I will NOT stand in my own way! (Period).
Have you ever expected yourself to succeed in making life changes, however, you do not designate any time or mental space to accomplish them?
Or… are you the one who would think, “I can’t take a dance class until I’ve lost weight.”
Or…in a situation which you can choose either to be happy or miserable, you actually choose to be miserable.
Or…do you allow yourself to ruminate or worry without expecting yourself to take appropriate problem-solving actions? For example, you worry about the security of your online accounts, but do nothing to lower your risk.
Above are some examples of self-sabotaging behaviours in an article about “30 types of self-sabotage and what to do about it” written by Dr. Alice Boyes, in Psychology Today.
So, how to stop sabotaging ourselves? Let’s delve into the ways together, shall we?
- Learn how to manage the fear and develop a programme to deactivate the trigger
According to a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist Judy Ho, Ph.D., ABPP, ABPdN, there is a predictable linear progression from events to thoughts to feelings to behaviours. Once you understand the nature of how these components fit together, it will become more obvious to you where to intervene to stop the self-sabotage. If you could play your life in slow motion, here’s what happens:
Knowing where triggers arise will help you to be able to intervene and stop the self-sabotage. As you look at this chain, it’s clear that thoughts direct our feelings, which prompt our actions. Let’s compare two situations below:
You think someone is a reckless jerk for cutting you off on the highway, that thought will bring up feelings of irritation or even outrage and may lead you to honk your horn, or yell obscenities, or try to cut them off as payback.
You think that the person cutting you off seemed like he was in a hurry and maybe didn’t do it on purpose, your emotional reaction may be one of ambivalence, or even empathy, in which case you’d probably just keep right on driving.
Conclusively, your interpretation of an event directs your feelings and is often what ultimately leads you to act. Breaking down this predictable sequence helps show where you can intervene to stop the self-sabotage actions from occurring. In fact, you can intervene at each step of the sequence, from when you first notice the self-sabotage triggers to when you feel the rush of negative emotions or physiological reactions, to when you begin to do self-sabotaging actions but haven’t yet veered completely off course (Ho, 2019).
2. Work on your self-worth, and believe that you deserve what you desire
People with self-sabotage tendencies would feel that they are not worthy of the happiness or success that they desire in life. As a consequence, they hold themselves from reaching their full potential.
Don’t rely on someone else for your happiness and self-worth. Only you can be responsible for that. If you can’t love and respect yourself—no one else will be able to make that happen. Accept who you are—completely; the good and the bad—and make changes as YOU see fit—not because you think someone else wants you to be different.
According to the self-worth theory, self-worth is determined mostly by our self-evaluated abilities and our performance in one or more activities that we deem valuable.
As quoted by Ackerman (2021), author Stephanie Jade Wong (n.d.) is on a mission to correct misunderstandings and misperceptions about self-worth. Instead of listing all the factors that go into self-worth, she outlines what does not determine your self-worth (or, what should not determine your self-worth):
- Your to-do list: Achieving goals is great and it feels wonderful to cross off things on your to-do list, but it doesn’t have a direct relationship with your worth as a human;
- Your job: It doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is that you do it well and that it fulfills you;
- Your social media following: It also doesn’t matter how many people think you are worthy of a follow or a retweet. It can be enlightening and healthy to consider the perspectives of others, but their opinions have no impact on our innate value;
- Your age: You aren’t too young or too old for anything. Your age is simply a number and does not factor into your value as a human being;
- How far you can run: Your mile run time is one of the least important factors for your self-worth (or for anything else, for that matter). If you enjoy running and feel fulfilled by improving your time, good for you! If not, good for you! Your ability to run does not determine your self-worth;
- Your grades: We all have different strengths and weaknesses, and some of us are simply not cut out for class. This has no bearing on our value as people, and a straight-A student is just as valuable and worthy as a straight-F student or a dropout;
- The number of friends you have: Your value as a human has absolutely nothing to do with how many friends or connections you have. The quality of your relationships is what’s really important;
- Your relationship status: Whether flying solo, or in a committed relationship, your value is exactly the same—your relationship status doesn’t alter your worth;
- Your likes: It doesn’t matter if you have “good taste” or not, if your friends and acquaintances think you’re sophisticated, or if you have an eye for the finer things. Your worth is the same either way.
- Anything or anyone but yourself: Here we get to the heart of the matter—you are the only one who determines your self-worth. If you believe you are worthy and valuable, you are worthy and valuable. Even if you don’t believe you are worthy and valuable, guess what—you still are worthy and valuable!
3. Find mentors, accountability partners and a community who are willing to help and support you
You, as a housewife, have an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) child who is making careless mistakes, unable to stick to tasks that are tedious or time consuming, hyperactive and impulsive. Sometimes you find it hard to juggle the house chores while also taking care of the child. Suddenly, one day, you spiral into a negative thought, thinking, “This is really hard. I don’t know how to take care of my child anymore. I want to stop.”
How to counter this?
Find champions either mentors, accountability partners or a community of people. Find a support group with parents who experience similar hardships, make good friends with them, ask tips and tricks on how to take care of such a child. You would surely be inspired seeing the other parents who are able to handle their kids at home as well as they can (Abraham, n.d.).
4. Give your goals a range and give yourself small wins
Your English school teacher gives you and your classmates a task to write a 10-page movie review. You have a lot of ideas brewing inside your mind, however you find yourself procrastinating writing it since you think you might come up with a better idea. Turns out, you push the task until the very last minute, making you feel overwhelmed and anxious.
According to a practicing psychologist, Dr. Greenberg (2018), one form of self-sabotage is procrastination. You do not deal with problems until they get so big that you are forced to deal with them, or not being able to discipline yourself to get work done on time. You may also procrastinate and avoid because you are perfectionistic, overthink things, or can’t decide where to begin. Self-sabotaging by not getting started, staying up too late, or going out with friends or watching television instead of working is a very common pattern. In the short term, you manage to avoid the discomfort of an anxiety-provoking or boring and unrewarding task.
How to counteract this self-sabotaging behaviour?
You can give yourself a time limit to choose or by allowing yourself to make an imperfect choice. It helps to see yourself as being able to learn from experience and improve over time. This is what researcher Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” A growth mindset makes the possibility of failure less scary, whereas if you see your abilities as fixed, you are more likely to avoid performance situations or sabotage yourself so your weaknesses won’t be clearly exposed (Greenberg, 2018).
Set those wide, big stretched goals as big goals and then have your more realistic goals on a side plate. You want to create the identity of a doer, someone who finishes things. You can only do that by giving yourself a lot of small wins. Wins create wins.
5. Talk things out
You feel it is troublesome to communicate your needs to your significant other. You feel so incredibly vulnerable to open up to someone emotionally. By keeping things in, you maintain what it feels like the upper hand.
If you notice certain patterns keep appearing in your relationships, try talking to the people you’re closest to about them. You might try saying this to your partner: “I want our relationship to work, but I’m afraid of it failing. If I seem to shut down or pull away, it’s because I’m afraid of losing you. I’m trying to work through it, but I don’t want you to think I don’t care in the meantime.” Simply talking through a self-sabotaging pattern out loud can prevent you from carrying it out. Plus, it can be a powerful learning experience when the situation plays out along a different path — not down the path of self-sabotage (Brito & Raypole, 2019).
The bottom line
As stated by Brito and Raypole (2019), self-sabotaging behaviours are often deeply ingrained and difficult to recognize. And once you do recognize them, noticing how you hold yourself back can be hard to come to terms with.
But keep in mind that by recognizing these behaviours, you’ve taken the first step toward changing them. And you don’t have to do it alone. Friends, loved ones, and trained therapists can all offer support.
Maybe you doubt you have what it takes to win that art contest. But instead of saying, “Why bother?” and crumpling up that entry form, fill it out and submit your best work. What you learn about yourself could have just as much value as winning.
Abraham, M. (2020, May 21). 4 steps to Eliminate self sabotage. Retrieved April 29, 2021, from https://melabraham.com/4-steps-to-eliminate-self-sabotage/
Ackerman, C. E. (2021, April 15). What is self-worth and How do we increase it? (Incl. 4 WORKSHEETS). Retrieved April 29, 2021, from https://positivepsychology.com/self-worth/
Brandt, A. (2020, March 03). The secret to a happy relationship is empathy. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-anger/202003/the-secret-happy-relationship-is-empathy
Boyes, A. (2018, May 01). 30 types of self-sabotage (and what to do about it). Retrieved April 29, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-practice/201805/30-types-self-sabotage-and-what-do-about-it
Greenberg, M. (2018, June 11). The top 3 reasons why You Self-Sabotage and how to stop. Retrieved April 29, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201806/the-top-3-reasons-why-you-self-sabotage-and-how-stop
Ho, J. (2019, August 21). Here’s exactly how to stop yourself from self-sabotaging in the moment. Retrieved April 29, 2021, from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/recognizing-when-you-self-sabotage-and-learning-how-to-stop