When you do something that causes problems in your life and restricts your positive development, you’re self-sabotaging. These behaviors might be obvious and significant, undermining relationships or job opportunities. However, they can also be subtler, simply ensuring you never really go out of your comfort zone.
Even if you think you’re pretty smart at setting goals for yourself, it’s highly likely that you self-sabotage at least some of the time. Perhaps you have a critical inner voice telling you that you’re not good enough. Or, maybe that it isn’t safe to try new things.
Worse still, we can self-sabotage even we’re not aware that we’re doing so. So, if you want to discover how to stop self-sabotaging today, be sure to keep reading. Plus, get your very own ‘Stop Self-Sabotaging' worksheet at the end of this article.
This guide to how to stop self-sabotaging behavior will explore the reasons why you might self-sabotage, teach you how to detect signs that you might be sabotaging yourself, and give you a practical method for overcoming self-sabotage cycle.
One of the most perplexing types of self-destructiveness emerges in relationships that look good from the outside. Self-sabotaging relationship patterns can appear even when you’re happy in relationships. In fact, there’s some evidence that they’re more likely to appear when you’re happy.
If you have a history of sabotaging relationships, you might feel frustrated by feelings and actions that seem beyond your control.
You might actively yearn for love, and yet find yourself pushing it away when it arrives. It’s also common to notice this only in retrospect, feeling distressed many months later by the realization that you could have had something good.
While no two self-saboteurs are exactly alike, there are two major reasons why happy people undermine their own relationships. Understanding which might apply to you is the first step in learning how to stop self-sabotaging relationships.
This reason for self-sabotaging relationships is all about your past, and some of your earliest life experiences in particular. In a nutshell, if your primary caregiver wasn’t consistently available to meet your needs as a child, you may have developed what psychologists call an insecure attachment style. There are two distinct types that are related to self-sabotaging syndrome.
Firstly, if you had a caregiver who was normally absent, you may have become avoidant. This means that you learned that others cannot be trusted to be there for you (or are even a hazard to your well-being), and so you automatically want to withdraw when they get too close. Subconsciously, love is a threat, and commitment is something to avoid.
Secondly, if you had a caregiver who was there for you some of the time and not at others, you may have developed an anxious attachment style. In this case, you think you have to cling on to others for dear life or else you will lose them. And, in fact, the behaviors associated with this panicked anxiety can lead you to unintentionally sabotaging relationships. Your desire for closeness actually ends up pushing others away.
PTSD is the other major answer to the question “What causes self-sabotaging behavior?”.
If you suffer from PTSD, it might be related to extreme versions of the childhood experiences mentioned in the previous section. PTSD can also develop (and lead to self-sabotage) after adult experiences like serving in the military, facing abuse or assault, or having a near-death experience.
No matter what the cause, if you have PTSD then you’ve had to live your life constantly believing that something bad is just about to happen. This is called “hyper-vigilance”. Essentially, your body is always ready to mount a fear response at the slightest sign of trouble. You might have developed negative self-soothing strategies like excessive use of drugs or alcohol to manage these feelings.
What this means for you in relationships is that you can’t relax or feel comfortable with someone. Even if they treat you well, you’ll find reasons to mistrust them or to want to get away from them. You may also find you simply can’t get out of your own head enough to engage with a partner, and that this lack of connection eventually undermines the relationship. If you suspect you have PTSD, it’s important to work with medical professionals and trained therapists as well as engaging in exercises designed to stop self-sabotage.
So, now that you better understand the roots of self-sabotaging behavior, how can you identify self-destructive behavior signs?
Here are the seven most common signs of sabotaging relationships or other important life opportunities.
Yes, it’s important to have a realistic picture of the world and your place in it. However, this means balancing the good and the bad.
If you find that you always look for a reason to view things as boring, dangerous, unachievable, or negative in any other way, then this is a serious warning sign that you need to work on overcoming self-sabotage.
When you focus exclusively on the negative, you attract more negativity into your life, and you restrict your own opportunities by finding excuses not to do things. Plus, if you’re an extremely negative person, you reduce the number of people who want to be around you (effectively self-sabotaging relationships).
As noted above when we looked at PTSD and at attachment patterns learned in childhood, fear is linked to self-sabotage. If you noticed that most things fill you with dread and terror, you might have hit upon what causes self-sabotaging behavior in your life. You might just feel fear in a specific area (e.g. related to romantic relationships), or it might be universal.
Either way, fear keeps you trapped and prevents you from fulfilling your full potential. While this is a sign of self-sabotage, it’s also important to note that you might need additional help for an underlying anxiety disorder.
If you tend to have low self-esteem, you likely have a particularly loud inner critic whose voice tells you that you can’t do certain things. It might tell you that you’re not attractive enough to date, or not smart enough to apply for a job. No matter what, if you tend to view yourself in an especially negative light, this is a clue that you may have self-sabotaging patterns.
Learning how to stop self-sabotaging in this type of case has a lot to do with adjusting your negative self-talk. In addition to doing the self-sabotaging behaviors worksheets we recommend (see below), it’s also worth practicing daily affirmations. These will rewrite some of the limiting beliefs that lead to you regularly sabotaging success.
Another common indication of self-sabotage is a compulsion to compare yourself to others. Naturally, there are times when we all wish we had a quality or ability belonging to another person. However, if you’re doing this with increasing frequency and you’re using it as an excuse not to emerge from your comfort zone, you’re engaging in self-destructive behavior.
For example, if you don’t bother trying online dating because you think your friends on the website are more attractive, you’re simply finding a way to avoid risk.
The truth is that there is enough success and happiness in the world for everyone. We all have something unique to give to the world. It’s important to find the traits and skills you bring to the table that no one else does and to capitalize on those as much as possible.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of self-sabotaging behavior is achieving something and then reversing this achievement.
In a relationship, this might take the form of getting to know someone you really like and then doing something to damage that connection (e.g. infidelity, avoidance, or changing behavior).
Meanwhile, at work, you might get a promotion and then end up failing to meet the major targets you’ve been set.
These types of experiences are all part of your self-sabotaging subconscious mind’s attempts to push you back into a “safe”, familiar place. It’s also a way of proving to yourself that you were right to think you can’t do certain things.
Self-destructive attitudes to relationships don’t just appear in your dating life. If you tend to push people away in general, you’re likely self-sabotaging. There are many different ways of pushing people away, ranging from being evasive in conversation to refusing to meet up or being outright rude or dismissive.
If you’re a self-saboteur, you may often kick yourself for doing this once the damage to the relationship is already done, asking yourself why you’ve pushed yet another person away.
After reading about abandonment and PTSD, you should have a better sense of why you might do this. However, it will take conscious effort to learn new patterns.
A final sign of self-sabotaging behavior is a sense that you lack purpose. You might feel listless day after day, never really knowing what you’re “supposed” to be doing with your life.
As with the other self-sabotaging behaviors, this is often a way of staying safe and avoiding risky new experiences. After all, if you don’t acknowledge and pursue a life purpose, you can’t really fail or get hurt.
What people often fail to realize is that evading purpose is actually just as hurtful, ultimately making your life deeply unsatisfying. As you work to learn how to stop the self-sabotaging behaviors, you’ll find it easier to explore and identify your true purpose.
Here is your copy of our free worksheet to help stop self-sabotaging behaviors. Work through the sheet by printing it out or making notes on your electronic device! You can find the link to download it in PDF format here now.