Updated: Mar 14
What a strange question? It assumes that everyone does it. The truth is, most people do!
So what does it mean to self-sabotage? Simply put, it means to undermine the goals and values you have set for yourself by either thinking thoughts, or acting in a way not in line with those goals.
Self-sabotage can either be conscious (when you know you are doing something in opposition to your stated goal, yet choose to do it anyway.) Or, unconscious (when you realize after the fact that you sabotaged yourself.)
Let's look at this more closely. Perhaps you have a goal of losing weight, (e.g. you know you will look/feel better if you lose the weight) but you choose to do something in direct conflict with that goal; even though you know better (e.g. go through the drive-thru and order a" super-sized" fast-food meal.) This is an example of conscious self-sabotage.
Perhaps you have commitment and intimacy issues, you may develop the unconscious habit of cheating, picking fights, creating drama, or ruining an otherwise healthy relationship. This is an example of unconscious self-sabotage.
Understand The Need Your Self-Sabotage Fills
As you can imagine there are many ways in which we can undermine ourselves and self-sabotage our goals. Here are the main ways people self-sabotage. Understanding the "need" that your self-sabotaging fills will be the first step to being self-aware enough to stop:
Stress Eating - Turning to food as away to cope with stress and anxiety because it immediately makes you feel better (although long-term can cause self-loathing) and provides a distraction from the real emotion.
If you want to stop stress eating, you need to show yourself some compassion and grace and get curious to see how stress eating “works” to make you feel less lonely in your unhappy marriage, or enables you to put a guard around yourself to prevent intimate relationships. Ask yourself "What feeling/emotion am I trying to avoid?"
Substance Abuse - Excessive use of alcohol or drugs used to "check-out" instead of dealing with and working towards your goals.
If you want to stop abusing drugs and/or alcohol, you need to be open to the fact that using drugs or alcohol “works” to alleviate your stress. Ask yourself, without judgement, "What does the high or drunken state allow me to avoid?"
Chronic Tardiness - Continually showing up late because you want to avoid something; (e.g. perhaps you get anxious about meeting new people before an event starts, so you show up late.)
If you want to stop chronically being late, do some soul searching as to what it is that you are avoiding, or scared of facing by being on time. Ask yourself, "What feeling/emotion am I trying to avoid by showing up late?"
Procrastination - Intentionally delaying something even though you know it would be better to just do it!
If you want to stop procrastinating you need to seek to understand that procrastinating helps you avoid either fear of failure, or fear of success. Ask yourself "How would I feel if I did this task now instead of putting it off?"
Intimacy and Commitment Issues - Causing you to intentionally wreck an otherwise healthy relationship.
If you want to stop sabotaging your relationships ask yourself "Why am I picking a fight, or choosing not to get along right now, and have I communicated how I am feeling?"
We all do some, if not all of the above, on occasion; it is when you are consistently doing something from the list above you should consider getting curious as to why, and perhaps seek help to change those behaviors.
Identify An Alternative Healthy Behavior to Fill That Need
If you want to stop self-sabotaging for good, the key is to understand what need it is serving, and to discover an alternative behavior that will fill the same need in a healthier and more productive way. By asking yourself the questions above, and by seeking to understand why you do what you do, you can then start to seek out other ways to behave which can give you the result you are looking for without being destructive.
Plan for Times When You May Slip Back Into Your Old Ways
It's important to plan for obstacles that will inevitably get in the way of you choosing a healthier response to life!
Have an alternative plan for the next time you're hungry - keep a healthy snack on hand, or research ahead of time where you can get healthy food quickly.
Establish a list of supportive friends you can call to talk with the next time you want to abuse drugs or alcohol.
Make a pact with yourself to break the cycle of procrastination by using a pattern interrupt technique (like doing 10 jumping jacks or going for a walk), followed by immediately doing what ever it was you were procrastinating.
Get Comfortable With the Uncomfortable Feeling/Emotion
In order to stop self sabotaging behaviors, it will be important to learn how to get comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling or emotion you are experiencing. When experiencing feelings of discomfort, don’t run away from them.
Embrace whatever feeling comes up for you.
Sit with it for a while.
Feel how it shows up in your body.
Acknowledge that it is a normal and natural human reaction.
Label the feeling.
Become aware of what you are telling yourself (thinking) and notice the story you’re telling yourself about the situation.
Ask yourself "Is this true?"
Get curious and seek to reframe any discomfort that comes up as a positive source from which to grow and improve. Another way to be more accepting of uncomfortable feelings is to be aware of your need to control, be competitive, or be a "people pleaser: and choose inner qualities such as courage, connection, and compassion for self and others instead.
By following these steps you can work towards eliminating self sabotage!
Understand the need your self-sabotage fills
Identify an alternative healthy behavior to fill that need
Plan for times when you may slip back into your old ways
Get comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling/emotion