“All of us struggle with some wound

that separates us from all that we can be, do or have.”

Have you ever felt that you are the obstacle in your path to success? Have you ever not gotten out of bed until the very last minute to finish your assignment which is due tomorrow? Have you ever felt that you put yourself in stressful situations which could have easily been avoided? If you answer is yes to any of these situations, that means you engage in self- sabotaging behavior. According to Miriam-Webster dictionary self-sabotage is “the act of destroying or damaging something deliberately so that it doesn’t work correctly.”

Self-sabotage is protective behavior in which you engage to prevent any emotional pain. It is used synonymously to the word ‘self handicapped’. It can be reflected in one’s overt or covert behavior. Hence it can be a conscious or an unconscious behavior we engage in.

  1. Overt: like alcohol or drug abuse, self-inflicting injuries, irregular eating patterns, wasting valuable time
  2. Covert: like procrastination, lack of assertiveness, people pleasing and self-doubt which in turn increases chances of failure.

Self-sabotaging behavior are actually habits which are formulated over time. It’s hidden in our hectic day to day life. To lead a better, a more fulfilling life we need to start getting aware of it. Or else we will always be the obstacle in our own path to success. Dr Chandni Tugnait, an MD in Alternative Medicines and Psychotherapist said that self-sabotage can severely affect multiple aspects of an individual’s life, including mental health.

Think of self-sabotage as your ‘inner bully’ who prevents you to be successful. It’s your inner critic who always tells you that you’re not good enough. It prevents you from unleashing your true potential and to become ‘self-actualize.’

Michael Jackson at the peak of his career got into cosmetic surgery and skin whitening treatments. This resulted in him sabotaging his own career. It’s a very common phenomena to engage in self-sabotage without even being aware of it. It can be as simple as forgetting a deadline or failing to prepare for an exam or starting a project and failing to stay motivated enough to finish it. It might be something you’re passionate about but you seem to lose interest in it without any rationale explanation. You might label yourself as being ‘lazy’ when you notice yourself doing this. Perhaps there might be a deep routed reason behind it.

Abraham Lincoln, Fred Rogers, Michelangelo, John F. Kennedy, and George Washington are renowned people who have also in their life engaged in self-sabotaging behavior.

One of the most frequent reasons for this is low self-esteem. If you feel a constant sense of inadequacy in your capabilities or if you worry if you will ever succeed in your career or if you will ever make your parents proud might be because you have low self-esteem. If you are in your twenties and are reading this, I’m sure you would relate. Having recurrent negative thoughts points towards a pattern of distorted thinking leading to low self-esteem. This thereafter makes us engage in self-defeating or self-sabotaging behavior. You see the cycle?

Another reason for self-sabotage can be disturbing childhood. It can lead to consequently engaging in this behavior in your romantic relationships. Not having a secure attachment style with your parents in your childhood can make you develop avoidance as an attachment style. For example – you people please and avoid conflict in your relationship to keep peace hence self-sabotage.

A need for control in life is yet another prominent motive behind self-sabotage. This might be the reason why you’re so scared to be ambitious and dream within a box. The fear of something new and uncertain is scary (understandably so). Our brain is wired to crave for familiar situations and views new situations as threatening. There is nothing wrong in being comfortable but how do you think you’re going to have different experiences if you’re not willing to bring a change? Thus, resisting change is also a form of self-sabotage.

A person who wants to start an entrepreneurial venture may find excuses to not take the first step towards this goal. He might have thoughts like what if the business doesn’t pick up?

Here we view fear of failure as a reason for self-sabotage. The person fears failure so much that he is not even willing to take the first step towards building his business. “Sometimes we are our own biggest enemies” rightly quotes by Brittainy C. Cherry.

The first step to overcoming self-sabotage is by being kind to oneself. Research has shown that practicing self-compassion increases awareness of one’s own emotions. It makes one view human life which encompasses pain and suffering along with pleasure. Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend, be gentle with your words. Journaling is another helpful way to increase self-awareness which initiates the introspection process and will help identify troublesome thoughts and their origins.

Along with self-compassion it’s essential to be aware of one’s strengths and work on improving it further. Focusing on your weaknesses will only make you more self-critical. Embrace your strengths and it’ll change your entire perspective! An example of this can be to look in the mirror every morning and say three kind statements to yourself. The Letter of Self-Compassion exercise which gives people an opportunity to write themselves a brief message of forgiveness and acceptance in the second-person perspective can help lead the way for self-forgiveness and compassion.

A lot of times, we consider what feel as our reality. Most often than not this is untrue. Challenging one’s negative thoughts and feelings is a step forward in overcoming self- sabotage. We are not, what we think or feel. Avy Joseph in his book “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: Your Route Out of Perfectionism, Self-sabotage and Other Everyday Habits” talks about formulating SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time oriented) goals. This technique helps you formulate goals in a structured manner. Moreover, it helps you in identifying thoughts and feelings that are stopping you from achieving your goals.

By making an effort to be in the moment and practicing self-acceptance we can move forward. Self-acceptance can be achieved by simply being with oneself. Say spending time in nature or meditating or making art work. It can be anything of your choice. Finding comfort in one’s own company. Adequate social support is necessary for the person to feel they are in control. Therefore, building on an encouraging network of friends and family would be highly beneficial. Overcoming self-sabotage requires constant and conscious steps to change the way your mind thinks. It’s indeed a challenging process but not impossible. You control your thoughts not the other way around.

(The author of the above article is Akanksha Singh, currently pursuing M.Phil in Clinical Psychology)

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