Self-Sabotage: What Is It and How I Got In My Own Way

Self-Sabotage: What Is It?

Self-sabotage is when part of your personality acts in conflict with another part of your personality.

self-esteem-quote-01The expression “you are your own worst enemy” rings true for me. There have been so many times that I've acted against my self-interest, then asked myself:

  • “Why did I self-destruct?”
  • “Why did I say that to my brother?”
  • “Why did I procrastinate on that project?”
  • “Why have I stopped doing that one thing I used to do…that made me feel so good?”

Do any those sound familiar to you?

Self-Sabotage and How I Got In My Own Way

I've learned that my self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors are perpetuated by an inner critic we all have inside of us. It’s just that I let the ‘inner critic’ have the control.

the inner critic won't shut upMy own experience shows that self-sabotage is associated with poor self-esteem, low self-worth, and no self-confidence. Some people, myself included, suffer from this type of behavior pattern because they can’t effectively control their emotions. And while I really hate to admit not having control of my emotions, I must admit that I reacted to circumstances or people in ways that prevented me from reaching my goals.

An excellent way to describe my experience with this is:

  • Self-sabotage is used to cope during difficult situations or times when you feel like you are not capable or worthy.

In an earlier post I described myself as a child riddled with anxiety. I was put in stressful situations on a regular basis and I didn’t respond well. I turned inward and doubted my abilities because I didn’t have consistent messages from long term role models in my life. This isn’t to say that I wasn’t praised, or recognized for achievements, or even that I was ridiculed or bullied. It’s just that many of those kudos and pats on the back sounded empty because these people didn’t really know me. They’d only just met me, or knew me for less than a year.

low self esteem can be changed stop the self-sabotage

So, based on my own experience, here are four causes of self-defeating behavior:

  1. Anticipating failure. I became accustomed to situations failing or not turning out as I had hoped but I was never taught how to learn from failure. Which means that when a plan went awry, a report was rejected, a competition was lost, I felt the loss and failure and took it to mean that I’m not to do it again. Eventually, I became afraid to try something different because I didn’t want to risk failing.
  2. Bad habits. It’s much easier to stick with what is familiar, even if I’m miserable, than trying to change. At least, that’s what I see that I did in my early years. Excessive drinking, smoking, and overeating are all difficult behaviors to change – not impossible, but difficult. And because I didn’t change them it meant I was unworthy of good things happening to me.
  3. Internalized negative thoughts. I grew up with parents who told me I was smart, talented and capable. I have no idea why I didn’t believe them – but I didn’t. Every new school I entered involved being compared to students who had life-long relationships with each other and many of their teachers. And rarely was there another new student for me to commiserate with. Because of this comparison, I was the one who came up with the negative thoughts. And if, by chance, there was a criticism or negative statement thrown my way by someone else, I immediately internalized it.
  4. Listening to your critical inner voice. This voice is formed from experiences early in our life. I truly did internalize the attitudes of others directed toward me. Because others may have seen me as lazy, I grew up feeling useless. My self-sabotaging inner voice would tell me not to try. For example, “Why bother? You’ll never succeed anyway.”

Self-sabotage is an unconscious thought or behavior that is in direct conflict with our desire to succeed.

I wish I could tell you that there came a day when I said Enough! And from that point forward began succeeding in everything I do. The reality is this: I had to recognize each piece of my own self-sabotage, one at a time, and tackle the changing one at a time.

personal inventory reveals the truthI took an inventory of myself, with the help of a friend, that revealed traits and habits that were getting in my way of succeeding in relationships and with a career. Then I prioritized the traits and habits I wanted to change.

These traits and habits included:

  • listening without sharing my own thoughts
  • hiding behind someone else’s success and being angry that I wasn’t recognized for my contribution
  • focusing on what was wrong instead of what was right about a situation
  • being quick to judge someone’s actions
  • remaining quiet when I could speak up for someone in trouble
  • smoking, over eating, preferring sedentary activity to anything physical
  • letting fear dictate my actions

replace bad habits with new onesOver the years I’ve tackled a lot of these traits and habits. The secret to keeping them ‘gone’ is that I replaced them with something else.

Instead of judging someone’s behavior and walking away, I’ve learned to give them a chance to explain themselves.

Instead of letting embarrassment of looking weak prevent me from apologizing to someone, I’ve learned that an immediate recognition of my rudeness or misjudgement directly to the person accompanied by an apology is well received and appreciated.

Yes, much of what I’ve just described can be attributed to being Mature, growing up, acting like an adult. And yet, I meet many adults and grown-ups that behave just as badly as I did. Which, in fact, led me to write this post. The wish that some people would learn the value of doing a personal inventory and learning how to replace the bad with something better.



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