Why do we self-sabotage? Self-sabotage is a destructive habit many people fall into. Sabotage, the act of undermining or intentionally inhibiting something, can be particularly damaging when you knowingly or unknowingly sabotage your goals, dreams, or other aspects of your life. If you are wondering, “why do we self-sabotage?” or do not know how to stop self-sabotaging, here are a few ways to start overcoming this tendency.

Signs of Self Sabotaging Behavior

Habits For Well-Being defines self-sabotage as “deliberately stopping oneself from achieving something or being successful,” and “the act of intentionally interfering with our own progress.”  Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D. and practicing psychologist at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders simply defines self-sabotage as “any behavior that gets in the way of your intent.”

This type of behavior can manifest itself in many ways. Examples include eating cake when you are trying to cut out sugar, bingeing shows on Netflix when you have a project due, or intentionally perform poorly in a job interview because you do not feel you deserve the job. Common signs of self sabotaging behavior include:

  • Procrastinating, especially on tasks or projects that mean a lot to you
  • Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol
  • Eating too much or comfort eating in times of stress
  • Sometimes, injuring yourself can also be considered a self-sabotaging behavior

Why Do We Self-Sabotage?  

Self-sabotaging behavior can happen for a number of reasons. According to Hendriksen, people may engage in self-sabotaging behavior because they:  

Lack of a Sense of Self-Worth

People who feel they do not deserve the level of success or happiness they are experiencing are among those who tend to self-sabotage. While some people may be highly successful and happy, in their hearts, they may feel that they do not deserve the positive things they are experiencing or that they do not measure up to those around them.  

Desire More Control

Feeling like you are lacking control in life can be scary. Some people may self-sabotage because they feel like their actions give them some control over the ultimate outcome of various situations. For example, applying for a new job creates the possibility of not being selected, or changing your routine if you were to get the position. If a person intentionally interviews poorly, they may feel that they had some control over the outcome, even if it means not getting the job.

Perceive Inability

Perceived inability, or imposter syndrome as Hendricksen says, can also be a reason for self-sabotaging behavior. Imposter syndrome is the idea that people may feel that they are unprepared, unqualified, or undeserving or roles they are in and success they are having in their careers or otherwise. For example, say someone interviews for a position they believe they are not qualified for. That person may self-sabotage as a result of feelings that they do not feel qualified or deserving of a job, even if that individual has great experience and qualifications.

Crave Familiarity

For those who have a fear of letting go of familiar things, self-sabotage may seem like an easy solution. Do you have some inhibitions about traveling to another country or applying to graduate school? Waiting until the last minute to write your application essay or spending money on other things so you cannot afford a plane ticket are examples of how someone might self-sabotage because that person is afraid to let go of a familiar lifestyle.

How to Overcome Self-Sabotage

Making a few simple changes can help you overcome self-sabotage and have a huge, long-term impact on your life. While there is no single solution that will work for every person, some of the following methods to stop self-sabotaging may help you overcome this tendency:

Acknowledge The Behavior

One of the first steps toward overcoming self-sabotage is thinking about why you are getting in the way of achieving your goals. Does a certain person make you want to compete with them by spending money you do not have? Do certain things at work cause you to want to drink excessively even though you know it is bad for your health? Catching yourself in the act of these behaviors and being honest with yourself about the fact that they are harmful can be the first step to stopping them.

Think About the Big Picture

Remembering the big picture is key to eliminate self-destructive behavior. Will having another drink after dinner eliminate the stress you are feeling or is it simply a distraction from a bigger issue? Taking some time to think about the larger scheme of your life and career can help you remember what you have to gain when you stop self-sabotaging, and instead form productive habits that help you move toward your goals.

Identify Healthy Alternatives

Finding small ways to change your behavior can lead to better outcomes and healthier habits. If you are compelled to binge on sweet snacks, start small by finding some lower sugar alternatives that still satisfy your sweet tooth. Instead of wine or beer, fill your fridge with kombucha or other healthier beverage options. While it may seem like a huge change, starting by packing an apple for a snack or having a healthy beverage after work can make a big difference in the long run.

Ask For Help

Though often one of the most concrete solutions, many people have a hard time asking for help. Finding a partner in crime to help you overcome these harmful habits, or even asking someone who has overcome their own self-sabotaging behavior can make a huge difference in achieving success. This may mean asking a mentor at work to help you prepare for an interview for a promotion, asking a loved one to help keep you accountable for not eating sugar, or consulting an experienced professional who can help you overcome harmful habits.

Now that we’ve helped answer “why do we self-sabotage?”, it’s time to start making strides towards your goals. Need a way to ease into this? Try incorporating these three mindful moments into your everyday routine.

Megan Herndon

Megan is a Seattle-based writer who covers health and wellness. She has worked in content marketing and journalism for a number of organizations including The Seattle Globalist, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and The Jakarta Globe. She has a BA in journalism from the University of Washington and is currently working on her second UW degree, a Master of Communication and Digital Media. Born and raised in Hawaii and currently embracing the Pacific Northwest lifestyle, Megan loves all things active and outdoors including hiking, camping, outrigger canoe paddling, and yoga.

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