Self-sabotage can derail your most prized endeavors and set you up for devastating, life-altering failure, damaged or destroyed relationships, a decimated reputation, and contribute to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. Missed opportunities are the most common result. Just as stressful is the disappointment you may feel about a letdown of yourself and others. And, of course, the critical comments of others contribute to your discomfort and disillusionment. To overcome self-sabotage can feel ominous, like an insurmountable rockface. These patterns are breakable with practices you can use anytime with any task or project.
What Is Self-Sabotage?
Self-sabotage occurs when you engage in repeated behaviors that build into habits and wreak havoc in your life. It can hold you back from your goals and enjoyment of your life. The habit is not a character flaw or personality defect, and it does not involve the process of healthy, thoughtful discernment. Rather, it is a set of habits you engage to avoid certain tasks because they cause emotional upheaval and physical discomfort. When you complete projects and tasks you often receive a reward, such as money, praise, and self-satisfaction for a job well done or an obstacle overcome. All people want that. Why would you mess that up?
Internal, self-sabotage is an unconscious process. Most people do not set out to sabotage their lives. It begins as an act of self-preservation and, therefore self-care, that backfires. Self-sabotage may become a way of life for people who received or now receive negative messages about themselves or their abilities and efforts. They internalize the barbs, which result in a lack of confidence in their skills, even when they have proven contrary, often repeated, successes. Two tenets of human survival are to seek happiness and to avoid pain. We all have an internal threshold for how much we can tolerate, whether we consider the experience pleasant or painful. When you go beyond it, or sometimes, just close to it, your self-sabotage strategies will arise and produce anxiety and lead you to return to the familiar place of comfort. At times, the pain of non-completion or non-performance is preferable to the pain of expected criticism or possible loss of an award or reward.
If you developed self-sabotage out of self-care, as protection against the negativity of frequent criticism, you may experience intense feelings of fear of failure or of success. You may reason an uncompleted task is one for which you will not be criticized. But the pain of unfinished projects and the criticism that results are just as tough. So, a vicious loop is created that may seem impossible to escape. There seems no way out.
The trappings of success can become frightful. The responsibility of accolades from others (with gracious acceptance) and the new role created by the achievement, such as a baby blanket you handcrafted for a friend’s shower, has created a dependence you did not foresee. Now all your friends and relatives want one for their baby or to give as a gift. Others may not understand the effort involved and demand encore results under a set of circumstances different from the original. Self-doubt rises. “What if the person does not like the blanket this time?” “I can’t make the new blanket as well as the first one.” Now, the shower is next week. You rush to get it done and notice mistakes you hope your friend misses. Your friend tells you the new blanket is more beautiful than the first and expresses sincere gratitude for your time and energy. You feel relief and a boost of self-esteem. You are okay…until next time. But there are other people to face. Some are angry and hurt because you had not shared your talent in the past. Hence, the fear of success.
What Does Self-Sabotage Look Like?
Physical signs of discomfort may be rapid breathing and a feeling of jitteriness. People who suffer from panic attacks will recognize the anxiety as it ramps up ever higher. To avoid the pain of the anxiety, you back away from the task. Later. You can do it later. And later brings on the same feelings of self-doubt, intensified. Self-sabotage is more insidious than procrastination. “I a game on my phone, and now I don’t feel like cooking dinner—for the third time this week—so, let’s order in pizza,” is procrastination. You may shake off any number of reasons for your request or decision. Self-sabotage leaves you depressed, angry, or frustrated with yourself, and embarrassed and ashamed because you keep the task at bay, which becomes more illumined if others inquire about your progress.
How to Override Self-Sabotage (Sorry, no quick fix here.)
- Think of a task or project you have avoided for a long time that has either current or potential negative impact on your life.
- Write a list of the negative possibilities of task completion.
- Write a list of the benefits you receive when you move forward and complete the task.
- Write how you feel whenever you move toward the project in an effort to progress.
- Write what you do to avoid the pain of anxiety and other feelings and emotions.
- Write how you feel when you do not work on the project as a result of your pain avoidance.
- Consider ways to stay with the pain, even for a short time. For example, “I will take out one simple recipe and place it where I can see it whenever I go into the kitchen.” I will write a list of what I need for my friend’s baby blanket, or I will tell her I cannot do it.” “I will walk five minutes a day.”
- Write mantras or affirmations such as, “I have done this before. I know I can do it.” “I got this.” “One step at a time, I can do this.”
- Develop a simple, achievable plan. “I will order in food only two times per week.” “I will cook two easy dinners this week.” “I will walk after breakfast.”
- Create a prompt to nudge your memory, for example, “I will set a clock for dedicated times throughout my day to walk.”
- Aim for improvement rather than perfection.
- Celebrate your progress. Do something nice for yourself. Keep up the excellent work.
Self-sabotage can be sneaky and throw you off track in only a few areas of your life, or all of them. With deliberate attention to your behaviors, you can diminish their effect. Try to think in terms of a mindset shift. How you think of yourself plays a significant role in self-sabotage. To change a familiar, comfortable behavior may seem daunting as you nudge yourself ever closer to the edge of your level of comfort. Like any other lifestyle change, to undo a self-destructive habit and replace it with actions of self-acknowledgement, self-empowerment can take time. Remember, self-sabotage happened over time, and so will transformation.
Treat yourself with gentleness. Remember self-sabotage is about self-care gone awry. It is not about personal weakness. You need only course-correct to set yourself on a path of the life journey you want. Happy writing
Author bio: Billie Wade is a writer living in central Iowa. She is the creator and founder of Journaling to Heal, a program she designed to help people as they travel their journey of healing from emotional stress and trauma. Her background, education, and experience enhance her innate compassion and reverence for other human beings. She shares her strength and wisdom on www.journalingtoheal.com.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org