Self Sabotage
Self Sabotage: How We Sabotage Ourselves

Self Sabotage: The Causes

Self sabotage is a defense mechanism. It works to protect beliefs and feelings of which we are not aware. In order to eliminate self sabotaging behavior it is important to examine the beliefs and fears which motivate us.

Low Self Esteem

Low self esteem, low self worth, and a lack of self confidence lead to self sabotaging behavior. Beliefs and feelings of incompetence and inferiority result in behavior that affirms our beliefs. “What the mind believes, the body achieves.” If we believe we cannot succeed then we will manage not to, no matter how hard we try. We may believe that we are not worthy of success. If so, success would mean living what would feel like a lie. People would see us as capable and content, but we would feel like a phony.

Fear of Success

Most of us fear change or the unknown. To succeed might mean making big changes in our lives. We might live differently, have different friends, move in different circles, and be expected to dress and behave differently. It might drastically change the dynamics of our marriages and families. This can be scary. Failure may make us unhappy, but at least it is familiar, comfortable. We may sabotage our efforts to succeed in order to stay where we are. There may be a part of us who likes where we are and feels comfortable there.

Pursuing Other People’s Goals

Sometimes we pursue goals which are not our own. If we want to become a doctor, is it because we truly desire to heal the sick, or is it because all the women in the Smith family are doctors? Or because our parents want us to be something they can be proud of? Or because of the way being a doctor impresses other people in our lives? Or because it will make a lot of money for other people in our lives? If we are trying to accomplish something for other people that is contrary to our own desires, we may subconsciously sabotage our own efforts in order to remain true to ourselves.

Fear of Disappointment

Some of us keep our goals low so we won’t be disappointed. What we fail to realize is that not attaining what we truly want in life is disappointing too, often in a way that is much more detrimental. If you try for something and don’t attain it, at least you know you tried. How many of us mourn the opportunities that we threw away because we didn’t even show up for them? These are the disappointments that truly harm us. Failing to attempt to attain our goals confirms our feelings of inadequacy and our belief that we are not capable of getting what we want. This further exacerbates already low self esteems and works to perpetuate even more self sabotaging behavior.

Fear of Change

Change is uncomfortable for most people, but some of us fear it more than others.  We may fear having to learn a new job, move to a

new city

, or make new friends.  We may fear moving out of the comfortable niche in which we have settled.  Fear of change is one of the primary factors motivating people to stay in unhealthy or undesirable situations.

Fear of Loss

Some of us sabotage our efforts to succeed because we fear what we will lose; our friends, our family, our marriages, etc. If we succeed, jealousy or resentment may develop in some of our relationships. People who self sabotage themselves tend to surround themselves with others who sabotage themselves. If we are self sabotagers, it’s highly likely those around us are too. We may be drawn to people who need a “failure” around to make themselves feel superior. People who wish to look down on us may take off if we decide to pull ourselves up.

Success may mean that close friends will back away, or leave completely. Success might cause us to move in directions that lead away from old habits and pursuits and even old friends. We might develop interests that our old friends don’t share. If our old friends are heavily invested in self sabotaging behaviors themselves, we might even have to cultivate new friends. And that can be scary.

Success may mean that our family will disown us or that our role in our family would change. If a brother or sister has always been “the successful one” and we are the “screw up”, how would our lives change if we took on the successful role? Would we be expected to act like our sibling? And what would happen to the family dynamics? Would our family tolerate our becoming successful, or do they need to have a “screw up” in the family for some reason?

Success may cost us our marriage. Our spouses may be unable to handle our success and may leave. Or they may not want to move in the direction in which we are moving. Our partners may also be heavily invested in their own self sabotaging and may not want to look at what is holding them back.

Fear of Competency

Some of us fear that if we ever establish just how competent and capable we are, that some of the supports that have been there for us in our lives may disappear. People that were there for us in the past may take the attitude that we are able to “go it alone” if they find out just how able we are. Likewise, if people find out how capable we are, they may have higher expectations of what we can do – for ourselves and for them. Instead of taking care of us, they may now expect us to take care of them. Sabotaging ourselves keeps people close to us and taking care of us.


Resentment can lead to sabotage, of self and others. Research has shown that people will suffer an enormous amount of pain and loss themselves in order to retaliate against others they feel have treated them unjustly. People can also remain in unhealthy lifestyles as a way of showing someone just how much they have hurt them.  Unfortunately, they have to remain "hurt" to prove this, which ultimately causes them more pain and grief than the one against whom they are retaliating.

Avoidance of Discomfort

Some of us are easily intimidated by stressful situations. Our failure to attend that job interview, go to the gym, or attend that support group meeting may stem from the difficulties inherent in facing new and different situations. They can be really scary. And some of us defend ourselves against fear and stress by avoiding it. Working for success can also be hard and unpleasant work. We may have to work longer hours, or go to school, or take on extra work. Success often requires that we face tasks which are difficult or unpleasant. Again, many of us would rather avoid unpleasant tasks rather than overcome them. We don’t realize it leaves us stuck where we are and feeling quite badly about selves and our abilities.

Lack of Imagination

Can you imagine what it would be like to succeed? If you can’t imagine what your life would be like, it may not be real for you. If it isn’t real for us, our lack of success may be a lack of belief that we can succeed. It might be that we have not clearly mapped out where we want to go. We must try to imagine how life would be different if we were successful and be sure we are clear about where we want to go and how it will be when we get there.

These are just a few of the causes behind self sabotaging behavior. Self sabotage is often unobtrusive, and self sabotaging behaviors can be disguised in multiple ways. It is important to examine our motivations and the reasons for our behavior in order to address them. Once we have identified our subconscious reasons for sabotaging ourselves, and addressed them, we need to look at how we sabotage ourselves and address those.


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