Overcoming Self-Sabotage

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Overcoming self-sabotage

Sabotage is the act of undermining or destroying something, often in a subversive manner. It is usually deliberate and direct. Tragically, self-sabotage is when we try to destroy our own success and happiness. It is fundamentally, a form of psychological self-harm, even if on the surface it does not seem deliberate. 

Self-sabotage erodes your self-esteem and will impact your relationships with others and negatively impacts your mental health. It can even damage your reputation by preventing you from delivering aspects of projects at work, therefore it is best identified and addressed. 

Why do we self-sabotage?

Your brain is trying to protect you, even if it is not entirely correct to do so in some circumstances. The brain uses the information it receives to keep you safe and it does so by preventing or avoiding change from occurring, as it does not deem change to be safe, because change can be scary, painful and uncomfortable. 

We can self-sabotage as a protection mechanism, so that we bring about our own failure, so we are not surprised when it “inevitably” happens.

Self-sabotaging puts us in control of the situation, which allows us to feel stronger and better able to face it, but in the end, it just prevents us from obtaining the goals and achievements we believe we want. 

What does self-sabotage look like?

Self-sabotage doesn’t always manifest itself in the same way for everyone, it can be expressed in unique ways and some people are more prone to self-sabotage than others. It can provide the basis for an unjustified sense of worthlessness and negative thoughts that have no real basis.

  1. Procrastination where you delay completing tasks and activities due to feeling overwhelmed, time management trouble or doubting your abilities and skills.  
  2. Repeatedly dating people who aren’t right for you or staying in a relationship that is not going anywhere; or dating people with completely different goals for the future, for example, you want children, and they don’t, but you stick around hoping they will change their mind. They won’t.
  3. You have trouble stating your needs, so your boundaries are disrespected, leaving you feeling taken advantage of, which leads to frustration and lowered feelings of self-worth.
  4. Being the ‘nice person’ all the time and having the inability to say no. This puts you on the back foot as it makes you feel like an option to everyone else’s priority status. 
  5. Perfectionism and setting unreasonably high standards for yourself (higher than those you hold others to). Perfect doesn’t exist, so chasing perfection and dismissing all your incremental improvements will destroy your self-esteem. It is very difficult to feel motivated and take massive positive action when you spend your time telling yourself that you are useless. 
  6. Starting things we never finish, like new courses, books or projects. Not finishing things unintentionally, gives you an excuse later, that “I never finish anything”, to explain why you haven’t signed up for that master’s degree or cookery course or whatever that you say you want to do. Consciously choosing to leave a course that no longer fits with your plans or choosing to stop reading a book because it’s boring, is completely different and should be commended. You don’t have to stick with doing something you don’t enjoy or that doesn’t move your needle forward just because you started it.
  7. Self-medicating can take many forms, not just traditionally unhealthy habits, but the more common forms are drugs (recreational and pharmaceutical), alcohol, food, etc used to numb the pain. They may numb the pain for an initial period, but they cause long-term damage to the body and the mind. 
  8. Self-deprecating or false modesty in work situations often drives people to play down their abilities because they’ve been told “No-one likes a know-it-all” or similar, which seemingly makes them more likeable, but also seen as less competent.
  9. Fear of judgement – We worry what others may think of us, so we self-sabotage, for example, we may worry our family may think less of us if we fail, so we just don’t bother to do the thing at all. 
  10. Fear of success, which sounds counterintuitive, but the reality is people react differently to our successes and some may be jealous if we succeed, thus making them spiteful and callous, which hurts our feelings, leaving us less inclined to want to “put ourselves out there”.

Self-sabotage can manifest itself as: 

I know when I am sorting the spice rack and cleaning all the bottles as though we’re about to go into major surgery together or sorting out the Tupperware cupboard that I am procrastinating, same applies to dusting each leaf of my Spider Plant. Sometimes though, that procrastination can trigger a creative spark, so I choose to examine the emotion that is tied to it and determine what is driving it, which helps me move forward. Sometimes though, the procrastination is allowed to stay, but only sometimes.  

How do we overcome it?

  1. Identify the behaviours that you adopt. Do you resonate with any of the above signs of self-sabotage? Do you know what your version of procrastination or perfectionism looks like?
  2. What makes you feel like you must act this way? What is the feeling that’s making you clean the kitchen instead of doing the project? Why does the feeling make you react in this way? What are you avoiding?
  3. Talk about it with those closest to you. It’s likely that the people you know and love have had some form of self-sabotage in their lives and they may even have a great strategy for overcoming it. And they can hold you accountable for taking action when you say you will. 
  4. Change your thoughts, and beliefs. I know, so easy to say, right? When you are being shitty to yourself, stop, and ask yourself – “what can I say instead that is supportive and positive?” – practice this routinely and it will get easier in time. You have a choice of whether or not you listen to your inner critic
  5. Chunk your goals. Break your big goals down into smaller quick wins so that you can record each success even if it is really small. This will help you to strengthen your self-esteem. 
  6. Give yourself grace. You are trying hard to do your best and be your best. Be kind to yourself, more often than you are beating yourself up.  

Avoiding situations that may cause you pain is not a strategy worth implementing if you want to achieve change. Anything worth having comes with the risk of pain. Acknowledge the discomfort and do it anyway

If you are having difficulty working through your self-sabotage, know that you are not alone. Consider working with a coach or therapist. If I can help support you in any way, please reach out at coach@aheadtogether.co.uk or book a discovery call for a discussion on some strategies you could use to overcome self-sabotage.


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