Self-Sabotage: What Is It And How To Stop It

In honor of Halloween, let’s talk about tricks. One trick we play on ourselves is self-sabotage.

I’m reading this awesome book by Brianna Wiest, The Mountain is You (highly recommend). She talks about:

  • What self-sabotage is and isn’t
  • Why we do it
  • The ways to identify it in yourself
  • And of course, the ways to change those self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors to deepen your relationship with yourself, go after what you want, and live your most authentic life. 

What is self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage is any thought or behavior that does not align with your authentic self, your values, and prevents you from accomplishing what you want to achieve. We all engage in self-sabotage from time to time, but if you find that it’s becoming a habit, and you can’t figure out what exactly is holding you back from achieving your goals, then it might be time to look at some of these patterns. You deserve to believe in yourself and live the life you are meant to. 

What’s so interesting is Wiest discusses how when we really, really want something that we’ve never had before, we fight and resist against doing the work to achieve it. Even though it’s something we truly desire, and it’s typically a good thing that we want for ourselves, our bodies and minds are wired to fight change. We like to remain in our comfort zone. Homeostasis please and thank you very much! So, you can really, really want to tone up at the gym, or start that new business, or begin online dating, but as much as you want these things, you can’t understand why you get in your own way. 

It’s not your fault! We are trying to overcome our bodies’ and minds’ hardwiring in addition to changing our own unique thought patterns and behaviors that get in the way. We want to believe that we deserve the things we want, and we can’t understand why we put obstacles up for ourselves. We are so terrified of failing if we go after what we really want that we don’t try because the fear is far too great, and we can’t tolerate the uncertainty. When we are afraid that we are going to lose something important to us, we push it away from ourselves first to protect ourselves. Mind blown, right? 

Here are some examples of how you might be self-sabotaging, according to both Wiest and me:

  • You automatically believe that everything you think and feel is true
  • You dwell on past relationships
  • You care too much about what others think
  • You don’t get to the gym or eat well when you really want to
  • You’re not doing the work that will propel you forward in your career
  • You have self-defeating thoughts or self-talk
  • You overwork and need to stay busy all the time
  • You mindlessly scroll through social media (compare and despair)!
  • You procrastinate
  • You’re a perfectionist 

So first, take a deep breath and realize that you are not alone in self-sabotage. This is normal, human, and we are literally hardwired to resist change. The great news is that this is fixable, and you can heal and change these behaviors to get what you really want. 

How to stop self-sabotaging 

The first step to making any kind of change is becoming aware of your thoughts and behaviors that you keep stuck in the unwanted pattern, and why and when you may have developed these patterns. The second step is to accept that you are experiencing these thoughts and behaviors. I know acceptance can sound hard and icky, but acceptance does not mean that you’re okay with how things are or that you’re not actively trying to change them. It just means that you accept the reality of the situation. The “it is what it is” attitude. 

In my work with clients with self-sabotage, the next steps are:

  • Exploring what life would look like for them if they didn’t self-sabotage
  • Teach them to treat themselves with compassion and recognize their strengths
  • And create small, sustainable steps for them to take to get them to the life they envision for themselves.  

Mindfulness and meditation, journaling, talking to a therapist, seeking social support, and engaging in self-care are very important tools while doing this work. 

Please reach out to me if you’d like to learn more about how I can help you with self-sabotage, and definitely check out Brianna Wiest’s book for more insight.

Wiest, Brianna. The Mountain is You. Brooklyn and Los Angeles, Thought Catalog Books, 2020.