Are You Sabotaging Yourself? Here’s How to Know and What to Do (2023)

You want to move to the next level in all aspects of your life, yet something keeps getting in your way. Could you be that “something”?

We all self-sabotage to some degree. It might be forgoing that workout class or being late for that date as things get serious. It can be difficult to overcome our own “stuff.”

But when self-sabotaging behavior becomes persistent, it may lead to you facing challenges in every area of your life, including home, school, work, and relationships.

Understanding why self-sabotage happens and how to deal with it can collectively be another step closer to unlocking your true potential.

Self-sabotage can be seen as a pattern of thoughts and behaviors you engage in, often without even knowing it, that creates obstacles to achieving your goals.

If this sounds negative, take heart; the word “sabotage” is a bit of a misnomer, or a word that doesn’t actually mean what it appears to be communicating.

“Self-sabotage isn’t sabotage at all,” explains Shirani Pathak, a licensed psychotherapist in San Jose, California. “It’s actually a protective mechanism created by your psyche in order to keep you safe from any potential danger or harm. What’s familiar to us is what our psyche considers safe.”

In other words, you may not even be aware of self-sabotaging behavior, and this isn’t something you do on purpose.

“When we’re wading out into unfamiliar waters because we’re looking to make a change, it can trigger all of the alarm bells in our internal system that tell us: Danger! Danger!” Pathak adds. “Then, our brains send the command for us to engage in a familiar behavior to bring us back into familiar waters.”

Signs you’re self-sabotaging

(Video) Self Sabotage: Why you do it & How to Overcome it

Self-sabotaging behavior looks different for everyone. It largely depends on context.

More generally, though, here are some signs you may relate to:

  • procrastination
  • avoiding responsibilities, even if it’s because you “forget”
  • breaking promises or not following through on commitments
  • lack of preparation
  • misalignment between your desires and actions
  • showing up late to important appointments or meetings
  • substance use
  • giving up when things get more difficult

Examples of self-sabotage behavior

  • You have an important job interview in the morning. You stay out late drinking with your friends the night before.
  • Your family is paying for college. You fail your entry exam because you didn’t prepare for it.
  • You want to get married and start a family. You choose another partner who is emotionally unavailable.

Self-sabotage isn’t a condition itself, but it may be a sign of several things. Here are a few causes of self-sabotaging behavior:

Imposter syndrome

If you’re experiencing feelings of self-doubt, or beliefs that you’re not talented enough due to imposter syndrome, you may drop the ball rather than risk someone finding out that you’re a “fraud.” This, of course, isn’t the case, but you may feel like it is, despite your education, experience, and accomplishments.

You’re on the fence

Ambivalence refers to having mixed feelings about someone or something, unsure about which next step or decision to make. It can make you feel like you’re in a difficult situation, and all your options present challenges.

(Video) How to Transform Self Sabotage Into Self Improvement

When you self-sabotage, you unconsciously move things in one direction or the other, so you’re no longer stuck with making that tough decision. This may decrease your feelings of emotional overwhelm or anxiety about decision-making.

Fear of success

“A person may self-sabotage out of fear of being successful,” says Keischa Pruden, a licensed therapist in Ahoskie, North Carolina.

“That may sound confusing, but being successful comes with much more responsibility and risk-taking. A person may be afraid of the added pressure of success,” she adds.

Typically, increased success brings about a number of changes, like the ones listed above, and more, such as, where you live, to the people you spend time with. This can come with a sense of loss or fear of the unknown.

Fear of what other people think

It’s not uncommon to self-sabotage to avoid the stress that comes from others’ expectations.

“Subconsciously, a person may fear rejection or ridicule from friends or loved ones if they don’t achieve their goals,” says Pruden. For some, that pressure may lead to thoughts or behavior that result in self-sabotage.

Avoiding emotional pain

Self-sabotage mitigates the risk of dealing with discomfort, says Jocelyn Patterson, a licensed mental health counselor in Sarasota, Florida.

“Self-sabotage can offer us that easy out of saying ‘it wasn’t my destiny’ rather than being left with the uncomfortable feeling that not reaching our goals was our own fault,” she says.

“Nobody likes the feeling of regret, embarrassment, or shame,” she adds. “Even if our actions are conscious, it feels better to say ‘not getting that opportunity was my choice.’”

Becoming more aware of your tendencies to self-sabotage can help you take action. Here are a few tips to consider:

Reframe it

Pathak shares that the most effective way to stop self-sabotaging is to shift your narrative around what it is.

(Video) Stop Sabotaging Yourself | Debi Silber | TEDxFultonStreet

“Once you stop viewing it as sabotage and start viewing it as parts of your brain trying to keep you safe, then you can develop the skills of compassionate curiosity to notice what’s going on and what you’re afraid of,” she says.

When you can start to have compassionate curiosity about your fears, you can begin to work through them. She adds, “You can make the parts of your brain that are scared your allies instead of enemies as you’re making the change.”

Identifying the cognitive distortions you engage in most often may also help you in this process.

Observe the patterns

It’s said that the way we do one thing is the way we do everything.

You may find it helpful to keep a journal and reflect on scenarios that keep showing up.

“If you find yourself in similar situations more than once — whether it’s that dream job interview, long-term relationship, or argument that never gets resolved — ask yourself why,” says Patterson.

“Why have I ended up here again? If you feel like your experiences are playing out in a loop, like ‘Groundhog Day,’ self-sabotage may be the reason,” she says.

Create alternative actions

Underneath self-sabotage, there’s often an uncomfortable emotion you’d rather not feel, like fear of failure, success, abandonment, commitment, or inadequacy.

Once you’ve identified what that is, consider using a journal to list out the self-sabotaging (or self-preserving) behaviors you’d usually take.

From there, identifying three alternative actions can help in getting closer to your goals. Examples of some common feelings and subsequent actions are below.

FeelingAct of self-preservationAlternative actions
Fear of promotionKeeping quiet in meetings even when you have things to say1. Talking with my manager about my fears
2. Reaching out to a mentor
3. Posting positive affirmations at my desk
Fear of abandonmentCheating on my partner, so I get to “leave” first1. Talking to my partner about difficult feelings
2. Suggesting couple’s therapy
3. Reading books on attachment theory
Fear of commitmentWaiting until the last minute to send in a college application1. Planning a manageable pace of courses with a guidance counselor
2. Expressing fears to my parents
3. Applying to 5 backup schools

Make small changes

If self-sabotage has been a pattern of yours for a long time — say, years — it’s going to be difficult to begin taking steps toward doing things differently. Instead, try to take it slow and recognize it will take time.

“Large changes in behavior start with very small changes in behavior,” says Dr. Suraji Wagage, a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, California. “Practice acting in small ways that move you toward your goals while acknowledging difficult emotions that come up as you do.”

Engage in positive self-talk

“Figure out your negative internal dialogue and change it to more positive self-talk,” says Pruden. “Once you have a more positive self-concept, you can begin to stop self-sabotaging and work towards the life you deserve.”

(Video) Here's What Stopping Self Sabotage Looks Like [An Example]

You may find it useful to make notes of unhelpful thoughts you have during the day. Jot them down in your journal or phone. Then declare a replacement thought that is more aligned with how you want to feel, either in your head, out loud, or by writing it down.

“This is impossible” becomes “This is new, and I am learning how to own this.” When you shift your internal narrative, your external reality can start to reflect that change.

Reach out for support

Self-sabotage can be complex, and you don’t have to do this alone.

A mental health professional can help you explore your thought patterns and show you how they lead to certain behaviors.

You may find it useful to use our search tools to locate a therapist near you.

Self-sabotage is your brain’s way of trying to protect you from emotional pain.

If it’s no longer serving you, there are lots of options available to begin to change things. You can identify your patterns, come up with alternative action steps, and work with a mental health professional to help you achieve your goals.

Most importantly, as you transition to a new way of being, try to be compassionate to yourself, says Wagage.

“We all act in ways that confirm the stories we tell about ourselves,” she says. “If you have internalized negative stories about yourself, that is painful and difficult. It’s natural to try to minimize future pain,” she says.

And once you know differently, you can do differently.


How do I know if I am sabotaging myself? ›

7 Signs of Self-Sabotaging Behaviours
  • Focusing on what is not working or not right. ...
  • Being stuck in fear: ...
  • Feeling you have no value. ...
  • Comparison of self to others. ...
  • Meeting goals and then losing them. ...
  • You chase away relationships. ...
  • Having no purpose.

Are you self-sabotaging yourself? ›

Signs of Self-Sabotage

Perhaps you're consistently late to work. You may procrastinate , repeatedly putting off something that you need to do, even though you know you need to finish it. Maybe you start projects but never finish them. You feel unable to proceed, even when you're presented with an exciting opportunity.

What is the most common symptom of self-sabotage? ›

Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems in daily life and interferes with long-standing goals. The most common self-sabotaging behaviors include procrastination, self-medication with drugs or alcohol, comfort eating, and forms of self-injury such as cutting.

What is the root of self-sabotage? ›

Self-sabotage is rooted in counterproductive mindsets including negativity, disorganization, indecisiveness, and negative self-talk. Perfectionism and imposter syndrome are also forms of self-sabotage. An insidious and ubiquitous form of self-sabotage is mindless distractions that prohibit goal attainment.

What are the three types of sabotages? ›

These were:
  • destruction: where action involved the destruction and mutilation of the work environment;
  • inaction: where as a result of deliberate inaction predictable destruction occurred; and.
  • wastage: where deliberate action led to the wastage of, for example, raw materials.

How do I stop self-sabotage and overthinking? ›

How to Stop Self-Sabotaging: 8 Tips
  1. Boost Your Self-Awareness. ...
  2. Look Before You Leap. ...
  3. Set Meaningful Goals & Pair Them With an Action Plan. ...
  4. Make Small Changes. ...
  5. Befriend Yourself. ...
  6. Know & Embrace Your Strengths. ...
  7. Practice Mindfulness. ...
  8. Work With a Mental Health Therapist.
May 31, 2021

Does anxiety cause self-sabotage? ›

Why Anxiety Causes You to Self-Sabotage. When you struggle with chronic anxiety, so many decisions are driven by fear rather than rational thinking. As I've become increasingly familiar with my anxiety triggers and actions that follow, I've also become increasingly familiar with my behaviors that self-sabotage.

Is self-sabotaging a symptom of depression? ›

These self-sabotaging behaviours can become the norm for people who struggle with Mental Health, but they can be more extreme and more damaging. Self-sabotaging has been a part of my life with depression for as long as I can remember.

What causes people to self-sabotage? ›

There are many reasons why someone may choose self-sabotaging behavior, but many stem from a lack of belief in oneself. Psychology Today provides good insight into why and how we self-sabotage. Substance abuse, turning to food, or procrastination can all be ways in which we self-sabotage.

How do I forgive myself for self-sabotage? ›

How to Forgive Yourself
  1. Focus on your emotions. ...
  2. Acknowledge the mistake out loud. ...
  3. Think of each mistake as a learning experience. ...
  4. Give yourself permission to put this process on hold. ...
  5. Have a conversation with your inner critic. ...
  6. Notice when you are being self-critical. ...
  7. Quiet the negative messages of your inner critic.

What is emotional self-sabotage? ›

Chasing superficial, low involvement and unfulfilling relationships. Distancing from romantic partners when things get too complicated or too emotionally consuming. Sabotaging or directly damaging functional relationships. Being too demanding from your partner in order for them to prove their feelings and involvement.

Can trauma cause self sabotaging? ›

Post-traumatic and dissociative symptoms fly under the radar, and the enactments of those issues in personal relationships, self-care, and professional life are attributed to other factors—often reinforcing self-blame, self-defeating patterns, and the tendency to push others away.

Is self sabotaging toxic? ›

While self-sabotaging is definitely an unhealthy behavior, you can rest: it's very common and very normal. Best of all: the behavior can be stopped! Challenge your way of thinking and your behaviors while remembering to be kind to yourself. Instead of being your own worst enemy, why not be your own best friend?

What do you call someone who sabotages you? ›

saboteur. / (ˌsæbəˈtɜː) / noun.

What is another word for self-sabotage? ›

Containing elements that will cause or destine failure. self-defeating. futile. useless. vain.

What are the three main insecurities that lead to overthinking? ›

What makes people overthink things? Overthinking can be fueled by insecurities in the relationship due to perceived differences in communication, affection, and commitment or by personal insecurities due to low self-esteem or discomfort with security, vulnerability, or closeness to others.

Is self-sabotage a symptom of bipolar? ›

One of the worst side effects of bipolar disorder is the repetitive cycle of self-sabotage. But you can manage this symptom by mapping out your goals.

Is self sabotaging a coping mechanism? ›

Self-sabotage often serves as a coping mechanism that people use to deal with stressful situations and past traumas. Unfortunately, it typically makes problems worse and limits a person's ability to successfully move forward in a healthy way.

Am I self sabotaging or not interested? ›

If you've noticed that you're doing more harm than good in your love life — like not putting effort into partnerships or getting unreasonably angry with your partner — you might be self-sabotaging. If you're self-sabotaging, it isn't necessarily a sign that your relationship should end.

Is self sabotaging a mental health issue? ›

Borderline personality disorder causes a broad range of reactions that can be considered self-destructive or self-sabotaging. It influences thoughts, emotions, behavior, and communication, adding a degree of volatility and unpredictability to daily living that can be unsettling for BPD sufferers and their loved ones.

Am I self-sabotaging or not interested? ›

If you've noticed that you're doing more harm than good in your love life — like not putting effort into partnerships or getting unreasonably angry with your partner — you might be self-sabotaging. If you're self-sabotaging, it isn't necessarily a sign that your relationship should end.

Am I unhappy or self-sabotaging? ›

Showing a lack of trust, not feeling worthy of love, avoiding intimacy, undervaluing your partner and always focusing on the negatives are a few signs that you are self-sabotaging your relationship.

What disorder is self-sabotaging? ›

Borderline personality disorder causes a broad range of reactions that can be considered self-destructive or self-sabotaging. It influences thoughts, emotions, behavior, and communication, adding a degree of volatility and unpredictability to daily living that can be unsettling for BPD sufferers and their loved ones.

Is overthinking a form of self-sabotage? ›

What Is Overthinking? You reflect on a past action that resulted in negative consequences. Then, you start to worry about all the things that could possibly go wrong in the future. This behaviour is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems and interferes with long-standing goals.

Do people with low self-esteem self-sabotage? ›

People with low self-esteem are especially prone to self-sabotaging. Because they are not fond of themselves, they often behave in ways that reaffirm these beliefs and may purposely seek out self-embarrassing situations and failure.

What are the causes of sabotage? ›

Six components of sabotage behavior were identified: intentional anti-collegial behaviour, professional dishonesty, abuse of power, negativity, non-compliance, and underperformance. Causes of sabotage included leadership and structures, intrinsic self-interest, and personality traits.


1. 9 ways you are sabotaging yourself
(Success Secrets TV)
2. Are You Self-Sabotaging Relationships & Causing Men to Pull Away? Here’s what you must know
3. Here's how to know if you're self-sabotaging
(Rebekah Eisner)
4. Why you self-sabotage and how you can use it to find direction
(James Lim)
5. Do you Self sabotage When Dating? Here is Why and How to Stop
(Debbie Rivers)
(Stephanie Lyn Coaching)
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