t see it.
If you have a fear of failure, you may wait until the last minute to prepare for an upcoming exam and in doing so, unconsciously avoid achieving success. If you’ve been on the self-sabotage bandwagon long enough, it can leave you feeling sad, anxious, and with little drive or motivation.
Why Do I Self-Sabotage?
The good news is that we know the reasons why people self-sabotage and have ways of pushing through that behavior to get to a healthier, more positive mindset.
It’s mostly a biological response to situations that feel threatening where avoidance seems to be a more sensible option. That says a lot about your level of self-esteem and if you aren’t in a good mental place, you will try to avoid conflicts at any cost. It makes sense, and it’s something we all do.
There’s a thing called ‘modeling’, which means that we copy behavior from childhood models and patterns. This can also include the absence of a good model, leaving us unable to react in a way that protects our self-interests. If you had an overprotective parent who worried constantly about you catching a cold, this could have made you afraid to test your limits, be adventurous or go out without feeling stressed.
Being rejected by a parent can trigger a large dose of insecurity about personal relationships, leading you to have trust issues.
This can lead you to sabotage your chances of establishing close relationships as you try to avoid further rejection.
If you have experienced some kind of trauma in your life, you will most likely see the whole world as threatening, which you deal with by adopting self-sabotage strategies such as not traveling abroad, refusing to move house in order to secure a better job, or even neglecting your health and welfare.
It’s not only women who self-sabotage, but we are very predictable in the areas that we like to practice it on. Obsessed as many of us are with weight and appearance, it’s not surprising that most of our struggles in life revolve around perfecting a certain look or morphing into a particular body type.
Relationships also seem to bring out the worst in our fear-factor behavior, as do our careers or jobs. Once you grasp the idea that your self-destructive behavior is attached to your lack of self- love, it will be easier for you to change it.
I’ve listed below some of the ways in which you may behave as you go about self-sabotaging your life. I also want you to think about what after-effects you have experienced as a result:
5 Common Ways You Self-Sabotage Your Life
1. Finding fault in others
If you like to find fault in others, that enables you to avoid having to deal with your own issues and grow. When your partner behaves in a way that you don’t like, instead of considering your part in that, you decide to break up, hence sabotaging any chances of growing from the whole experience.
Sometimes no one is to blame and life just gets in the way but if you are constantly looking for excuses to disconnect, that’s not going to help you build a lasting relationship of any value.
2. Walking away when the going gets tough
By all means, get out of a toxic situation as fast as you can but take some time first to see if you are making rash decisions based on your insecurities. Did you really make the effort to do your best in your job or was it easier to resign than to deal with an unfair boss or bitchy workmates?
If you have doubts about your abilities and performance, this could lead you to give in too easily under pressure or run from conflicts or disagreements. It is easier to curl up in a ball, I admit, but that won’t get you through life. We can thrive through challenges and come out the other side feeling wiser, happier, and ready to meet the next one.
This is a very common tactic for those of you who are dealing with self-doubt and feel overwhelmed. Here’s the thing: putting something off until the last minute is a recipe for almost certain failure.
But, you already know that, don’t you? If you have to read up for an important meeting but decide to organize your lingerie drawer instead or get stuck on a Netflix binge, this is avoidance. You may tell yourself that you’ll do it later, but what you are really saying is, “I can’t cope. I don’t think I can make it.” As a result, you don’t make it because you didn’t direct your energy to the task at hand.
4. Dating the wrong guy
Why do you go on dates with people who you know aren’t your type? If you aren’t into beer-guzzling slobs who like slouching around all day, it’s no surprise that your relationship ends quickly.
Perhaps you are in a long-term partnership and stick it out because, although you feel unhappy, you are afraid of the alternatives. All of this is self-sabotaging your desire to be happy, but you do it anyway because you don’t believe that you deserve better.
These are some main themes that run through self-sabotaging behavior and it is a good idea at this point to ask yourself: “What am I afraid of?” You can write this question down, and think about the first thing that pops into your head.
Let’s say you fear that you’ll never be a good mother and dig a bit deeper into why you have formed this opinion of yourself. Did something happen to you to make you believe that? Was any experience in the past linked to your thoughts about motherhood and raising children?
How was your life growing up?
Was it a happy childhood or did you feel unwanted or neglected? Are you worried about how it will affect your lifestyle or cause friction with your family/partner? Do you feel too young, too old, or just not sure if you can adjust? You can work around all of these issues, but you need to confront them first.
Whatever it is that you feel creates fear inside of you, lay it out and look it in the eye. Monsters under the bed don’t really exist; we just believe they do until we look and see there is nothing there but our fears.
5. The fake you
I must mention something that is quite a buzz term recently, and that is imposter syndrome. This is basically when you believe that you aren’t as competent as others think you are. Yes, you are a phony and don’t deserve to be where you are and that goes for your job, your social status, your skills, and just about everything else.
Funnily enough, the term was first introduced to describe high-achieving women who felt that they didn’t merit having such an elevated status because… well, they were women. Now it applies to anyone who feels that they are in some way deceiving others because they know, deep inside, that they aren’t worthy.
If you experience self-doubt, can’t realistically assess your competence, or put your success down to external factors such as luck, then you may be suffering from imposter syndrome. You might even downplay your achievements or try to overachieve and set yourself goals that you just can’t meet.
All of this can lead to an anxious cycle in which you never give yourself credit for anything and can’t internalize your success.
A recent independent study by Access Commercial Finance in 2019 found that, out of 3000 adults in the UK, two-thirds of the women (66%) questioned have suffered from imposter syndrome compared to over half of men (56%) within the last 12 months.
Despite women working their way up the corporate ladder and starting their own businesses, it seems that many of them feel like a fake and are stressed about their peers finding out there is no Wizard of Oz after all. It could be that women experience it more frequently because they have grown up in a society that is still struggling to see them as having equal abilities as men.
Despite all of the evidence to suggest the opposite, many women still feel that they, “Don’t have a head for business” or “Got where they are today because of their looks”. The problem grows larger if you experience it for long amounts of time because it can lead you to suffer from chronic stress-related illnesses and prevent you from enjoying your success.
How To Stop Self-Sabotage?
I’ve got some practical advice that will help you to rethink your self-sabotaging behaviour. As you read through each one, take a mental note of anything that rings particularly true for you. It’s all about changing old habits and ways of thinking so don’t expect results immediately but ease yourself into each one gradually. You will see the benefits eventually.
1. Stop thinking small
You may want to take up as little space as possible in the world, but that stunts your potential. Imagine what would happen if you had a big vision for yourself; something passionate you wanted to work towards and a sense of purpose.
That would require you to think big and when you do that, the sky’s the limit. Sit down and list your vision, your passions, and your dreams, then add your skills, talents, and qualities. It’s up to you to go for whatever you want in life and there’s nothing to stop you but your small thinking.
2. Worry less
Worry sucks all the energy out of you. It handicaps your efforts, drains you of positivity, and leaves you feeling overwhelmed. Self-sabotage at its finest! One way to deal with this is to think of constructive actions rather than destructive ones.
If you are losing sleep over financial problems, they aren’t going to go away with insomnia. Instead, draw up a strategy for dealing with them, seek the help of a friend or expert, work out ways of improving your situation and be proactive. You may not solve all of your issues in a day, but you will definitely sleep better at night.
3. Give yourself a break
So you’re having a bad day. That is only one in thousands and instead of giving it more importance than it deserves, put it into perspective. You are the whole package, with strengths and weaknesses, not defined by one bad day, or any other day.
Remember your past accomplishments and how you overcame challenges to get where you are now and honor them. Accept a compliment… why not! Spend some time indulging yourself; take a long hot bath, treat yourself to a meal out, or whatever it is that brings pleasure to your day. Just because one thing went wrong, that doesn’t mean you have to suffer and wallow in self-pity.
4. Be honest
It’s very tempting to want to please other people all the time because this makes us feel wanted, loved, and appreciated. But when that goes against what you really want to do, you become a doormat. It is perfectly OK to say ‘no’ when others expect you to say ‘yes’.
The next time your friend asks you to pick her up from the train station while you have arranged to stay home and chill out, simply tell her that although you would love to, you have made other plans. Your ‘no’ is important because it honours your self-esteem so use it more often, no guilt attached.
5. Assert yourself
There’s an urban myth that successful women are pushy and bossy. Those characteristics alone are enough to make anyone stay out of the spotlight, even when they should be in it. You have skills, talents, and achievements, so don’t be ashamed to show them off.
If that means taking a stand, stepping up, or speaking out, do it. Have your own back and approach obstacles with confidence, safe in the knowledge that you know what you are talking about. That’s not pushy, that’s called being assertive, and the more you do it, the more empowered you will feel.
6. Liberate your desires
You should seriously ask yourself what you want, personally, professionally, sexually, and get in touch with your deepest desires.
Keeping them locked up is like buying a snazzy new dress and never wearing it because you don’t want to attract attention to yourself. That dress is going to sit gathering dust in your wardrobe, just like your desires, which are all a healthy part of who you are.
Embrace them, express them and go for them, without feeling the need to justify them. If you don’t, you will continue to feel stifled and stuck, and you deserve so much more in life.
7. Spend more time with those you love
No doubt you are a one-woman wonder, but sharing your trials and tribulations with trusted peers, friends or family will bring much more balance into your life. Everyone needs support at times and that can be psychological, emotional, or professional.
Trying to do it all alone and self-isolating is a safe way to go about things, because it protects you, or so you think. In reality, it’s your self-sabotaging habit that has convinced you you don’t need help, even when you are struggling. Reach out, hang out and chill out with your women friends — you all need each other.
8. Don’t sabotage others
There’s nothing worse than putting other women down and if you are guilty of that, think about what that says about your own insecurities.
Just because you have had to work hard to get where you are in life, doesn’t mean that you should sabotage the efforts of others to reach the same level of success as you. Being condescending or patronizing won’t earn you any Brownie points and certainly won’t make you respected or loved.
If you have had it hard, remember that, and give a helping hand to others whenever you can. That’s a truly empowering way to live life.
9. Spot your triggers
Learn how to recognize those self-sabotaging habits by paying attention to what is triggering them. Think about what is making you feel stressed out, forcing you to behave in a self-destructive manner.
It could be things like the angry tone of your partner, which makes you shut down even if the anger isn’t directed at you. You may be bored and your mind begins to wander (always a risk of recycling toxic thoughts when that happens), or you could be in a state of fear. Self-doubt may raise its head when you are under stress and even if things are going well, you could experience imposter syndrome.
What I would suggest as good practice help you overcome your self-sabotaging is to keep a daily journal. It can make a big difference when you put your thoughts and feelings down on paper.
Not only is it a cleansing process, during which you unload all of your fears and doubts, but you will be amazed at how much clarity you can get from it. I used to keep a diary when I was very young, which acted as a confidante of sorts.
Whenever I re-read what I had written, it helped me to see where I had been over-reacting and where I had been justified. It provided an emotional compass for me during my teenage years and then I abandoned the habit for a long time.
After being fully absorbed in my business and providing self-empowerment seminars to women, it suddenly dawned on me one day that I wasn’t practising what I had been preaching, so I began a daily journal again.
As a result, I rediscovered the benefits of getting it all out of my head and down on paper. It helps me to reflect, assess and affirm what I am doing and what my goals are. It is my best friend once again and we can always use an extra friend, right?