Self-Sabotage: When You Are Your Own Worst Enemy

February 13, 2018 in Psychology 1 Shared
woman in cage

Self-sabotage is the tendency to make things hard for yourself by creating limits and complications that impede progress towards your goals.

If you think back to your past, you’ll probably recall a few situations when you failed to reach your goal and didn’t know how or why. One possible explanation is self-sabotage.

Self-sabotage brings out the enemy within you. It might somehow protect you from failure in the short-term, but it will also prevent you from being successful. People who self-sabotage create obstacles because they unconsciously believe that they can’t do whatever the difficult situation requires.

Below, we’ll look at 4 of the most common types of self-sabotage.

What are the different types of self-sabotage?

1. Denying what you need

The first type, and one of the most common, is denying yourself things you need or want. People hide their true desires by saying things like “it doesn’t matter,” “I don’t want it,” or “it doesn’t interest me.”

That way, they protect themselves from disappointment and don’t have to accept that they have to work to improve their skills. However, they also block themselves from success and the opportunity to aspire to do greater things and get recognition for them.

Self-sabotage comes into play when they deny that they want to achieve a goal or unconsciously deny themselves a personal need. It’s very important to learn the difference between when you really don’t want something and when you want it but are afraid you won’t get it.

When you make that difference, you can start to protect yourself from your own self-destructive behaviors.

“Believing in yourself doesn’t guarantee success, but not believing in yourself guarantees failure.”

-Albert Bandura-

a woman hiding her face

2. Procrastinating: leaving everything to the last minute

One of the most effective ways to fail in both your personal and professional life is to procrastinate. It’s a toxic habit because it gives you the false perception that you’re on top of things, when really you’re just indefinitely postponing your to-do’s.

Procrastination is a defense mechanism because it protects you from feeling incompetent. But it also prevents you from seeing what you’re actually capable of. In essence, it makes you feel like you’re working towards your goals when you’re actually not.

3. Being inconsistent: starting a project but abandoning it when it gets hard

Inconsistency is one of the most common masks that self-sabotage wears. Failure is certain when you start a project and abandon it along the way. However, you can train yourself to be consistent with daily practice.

The means of self-sabotage is quite clear: if you don’t finish the task, you won’t have to evaluate whether you did it well or not. Maybe you could do it well, but you don’t know how to handle success. In this sense, self-sabotage also protects people from success when they think they don’t deserve it.

4. Making excuses for not making decisions

Making decisions gives you a degree of responsibility over what happens, which depends on the importance of the decision. Self-sabotage protects you from accepting that responsibility because you’re refusing to take a stance.

Avoiding decisions is another mask that self-sabotage wears. You prevent yourself from taking control of your own life, using your voice, and stating your decision clearly. It also forces you into a spectator role in your own life. This reinforces the idea that you’re not good enough to for more.

man stuck in maze due to self-sabotage

What are the possible causes of self-sabotage?

Avoidant personality disorder

When human beings are faced with adversity, they have three options: confront, avoid, or postpone. In other words, you can look for a solution (confront), try to convince yourself that it’s not affecting or bothering you and look the other way (avoid), or wait to see what happens for an undefined period of time (postpone).

While it’s a good idea to take your time before acting when figuring out a solution, postponing all action indefinitely can turn into a habit that will lower your self-esteem.

If you make a habit of avoidance in adolescence and young adulthood, you miss the opportunity to take advantage of situations that would allow you to develop new abilities. If you avoid confronting difficult situations or let opportunities for growth pass you by, you could develop avoidant personality disorder.

Avoidant personality disorder is directly related with self-sabotage because the person convinces themselves that they can’t do something. They may not have the proper skills, but that doesn’t mean they can’t grow from the situation.

People with avoidant personality disorder feel incapable of overcoming challenges, but that’s their biggest limitation. Their mistake is conflating a lack of skills with incapability.

They have to stop avoiding things that make them doubt their capability. They must allow themselves the chance to grow as a person. Remember, without challenge there is no growth.

Low self-esteem

When you have a low opinion of your own qualities, you don’t love yourself very much. When you don’t love yourself, you tend not to trust in your abilities. Hence the relationship between self-sabotage and low self-esteem.

People with low self-esteem don’t allow themselves the opportunity to grow or push themselves outside their comfort zone. That’s because they believe from the bottom of their heart that they don’t deserve the opportunity. They won’t measure up to the task. They’re not worthy of the goal.

“The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.”

-Erich Fromm-

Overprotective family environment

Growing up in an overprotective family environment ingrains two messages in people’s heads about themselves and their capabilities. The first is that their family loves them and protects them, and therefore they’re not alone. The second is that they need their parents to protect them and help them because they can’t do things alone and they’re not strong enough.

When caregivers are overprotective, they send those two messages intertwined together. It’s the second one that leads to self-sabotage. Overprotective family causes people to depend on others to feel competent and secure.

So once they become an adult and independent, they self-sabotage as a defense mechanism. The less protection they receive from their family, the more they self-sabotage.

What are the effects of self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage can easily turn into a vicious cycle. If you don’t give yourself the chance to achieve something, you don’t challenge yourself. Therefore you don’t grow.

The cycle continues: you miss the opportunity to build new skills and improve the ones you already have. And so you keep thinking that you can’t do something, don’t want to, or won’t be able to do it well.

Many people, if not all, have a mini saboteur inside themselves, and you just have to learn to live with it. It’s always going to tell you that you’re not capable of achieving your goals. It will make you doubt yourself indefinitely and hold you inside your cozy comfort zone.

The trick is to learn how to listen to its doubts without getting sucked in, which of course takes a lot of patience.

woman holding key on mountain

For all the above reasons, self-sabotage creates a constant feeling of uncertainty. It’s self-perpetuating, which is why it’s so important to see it and break the vicious cycle as soon as possible.

To overcome self-sabotage, work on your self-esteem, acknowledge and build your strengths, and identify and improve your weaknesses. But most importantly, just give yourself a chance.

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