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The Truth About Self-Sabotage: What It Is, And How to Deal with It

Updated: Nov 24

Self-sabotage can take many forms, but at its core, it is any behaviour that prevents us from achieving our goals. There is no single definitive cause of self-sabotaging behaviour. Many factors can contribute to this destructive mode of thinking, from low self-esteem and negative thought patterns to past experiences or unresolved trauma.


At a fundamental level, the root causes of self-sabotage stem from stress and anxiety. When our stress response becomes overactive, and we experience high levels of tension, we can get caught in a cycle of negativity. This cycle creates our fears and pessimism, leading us to behave in ways that only worsen our thought patterns. This inward spiral often leads people down paths of self-destructive behaviour ranging from compulsive eating to drug abuse.


Self-sabotage can take many different forms. One common form is procrastination or putting off tasks to avoid feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Another example is perfectionism or setting unrealistic standards that are impossible to meet. Perfectionism can lead to feelings of failure and inadequacy, which can cause people to abandon their goals altogether. People can also sabotage their success by engaging in negative self-talk or incessantly criticizing themselves for their mistakes. Negative self-talk can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, where people believe they are destined to fail and so they never even try.


Sometimes, we may not even be aware that we are engaging in self-sabotaging behaviour. If we find ourselves repeatedly struggling to reach our goals, it may be time to take a closer look at our thinking.



10 Signs You May Be Self-Sabotaging


If you've ever felt like you're not living up to your full potential, or if you have a nagging sense that something is holding you back, you may be self-sabotaging yourself. Here are ten telltale signs that you might be sabotaging yourself:


  1. You procrastinate on important tasks or put them off indefinitely, even though you know these tasks are critical to your success.

  2. You surround yourself with negative or toxic people who drag you down and discourage you from pursuing your goals.

  3. You engage in self-destructive behaviours such as excessive drinking, overeating, or other addictive habits that keep you from focusing on what matters most.

  4. You find yourself constantly criticizing yourself or beating yourself up over perceived failures and mistakes instead of focusing on the positive aspects of your life and achievements.

  5. You tend to worry so much about what other people think of you that it distracts you from achieving your own goals and aspirations.

  6. You often feel dissatisfied or unfulfilled despite a long list of accomplishments or successes because they don't truly reflect who you are or what's important to you in life.

  7. You consistently make excuses for why others or external circumstances are responsible for your setbacks or failures instead of taking responsibility for your actions (or lack thereof).

  8. You avoid facing difficult challenges head-on, opting for the path of least resistance even when it doesn't serve your long-term interests.

  9. You look to blame others when things go wrong rather than examining how external circumstances may have contributed to the problem.

  10. You feel that nothing seems to work regardless of how hard you try or what steps you take to overcome obstacles.


Fortunately, there are also ten simple things you can do to combat self-sabotage and start moving toward your goals.


  1. Keeping a journal. Journaling can be a great way to gain greater insight into your thoughts and behaviours. This can help you recognize your self-sabotaging tendencies before they get out of hand. Recording your thoughts can also help you process your emotions more productively. Reflecting on successes and failures is often beneficial to remain motivated moving forward.

  2. Being Mindful. Mindfulness involves being fully present and grounded in each moment. It helps you separate the past from the present and your thoughts from reality. Being mindful can help you choose how to respond to a situation or person. You can also try activities like Forest Therapy. Research has shown that spending time in nature can have several beneficial effects on the mind, including improved mood and reduced stress levels. By connecting with the natural world, we can foster self-compassion and kindness towards ourselves - two crucial tools for overcoming self-sabotage behaviours like negative thinking, procrastination, and unhelpful perfectionism.

  3. Setting realistic goals. It can be easy to set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and then feel disappointed when we inevitably fall short – a recipe for self-sabotage. By taking the time to establish achievable goals, you can avoid potential pitfalls and focus instead on your progress toward long-term success.

  4. Seeking professional help. A registered psychotherapist can help you address any underlying emotional issues or patterns that may be contributing to the problem. Professional support can provide invaluable guidance and objective feedback about things that may not be obvious from your perspective. A therapist can also help you with ‘Cognitive Reframing.'

  5. Surround yourself with supportive people. When we surround ourselves with positive influences who see us holistically, it becomes easier to reject the toxic beliefs that drive these destructive behaviours. In essence, having a solid support network of positive people can provide the encouragement and motivation needed to push through challenging times or setbacks.

  6. Talking about it with supportive friends or family members. Sometimes, simply voicing our struggles aloud is enough to help relieve some of the anxiety and stress associated with them. This can make it easier for us to cope with any setbacks that might come our way.

  7. Focusing on the positive aspects of life rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. When we become too wrapped up in what has already happened or might happen in the future, we lose sight of all the beautiful things around us right now – many of which are the result of our hard work and efforts.

  8. Change the way you think about yourself. If you tend to be hard on yourself, try practicing self-compassion. Cut yourself some slack and give yourself credit for your accomplishments, even if they seem minor. Try saying "oops" than a "what if."

  9. Develop healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and anxiety. When under pressure, we often resort to unhealthy habits like drinking, smoking, or overeating. Some key strategies for healthy coping include engaging in self-care activities like exercise, eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, practicing mindfulness, and making time for relaxing activities like reading or watching your favourite movie.

  10. Don't compare yourself to others. By focusing on our unique qualities, strengths, and weaknesses, we can start to accept ourselves as we are rather than comparing ourselves with others. Comparing ourselves to others can lead us into the trap of self-judgment and negative thinking. When we can affirm our worth instead of seeking approval or recognition from others, we are much less likely to engage in destructive self-sabotaging behaviours. In other words, by looking inward instead of externally for validation, we can take control over the narratives that guide our thoughts and actions.



Remember that you're not alone. Many people struggle with similar issues. By becoming aware of your patterns and taking steps to change them, you can start to make headway against self-sabotage and move closer to your goals. A therapist can provide the support and guidance you need to overcome these destructive patterns. With the right help and a little effort, you can break the cycle of self-sabotage and start living the life you deserve!



Self-Sabotage Tips