By Heather Cherry—
When you are faced with big, ongoing problems in your life that seem challenging, you may not have big problems, but big attachments instead. And these attachments can be part of a habit loop. Sometimes it happens by accident, and sometimes it happens because it’s comfortable.
“When you get yourself used to doing things that move your life forward, you call that skills. If they hold back your life, you call them self-sabotage. They both have essentially the same function,” says Brianna Wiest, author of The mountain is you.
Wiest continues: “Usually it is not a coincidence at all. The habits and behaviors you don’t quit—no matter how destructive or limiting they are—are intelligently designed by your subconscious mind to satisfy an unmet need, repressed emotion, or neglected desire.”
If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t get to the next level – despite the solution seeming “simple”, yet unattainable –self-sabotage can be fault.
Here’s how to stop sabotaging yourself and ask for what you really want.
What is self-sabotage?
Self-sabotage is often driven by: negative self talk-inner dialogue that could limit your ability to believe in yourself. (If you’ve ever said things to yourself like, “You can’t do that,” or “You don’t deserve that,” you’ve probably had negative self-talk.)
Negative self-talk is common, but it can have a lasting impact. A study found that rumination and self-blame about side effects were associated with an increased risk of mental health problems. In addition, dwell on negative thoughts can lead to decreased motivation and greater feelings of helplessness.
And if negative self-talk is left unchecked, it can lead to: self-sabotage.
Conscious self-sabotage and unconscious self-sabotage
You can sabotage yourself in many ways. Some are obvious, others are harder to spot. “Self-sabotage is when you have two conflicting desires. One is conscious, the other is unconscious. You know how you want to move your life forward, and yet for some reason you’re still stuck,” Wiest said.
- Conscious self-sabotage: Being aware of your actions that are sabotaging your goals.
- Unconscious self sabotage: Acting unconsciously, i.e. accidentally missing a deadline to submit an application.
“Even if our actions are conscious, it feels better to say it wasn’t my choice to get that chance,” said Jocelyn Patterson, a licensed mental health counselor in Sarasota, Florida. “Because it increases the risk of deal with discomfortself-sabotage can give us the convenience of saying ‘it wasn’t my destiny’ rather than having the uneasy feeling that it wasn’t our fault that we didn’t achieve our goals.”
And some experts believe that self-sabotage does not sabotage at all. “Self-sabotage is” self-preservation. Our nervous system is programmed, conditioned and tuned to any perceived sense of threat. It doesn’t matter if that threat is real or imagined; our nervous system is a highly tuned instrument, always on the lookout,” said Shirani Pathaka licensed psychotherapist in San Jose, California, and author of: fierce authenticity. “When we experience something new, it can set off alarm bells in our internal system. Our brains command us to behave normally in order to familiarize ourselves again. Self-sabotage is a protective mechanism created by your psyche to protect you from potential danger – what we know is what our psyche considers safe.”
Self-sabotage happens when there is a mismatch between your values and behavior. For example, you consistently arrive late for work, so you set a goal to wake up earlier. But you stay up late to watch television, rationalizing that you can complete your tasks tomorrow. Yet you are slack and feel too tired to perform the necessary tasks.
“Self-destructive behavior is a biological response,” says Dr. Judy Ho, author of Stop self-sabotage. “We get a boost in dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter) by setting goals. But when it comes time to complete them, the fear of failure triggers the avoidance behavior. So to avoid the “threat,” we unconsciously shy away from our goals This is called the approach-avoidance conflict.”
A few self-sabotage behaviors include:
- Resistance: People often feel resistance to what goes right, not what goes wrong. This is because when you try something new, the unfamiliarity can be daunting – resistance is how you protect yourself.
- Perfectionism: It keeps you from showing up and trying, or really doing the important work in your life. This can be the result of fear of failure, feeling vulnerable, or not being as good as you want others to think you are.
- disorganization: Leaving your life and spaces in disarray not only makes you mindlessly forgetting to take care of your surroundings. You often create distractions and chaos that serve an unconscious purpose.
- Upper limit: This is the amount of “good” you are comfortable with in your life – your threshold for having positive feelings or experiencing positive events. When you go beyond your limit, you subconsciously begin to sabotage what is happening in order to bring yourself back to what is comfortable.
How to stop sabotaging yourself (at work and in life)
Learning to recognize and change self-sabotaged behaviors can help you rebuild your self-image and achieve your goals. Here’s how to stop self-sabotaged behavior.
- Becoming self-aware: Patterns are often associated with self-sabotage. One of the essential steps to overcome it is to: develop self-awareness. Ask yourself about common patterns when you find yourself engaging in self-sabotaged behavior. What are the similarities and what can you do to change them?
- Identify triggers: It’s not always easy to identify triggers– especially if they’ve been around for a long time. Practice journaling if you’re having trouble figuring out what’s triggering your self-sabotaged behavior. Sometimes self-sabotage triggers are the result of past or childhood trauma. If so, work with a therapist or medical professional to help you resolve the underlying emotional pain.
- To get “Okay” with being uncomfortable: Once you’re self-aware and identify your triggers, it’s time to practice to get uncomfortable. If you know your self-sabotaged thoughts are creeping up before you make a calendar invite, make a personal rule to do it anyway. Creating a personal rule will help you take control of your habit and increase your chances of success. Action is a critical step toward overcoming self-destructive behavior.
- Practice mindfulness: Self-destructive behaviors can be a coping mechanism and can be painful to break — unwrapping them can affect patterns in your professional, personal, and romantic relationships. Practicing Mindfulness can help you break down the habits faster and strengthen your ability to stay present, helping you overcome your inner critic.
- To communicate: Communicating can feel scary, but for those who sabotage themselves, it can be a powerful tool to overcome. Share your fears help them feel less fearful – sharing goals supports accountability.
Identifying and overcoming self-sabotage is a process and takes time to accomplish. It can be difficult to unravel the feelings and emotions behind it. So give yourself grace and know that by doing the work you are one step closer to finding (and receiving) what you really want.
Heather Cherry is a versatile writer and editor with 15 years of experience in content creation. She writes on a variety of topics, but specializes in health and wellness content. She is the author of the Small Business Marketing Guide, Market your A$$ discount.
Janice has been with businesskinda for 5 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider businesskinda team, Janice seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.