by: E.B. Johnson
We all deal with a little negative self talk from time-to-time, but fighting that battle regularly can lead to self-sabotaging behavior. It’s easy to spot our self-sabotaging cycles, but it can be harder to stop them. Just because you realize that you’re messing up and selling yourself short don’t mean you know how to fix it.
It takes some serious self-reflection and a deep understanding of ourselves to silence that inner saboteur once and for all. If you want to stop blowing it, then you’ve got to get to the root of your issues and embrace them as facets of yourself. Only when you embrace what you are can you change it, after all, but it takes time and commitment to get there.
What is self-sabotage?
Self-sabotage occurs when our conscious mind is at odds with our unconscious self. More simply, this is when we commit to actions that seem helpful in the moment, but which ultimately undermine our confidence, strength and relationships. They’re the kind of actions or behaviors that create problems in our lives and interferes with our long-standing goals. We all self-sabotage at some point, but some of us are repeat offenders of the epic sort.
Why we engage in self-sabotage.
The roots of self-sabotage run deep and they stem from places that can be challenging or painful to visit. You have to get to the root of your past and present issues in order to end your sabotaging-streak, however. There is no one that can face your problems but you, and there’s no one who can deal with them but you either.
Past experiences and childhood trauma.
Our inner voice is formed during our early childhood experiences. Though we don’t realize it, we internalize all the attitudes that get directed at us by our parents and caregivers and form them into a sense of self, a sort of reflection.
If a parent frequently made comments about a child being “lazy” or “useless”, that child might grow up to engage in self-sabotaging thoughts like, “Why bother? You’ll just fail anyway.”
As children, we also internalize the negative thoughts that our caregivers have about themselves. Growing up with a self-hating parent can lead the child to grow up believing that they are also weak or a failure. If a parent is overly critical about their appearance, their child may take on similar insecurities.
Low opinion of self-worth.
When you feel undeserving of success or happiness (and idea that often develops in childhood) you often engage in behavior that is self-defeating or undermining — often without even realizing it.
This all comes from a little thing called cognitive dissonance. As humans, we like to be consistent. If our actions don’t feel in line with our beliefs and values, we’ll do what we can (subconsciously) to get them in line once again. Racking up a sea of awards and victories when you feel like a failure will lead to you pulling the plug; ending the good thing you had going and sabotaging you and the happiness you didn’t feel worthy enough to have.
Need to reclaim control over our lives.
Feeling like life is spinning out of control can drive you to some strange places. When you feel like you’ve lost the plot, you’ll do almost anything to get it back again — including failing yourself before anyone else can do it for you.
Feeling like a fraud.
Imposter syndrome is nasty and its suffering is one of the most common causes of self-sabotage. Doing well in life — especially when you suffer from low self-esteem — can make you feel like you only have further to fall. Panicked by your triumphs, you start to believe you’ll be seen as a fake and this can lead you to procrastinate, leave things unfinished or quit and run altogether.
Those with chronically low self-worth often let their inner saboteur take the wheel because it’s more comfortable than the other option. As humans, we’ll take familiarity over almost anything else. Being overlooked, mistreated or exploited can feel strangely comforting when that’s all you’ve ever known or the only treatment that you find to be in line with your self-worth.
Signs your inner-saboteur is in control.
Realizing that you’re your own worst enemy takes a keen emotional awareness of self that takes time to develop. There are, however, some major red flags that might be a sign you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
Your inner-critic rules the day.
Criticizing yourself constantly is one of the most common signs that you might be engaging in some self-defeating behavior. While our inner critics might drive us to do better from time-to-time, an unchecked inner critic is toxic and corrosive to your confidence and self-worth.
Some of the most common and poisonous critical thoughts are things like:
- “This won’t work. These things never work.”
- “There’s no way I can do this.”
- “It’s my fault. It’s always my fault. I’m the only common variable.”
- “Everyone is better than me.”
- “I’ll fail because that’s all I ever do.”
Letting your inner critic run the show can prevent you from tapping into the motivation you need to succeed, but it also prevents you from being excited about the future. If these thoughts are familiar to you, it might just be a signal that it’s time for radical change.
Though it might come as a surprise, chronic procrastination is one of the most common signs that you’re sabotaging yourself before the good stuff can even begin. This can come down to failing to complete tasks at work or putting things off until a big deadline looms. If you’re constantly feeling stressed, behind or in a hurry — you’re probably doing it to yourself.
You’re suffering from imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome isn’t just one of the root causes of self-sabotage. It’s also a symptom. I.S. is toxic and leads to a destruction of confidence and a setting back in goals and achievement. When you’re being battered down by the feeling that you’re a fraud, you’ll stop taking the calculated risks that promise to improve your life.
Feeling like you aren’t good enough for anything is self-limiting and reinforces the negative fantasies you imagine for yourself. You could score that big promotion or achieve all the relationship goals you want, you’ll still feel like a fraud when your self-worth and achievements aren’t aligned.
You look for arguments or confrontation everywhere you go.
Continual episodes of conflict can also be a sign that you’re engaging in some pretty serious self-sabotage. Our inner saboteurs are always at work, whether we’re in the office or at home. As such, they can create some real problems with the people around us when they feel like we’re getting too cozy or starting to think too well of ourselves.
We pick arguments when we’re feeling vulnerable because it pushes them away and allows us to feel as though we’re regaining some of the power we feel we’ve given away. Limiting this kind of behavior comes down to knowing your triggers and recognizing the intention and origin of your words and emotions. Look at your relationship with the person involved in the other side of the conflict. Do they really deserve your ire, or is there some fear at play here?
You like to overindulge…regularly.
It’s a habit that often goes overlooked, but regular overindulgence can be a sign that you’re sabotaging yourself.
When we’re feeling stressed, it can feel good to overeat or drink too much or play too many video games. Losing ourselves in the things that make us feel good (fast) is common, but it’s often toxic — and it never leads to dealing with the real problems or issues at hand.
Sabotage through over-indulgence can take a lot of different forms. Maybe you are planning to go on a diet, but decide the week before that it’s a birthday weekend so calories don’t really count. Or, maybe you have a big presentation the next day but you stay up the night before (drinking way more than you should) and delivering poorly, despite your preparation.
These negative and self-defeating behaviors all stem from fear of failure. You expect yourself to fail and it creates more stress, which leads to overindulgence and the failure you expected of yourself all along.
The key to stopping these behaviors is all in generating awareness and practicing the simple techniques that can keep you on track and generating the positive opportunities that you deserve in this life.
How to stop your inner-saboteur (and start getting the things you deserve).
Putting an end to the self-sabotage starts with accepting that — as a living human being on this planet — you deserve all the love and happiness in the world. It’s easy to get down on ourselves and see ourselves as worthy of all the bad possible in the universe, but that just isn’t true. If you want happiness and joy, you have to accept that you’re deserving of it.
The next step in ending this negative cycle, however, is developing the techniques and practices that can help keep your confidence and sense of self riding high. Everything you achieve in life is a direct result of your actions. Learn to control your negative habits by replacing them with positive ones, instead.
1. Find an outlet for your uncomfortable feelings.
Self-destructive behavior is always a manifestation of our worst and most uncomfortable feelings, insecurities and fears. These fears dwell inside of us like shadows and demons and strike when we find ourselves starting to feel powerful again. They can lead us to do drugs, pursue lovers who don’t respect us and even seek chaos that tears us apart from the inside out.
By finding a healthy outlet for channeling these feelings, you can turn their energies into a powerful tool for good; it just takes a little creativity.
Follow your passions and discover how you can turn your inner turmoil into art or productive tasks that speak to your joy and that powerful sense of self that makes you feel powerful and whole. Validate your feelings by putting them into a task which distracts you and allows you to escape their most violent put downs and undercuts.
2. Practice a little kindness, but hold yourself accountable.
Often, even when we know we’re self-sabotaging, we can’t stop ourselves because of the inherent shame that’s associated with the behavior. We want to take a different action, but we can’t, driven underground by the idea that we will no longer be loved or accepted for our perceived sense of “failure”.
Try to see your actions with a little compassion and try extending some of the kindness you extend to others to yourself, but hold yourself accountable for where you are and where you need to go.
If you were witnessing the event happening to a young child, would you help them or would you cruelly dismiss them and leave them to their own devices? Get a little perspective on your situation and use it to get around what’s blocking you, rather than giving in.
3. Face your fears.
Take a long hard look in the mirror and get brutally honest about why you drink too much or stay out too late when you know there’s a big project due the next day. Ask yourself: Is this how I want to live the rest of my life? In a continued cycle of self defeat? What do I really have to lose at this point? What’s so wrong with getting what you want?
Realize that it’s much easier to face your fears than to spend time protecting them. Only by looking them in the eye and embracing your fears for what they are (and what they make you) can you find your way back to true joy.
4. Do a major rewrite.
We all respond to stress and fear differently because we filter our experiences through our own perceptions. We choose who we are, and we also choose how we respond to any given situation.
When you’re ready, approach your pain with curiosity and ask yourself, “What is the silver lining that I can find here?” Rather than seeing failures or disappointments as world-ending catastrophes, see them as a chance to grow and you can (slowly) free yourself from guilt, trauma and fear.
Rewriting your ending allows you to take control of your story. Look for the gift beneath the heartache and you might just be surprised by what you find. Remember: our feelings are not always aligned with reality and we always have a choice. That’s what gives us our true power as humans. Choice.
5. Learn how to identify your sabotaging thoughts.
Learning how to identify your toxic and self-defeating thoughts is one of the primary ways to combat to them and one of the best ways to build an awareness around our fears and insecurities.
Mindful journaling is one great means to identifying your negative thoughts and the emotions and situations that trigger them. Find a quiet place where you can spend some time undisturbed. Here, close your eyes and let your mind still before taking some time to get into how you’re feeling.
Once you’re ready (and your mind is quiet) take some time to explore your layers. Joy down any thoughts that come to mind and describe the way they make you feel and the thoughts that they inspire. This requires some brutal honesty, but it can help you figure out why you keep hurting and criticizing yourself.
After you’ve had a chance to explore your feelings fully, ask yourself, “Are these my thoughts, or are these thoughts I have internalized from someone else?” Then, ask yourself: “Are these things even true?” The answer might surprise you.
6. Get rid of negative energy.
Holding onto baggage — whether it’s our baggage or the baggage of others — is self-defeating and one of the main reasons we find ourselves with so much pent-up negative energy and emotion.
For some, it is helpful to engage in a symbolic release of the negative energy and thoughts they are harboring. These can take the shape of small rituals like letter burning or candle lighting and should center around the theme of getting to the root of the question: “What can I get rid of that does not belong to me.”
Some symbolic ways you can release the baggage that’s holding you back include:
- Writing down the negative thoughts you commonly find repeating themselves and then crossing them out, replacing them with loving statements about yourself or your body instead.
- Writing down the thing that is burdening you and burying it in the earth to be reabsorbed and rereleased as positive transformation.
- Burning a letter which contains all the negative thoughts or beliefs that are keeping you stuck, silent and scared.
7. Find your voice again.
Letting thoughts like “I can’t” or “I’m a failure” rule your life can cause you to lose touch with not only your self but your voice as well. You have to replace that negative voice with a subtle, more loving one that compliments the things you actually do well, and let go of your need to meet your poorest expectations.
Transform your inner voice from one that tears you down to one that lifts you up. Find your own voice by transforming your inner voice, and little-by-little you’ll learn that you are the one that holds all the power over your own life.
The more you tune into that voice which raises up your strengths in song, the more you’ll come to realize that whispering longing that’s been within you all along. Your soul has been singing out for good things all this time, calling them on, but you’ve just been pulling up the tracks before it could arrive. Realize this by finding your voice and finding your way back to the powerful, authentic person that you truly are.
Putting it all together…
Everyone has an inner saboteur, but some of us are more affected by our compulsive need to fail more than others. When we feel like our successes aren’t aligned with our self-worth, we start to flounder, and with that can come a whole host of toxic consequences. Overcoming our inner saboteur takes time, and it starts with an understanding of who and what we are at our core.
Cut that self-saboteur loose by finding your voice again and getting to the root of the experiences (old and new) that have created the fears and insecurities that make you believe you’re undeserving of happiness. Get rid of your negative energy and find healthy ways to deal with your fears by doing a major rewrite and identifying the triggers that send you on a downward spiral.
Self-sabotage is a serious inclination for some, but it can be overcome by challenging yourself to do the things you think you cannot do. Create more positive experiences in your life and open your arms up to the happiness you deserve. Remember: simply being alive makes you worthy of peace and happiness, but no one can guarantee that but you.