How To Prevent Self-Sabotaging Behaviors

One of the most basic human needs, apart from food, water, air, and shelter, is the need to feel loved. We all yearn for some form or manifestation of love in our lives. But what we most often forget is we need love first and foremost from ourselves. Our minds and hearts require us to be our own best friend first. But more often than not, we are not our favorite person. Rather, more commonly, we become our own worst enemy.

This is where self-sabotaging behaviors stem from. The root of all self-sabotaging actions is a lack of self-love or a lack of a sense of self-worth. These destructive behaviors can manifest themselves in various forms. Avoiding commitment in a relationship, procrastinating on tasks, and turning to food, drugs, or alcohol to soothe yourself are all signs of self-sabotage. And merely waking up one day and saying “I love myself” while looking in the mirror is not going to eradicate these habits of self-sabotage magically.

Many a time, both consciously and unconsciously, we hinder our own progress and impede our own success by behaviors and actions that are self-sabotaging. Imagine a man who is a born runner, a natural athlete. With practice, he becomes an expert sprinter. But on the day of the competition, when all his hard work can come to fruition, when he can really run and grab his glory, the fear of failure and condemnation cramps him up, and instead of running his best race, he begins placing hurdles in his lane. He makes sure that the hurdles are high and strong and difficult to cross. That is a classic self-sabotaging example.

In every manifestation of self-sabotaging behavior, there is a common thread of lack of self-confidence and fear of getting hurt: through rejection, from criticism, and from being told you are not good enough. When a person is drowning in such fears, the best way out they see is through obstructing their own growth and progress. You fear your partner might dump you and you will get hurt as a result. So, even before you venture that deep into a relationship, you pull yourself out and break it off yourself. The logic that you are saving yourself from possible heartache in the future drives your decision to end matters in a perfectly fine relationship that could have turned into something truly beautiful if given a chance.

Self-sabotaging people also work really hard to impress others. If there are people around that they look up to and whose attention they crave, then they will go quite far to be in their good books and leave a positive impression upon them. They wouldn’t care about people who actually love them for who they are and are instead bent upon changing themselves to please others. This is also a mark of self-destructive behavior. There are also instances when your sense of being a victim and the suffering party is so strong that you are immune to changes that can actually help. Instead of analyzing the situation and coming up with a solution, you run from issues and reject helpful changes. In short, you are constantly in a state of denial.

Then again, there might be instances when we aren’t sure of what we truly want in life. Being unsure of what we would like to do with our lives is nothing new or abnormal. Normally, we would look within ourselves, find our interests, establish some goals, and work toward them. But a self-sabotaging person either looks for others to guide them and does things that others tell them to do, reaches for goals that others set for them, or simply waits for others to do their job for them and hand them the life they want for themselves without any real effort on their part. This might not be entirely because they are lazy, though that can definitely play a part, but it is mostly because they are so scared of failures and rejections that they would rather follow someone else’s lead and allow someone else to do the work than take matters into their own hands. What they fail to realize is that they are killing their own skill and smothering their own potential by their decision to remain inactive.

Self-sabotaging people are a curious lot of do-nothings, not because they are incapable or lazy, but simply because they are scared of what “doing something” might bring about.

Someone once said that if you are unable to spot what is standing in your path, then how will you go about moving it? For self-sabotaging people, they are standing in their paths themselves. This can stem from a variety of reasons. Right from the age of childhood, depending upon the kind of people that surround you, you are bound to hear a myriad of opinions and judgments about yourself. With time and repetition, these voices of censure become a part of who you are. As we age, these people have often exited from our lives. But their disapproving voices are a part of our own voice. We self-talk as they did, reproving ourselves for our mistakes, admonishing actions that might lead to mistakes, and in the end, chiding ourselves for any and every action that may or may not go wrong. This is what in the end branches off into its various demonstrations of self-sabotage.

Hearing things like “you are not worthy,” “you aren’t good enough,” “you are a failure,” and “you can do nothing right” from an early age make the words etch into our minds and become words that we tell ourselves constantly, even when there is ample evidence to the contrary. You might be the best singer in your choir, the most talented painter in your class, the most knowledgeable in sports in your group, yet no one ever gets to hear you sing, enjoy your art, or be enlightened by the intricacies of a game because you are too scared to put yourself out there.

This is when we as humans are far from the truths and values that define us. We are living lives that we did not design. Naturally, not all the elements of life are under our control. But what can be under our control isn’t. The things that must reflect our choices do not. We are so entangled in what others think, say, choose, and decide that we bury our own real selves somewhere deep within us. By being away from our real selves for so long, we lose touch with our true values, our likes and dislikes, our own skills and potential. When asked to face our inner core, it scares the living daylights out of us, for it is now similar to facing a stranger. Getting acquainted with our core values and the things, big and small, that define us, will go a long way in ensuring we do not take the self-sabotaging route in our lives.

We see examples of such self-damaging behaviours all the time, all around us, within our own lives and in those of people we love. Knowingly and unknowingly, we all hamper our own lives in one way or the other at some point. But the good news is that such self-sabotaging ideas are stoppable—such thinking is reversible. There is no one easy swish-of-the-wand step that can do it. If you want to bring a permanent change to how you perceive things, then you will really need to make an effort. Small enthusiastic bursts of determination that only last for a couple of days will not do the trick. The resulting change from such short periods of focus will only bring about a fleeting change which will make it even easier for you to slip back into your previous mannerisms.

The first thing to realize is that the change will not happen overnight. It will take time, effort, and a genuine interest on your part to make the change. Begin by first forming the right mindset to approach the issue. Tell yourself repeatedly that self-sabotaging feelings are common and rectifiable. Try to identify the action or behavior that is self-sabotaging in nature. Look for reasons that might be pushing you to react in this way. Are you scared of failure, afraid of mistakes, scared of criticism, wary of getting hurt? What is it that is driving you to take actions that are self-inhibiting?

Once you have identified the root cause of the issue, take charge of the situation. Write down your reasons for such behaviors. Make note of the different ways you see these reasons manifesting themselves in your life. For example, you might be having trust issues. These can come in between your relationships not just with your partner, but also with your family members. You might also have trouble delegating jobs to others or sharing responsibility. Likewise, look for the areas where you think these core reasons are affecting your life and people around you. Think of ways to handle each of these areas one by one. In our example, begin by simply listening to what your family or partner has to say. When you understand that you are letting them trust you with their confidences, you will be more inclined to reverse it and trust them yourself. Taking baby steps, you can work at removing yourself from the dangers of self-sabotage.

Many people also resort to food, drugs, alcohol, and smoking to distract and soothe themselves. But what exactly do they need soothing from? What is it that requires a numbing episode to get over? What are they running away from? Hiding from? Or scared of? One huge reason for binge eating or overeating is because you look to food as a means to calm your storms and forget about your problems. A tub of ice cream might feel wonderful when we are stressed, but it does not solve the problem, and it does not help us heal. It only numbs the pain and makes us forget we have an ordeal to face. The wiser course would be to take the bull by the horns. Face your troubles and resolve your issues, and then have ice cream as a celebration. The issue isn’t in indulging yourself with ice cream; it is the thought behind that matters. There is a marked difference in using food as a source of solace or escape and enjoying food as it is truly meant to be. What we really need is to know our bruises. We need to get intimate with our feelings, truly see our wounds, appreciate our own hurt and find ways to heal and move on. We most often resort to self-sabotaging manners when we aren’t fully healed from our hurts.

A person who has grown up in a domestically violent atmosphere or has seen frequent fights between couples might have serious issues when it comes to commitment. Such individuals are known to jump ship from one flimsy, insubstantial relationship to another. Knowing where this fear comes from, and making an effort to handle the sensitivities accordingly while understanding that not all relationships are the same or will end the same way will help conquer such self-destructive behaviours in matters of the heart.

Life throws us curve balls all the time. We encounter various hardships along our life’s journeys. Trials and tribulations big and small run us down time and again. Misfortunes and calamities knock us down every now and then. To all this misery that life naturally flings at us, we do not require our own contribution to the mix to escalate our suffering. What we need is a positive, confident attitude to wade through these trying waters with ease. We need to look at the world around us with a lot of compassion. We need to perceive our lives through a screen of love—love for people around us, and more importantly, love for ourselves. You want your inner self to be your best friend, who keeps you afloat in times of distress, rather than deflating your sense of worth and drowning you. So be your own best friend!

About the author

writer - mental health advocate - psychology

Follow Amy on Instagram or read more articles from Amy on Thought Catalog. Learn more about Thought Catalog and our writers on our about page.