Five Mental Mistakes That Lead to Self-Sabotage

As Amelie Nothomb said, "You want me to sabotage myself for you? You're on!" If you think you also have a tendency to self-sabotage, this article might interest you.
Five Mental Mistakes That Lead to Self-Sabotage
Gorka Jiménez Pajares

Written and verified by the psychologist Gorka Jiménez Pajares.

Last update: 13 February, 2023

Imagine you’re really enthusiastic about a particular project, yet you end up doing something that destroys it. There are certain mental mistakes that lead you to self-sabotage and, by the time you realize it, it’s too late. These errors act like a fire that destroys everything and leaves you feeling confused, exhausted, and often sad.

The concept of self-sabotage has its origins in humanistic psychology. It implies going against something you want. Although you’re often not aware of it, the results tend to produce undesirable consequences.

“Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.”

-Morgan Scott Peck-

worried man
Self-sabotage means denying yourself, either consciously or unconsciously, something positive with the potential to change your life.


Here’s an example of self-sabotage. A patient goes to a psychology consultation. After a few sessions, they begin to feel better. Therefore, they decide to stop the therapy despite the fact that the psychologist suggests it would be useful for them to continue.

Self-sabotage includes a whole series of behaviors whose objective is injury, failure, and the rupturing of dreams. It results in a loss of what you want. You experience it through intensely negative valence emotions such as anxiety, frustration, or sadness.

Self-sabotage is a mental mistake that sabotages your decisions, but it can also be a defense mechanism. For example, if you’ve had many relationships that have always ended up in painful situations, you might self-sabotage your next relationship. In effect, your objective, albeit an unconscious one, is to avoid so much misery again. Next, we’re going to explain some different ways in which you might self-sabotage.

“Self-sabotage can act as a defense mechanism that protects the subject from an imminent disidealisation of the loved object.”

-Mariana Suaza Ramírez-

The mental mistakes that sabotage your decisions

You begin to avoid the trap of self-sabotage when you start to identify those behaviors or decisions that make you behave in this way. In fact, once you realize that your unconscious may be getting in the way of your goals, you can try to remedy the situation. Here are five ways you might self-sabotage.

1. Don’t help me

Avoiding help when you need it most can bring you discomfort. This stance is usually supported by emotions such as pride or shame. However, it’s essential to ask for help because your coping capacity on certain occasions may be insufficient.

For example, there are times when you get stuck and feel frustrated. Thus, allowing outside help to motivate you can act as a valuable pressure-relief valve.

Asking for help is an intrinsically human act that’s absolutely essential.

2. Avoiding emotions

Repression occurs when you avoid feeling a particular emotion. It’s a mental mistake that leads you to distance yourself from an important part of yourself, your emotional self. Repressing an emotion implies that, far from disappearing, it’s likely to reappear in the future with more intensity.

If something is frustrating you, the result you’re achieving is probably far from what you want. But, emotions are extraordinary vehicles of information. Therefore, you can use the information they give you to change what you’re doing.

Emotions are extremely valuable channels of information.

3. Being afraid of setting boundaries

“I need to say no to you and yes to me”. Setting boundaries with other people means telling them what you want and desire, but also what’s hurting you. When your relationships lack boundaries, unpleasant situations can occur.

This is because the other person lacks the information to allow them to adapt their behavior to you. And vice versa. An appropriate way of setting boundaries is via assertive communication. It’s a calm, reflective, and far from hostile form of dialogue.

4. Talking negatively to yourself

Negatively valenced self-affirmations can go really deep. For example, you might tell yourself “I’m not good enough for others”, “I’ve done my best but I should’ve done more “or “I’m a complete disaster”. You must remember that the way you speak to yourself has a powerful impact on the concept you have of yourself. In fact, it can erode both your self-concept and self-esteem.

Instead, you need to use positive affirmations. For instance “I’ve done well”, “It was really hard but I’ve done it ” or “I’m a winner”. These kinds of statements help you exercise self-compassion. This consists of educating the way you look at yourself so that you focus on your strengths. It means relying more on your good points than your bad.

Woman looking in the mirror
Having self-compassion means that, even when something upsets you, you treat yourself with love and affection. Moreover, you reinforce yourself in what you’ve achieved however small. This acts as a springboard to facing the bad things.

5. Resisting change

Change is part of life. Denying change implies putting obstacles in your way and self-sabotaging yourself. It goes hand in hand with adaptation. At times, adaptation is hard because it consumes your energy and can cause you fear and alarm. However, everything that you avoid facing has a habit of getting increasingly bigger.

A good way to flow with change is by accepting it. Accepting change means embracing it. Even if you’re afraid, you must accept it. It involves letting go of avoidance, looking the change squarely in the face, and saying, “Time to move on.” It means making contact with your changing reality from a conscious position. In other words, knowing that change is an intrinsic part of life.

These kinds of mental mistakes are frequent and they can become dysfunctional if they prevent you from moving forward. However, if you manage to identify them, you may be able to fix them before it’s too late.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Romero, M., Casadevante, C., & González, A. L. (2022). Experimentar cierta mejoría se asocia a un abandono prematuro de la terapia. Escritos de psicología, 15(2), 59-68.
  • Ramírez, M. S. (2018). Autosabotaje en el amor: una trampa catastrófica. Análisis basado en los largometrajes Love y La vida de Adele. Poiésis, (35), 75-93.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.