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What is Self-Sabotage and Why You Might Be Doing it? (Part I)

“We each have our own ways of sabotaging and keeping ourselves down… Do we need to remain the victim so strongly that we pull the ceiling down upon our own heads? There is a comfort in the familiar.” – Maureen Brady

Self-sabotage occurs when we destroy ourselves physically, mentally, or emotionally or deliberately hinder our success and well-being by undermining personal goals and values (Brenner, 2019).
Self-Sabotaging -Why We Do it and How to Stop It?

You have an assignment to submit tomorrow and the thought that you have in mind is that ‘I’ll do it tomorrow morning.’ Now, here you know that you are not a morning person but considering this as a one-off circumstance, you binged on your favourite series putting the assignment off for the following day before your college. You woke up late, somehow got ready, grabbed your coffee and rushed to college without the assignment, anxious about the consequence and angry at yourself for making this stupid judgement of choosing to binge on a series you’ve already seen rather than completing the assignment. This, my dear readers is a classic example of self-sabotaging behaviour. The entire day seems gloomy and you’re upset with yourself.

Self-sabotage occurs when we destroy ourselves physically, mentally, or emotionally or deliberately hinder our success and well-being by undermining personal goals and values (Brenner, 2019). It is “insidious, profound, and universal” and emanates from negative mindsets (Berg, 2015). You chose to not prioritize your assignment today because you (subconsciously) chose to come in your way of achieving the results you were looking for. Thwarting your progress is not uncommon and happens for various reasons (both consciously and subconsciously) that need further exploration but may stem from your childhood, past experiences and/or fears. For example, you’re aware that you’re borderline obese and are on a diet but in the name of a ‘cheat day’ you end up bingeing on a large pizza with some soft drinks. That may fall under the ambit of subconscious self-sabotaging behaviour while ‘deliberately’ not submitting an assignment because the teacher scolds you might come under the category of conscious self-sabotaging behaviour because the underlying reasons might be many, like fearing additional responsibilities or fearing failure and criticism that might follow or something different and it is a separate discussion altogether. The point we’re trying to make here is that we end up sabotaging our efforts quite often, be it consciously or unconsciously.

Common Ways People Self-Sabotage?

1. Procrastination

That’s one way of telling yourself and the people around you that you aren’t sincere enough to take the responsibility you’ve been given where the idea that you probably don't deserve it is silently hidden in your subconscious mind. We might not be able to process the hidden emotions so we rationalize ourselves with the feelings of laziness and tell ourselves that ‘we’ll do it in a while.’ That ‘while’ never comes.

2. Perfectionism

Setting high standards for yourself (which are unrealistic) right from the word GO! This causes delays in your tasks and you’re not able to meet the deadline. “I’ll give the best of my work with no margin for error”, while it may sound like a foolproof plan, it isn’t and leads to failures so to speak because we are overpowered by the All or None Thinking. Either we give the best or we don’t give it at all, thus sabotaging your efforts until now.

3. Justification

There is a sense of discomfort that we experience as a result of any conflicting belief that we may hold. For example, you want to build your savings but also consider shopping as therapy; therefore, when the need comes, you aren’t left with a lot of cash in hand, resulting in extreme regret. This is called Cognitive Dissonance. We tend to justify and rationalize our decisions, ‘that 20th sneaker that I just bought, it was important as I did not have anything to wear with the blue dress I bought a couple of weeks ago.’

What self-sabotaging behaviours do you relate with?

  • Procrastination

  • Perfectionism

  • Justification

You can vote for more than one answer.

BUT WHY do People Self-Sabotage?

While each of us might have an entirely different basis for self-sabotaging our efforts, we might or might not have noticed some common reasons for our self-sabotaging behaviour. We’re not trying to conclude anything here, but trying to highlight some of the commonly observed patterns.

1. Learned Beliefs During Childhood

During childhood, many things shape our belief system and may even lead us to become who we become.

During childhood, many things shape our belief system and may even lead us to become who we become. One such example is when our parents constantly tell us that there isn’t much we can do in life, we end up believing it and thus, handicap ourselves from making efforts for things that we are capable of achieving. Remember your football tournament penalty shootout where the rival team members sledged you heavily that you won’t be able to hit the target and you really missed it, sadly yes, you sabotaged your chances by focusing and internalizing what they said.

2. Difficulty in Relationships

You end up breaking up with all your partners due to some or the other reasons.

Have you observed a pattern of breakups in your relationships? Do you end up breaking up with your partner or getting attracted to others or picking up fights with them?

Based on a recent study (2019) on self-sabotage, 15 psychologists specializing in romantic relationships in Australia identified the main issues for the prevalence of self-sabotage in romantic relationships. Reasons included insecure attachment styles, low self-esteem, fear of getting hurt, fear of commitment, unhealthy relationship beliefs, and coping problems when it comes to matters of the heart. Consider that your ex-partner was a toxic individual, you were hurt, disappointed and disrespected in the relationship. Now, you’re in a better relationship but still choose to break up. What made you do that?

Based on these attachment styles, or low self-esteem, or in an attempt to save yourself from perceived hurt that you might experience, you end up sabotaging your relationship so that you don’t have to endure the hurt that you earlier had to go through.

3. Low Self-esteem

Let’s understand how self-esteem is another major reason for an individual to go through self-sabotaging behaviour in a little more depth. When you do not believe in yourself or you’ve been told all your life that you can’t succeed, anything closer to success in your terms would start making you uncomfortable and you might want to distance yourself from it. The idea of comparison is well ingrained within individuals with low self-esteem. You scored decently well in your exams but a friend of yours scored better than you, great, but does that make you look down upon yourself? Do you just sabotage a moment of happiness for yourself because it was not ‘as good as others’?

Learn how to stop self-sabotaging behaviour in PART - II of this article.



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