I hear about self-sabotage from my clients pretty frequently. Its true that we self-sabotage at times; we all do things that make little sense in retrospect or bring about the exact opposite of what we were hoping for. Sometimes we do things in direct contradiction to the goals we’ve got our sights on.
Before diving into working on self-sabotage, I invite you to consider that it isn’t so much “sabotage” as it is self-protection. Everyone has a survival instinct built into their brains, and it gets activated by fear. It kicks into action to try to protect us from getting hurt or experiencing pain. This survival and protective fear response is really helpful if we’re being threatened and need to fight, flee, or faint to protect ourselves.
Throughout our lives we have various experiences that can teach us to re-program that response. It stops kicking in only when we’re physically in danger and can start to activate when we’re threatened with emotional hurt too. Sometimes we internalize (after painful experiences) the ideas that certain emotions are bad, unbearable, or can’t be handled. Emotional injuries do hurt, after all.
Over time we may find ourselves operating from those ideas, which means that our protective stress response comes in and promotes thinking and behaviors as if there is a physical threat, when in reality our fear of emotional pain has caused us to switch into survival mode. This mode draws us into behaviors that we sometimes label as “self-sabotage”.
Areas You Self-Sabotage
Relationship based self-sabotage is common. We naturally don’t want to be hurt by those we love and care about. Finding the beliefs you internalize that may have you acting in ways that aren’t helpful or supportive to your relationship goals is a first step toward addressing self-sabotage.
Below are some beliefs that might trigger fear or resistance to taking action that supports you, your relationships, or your goals:
• I’m not lovable.
• Once someone knows me, they’ll leave me. I always get left.
• I’m not relationship material.
• I will lose my freedom. I have to give myself up to keep the relationship.
• Being rejected is too painful to handle. I don’t want to take the chance of being hurt.
For a lot of people, fear of rejection is a primary motivator for self-sabotage.
Work related self-sabotage is also linked to fear of rejection. Below are some beliefs that may trigger self-sabotage when it comes to work:
• If I fail, it means I’m stupid and worthless. Everyone will think I’m stupid.
• Everyone tells me to work and succeed at work. If I don’t I will let them down, so I better stay small and stay in my “lane” or risk failure.
• I deserve to start at the top and won’t take anything less.
There are many thinking patterns and beliefs that can stop us from taking the right action or keep us stuck. Spend some time thinking about your thought processes in relationships and work. Identify thinking that may not be helpful to you. You can also check out this list of cognitive distortions to dig into this issue further.
Some other fear based beliefs that may keep you stuck:
• Success or failure defines my worth as a person.
• I’m an inadequate person.
• I can’t handle rejection.
• I have to give myself up to be loved.
How You Self-Sabotage
Self-sabotage can look different for each of us but some common patterns may be:
• Keeping yourself isolated.
• Rushing into relationships.
• Giving yourself up to the point of resentment in relationships; becoming angry due to feeling like you’ve lost yourself, and then ending the relationship intentionally or overtime with angry outbursts.
• Not sharing yourself enough to create real connection.
• Putting off looking for work you really want.
• Staying in a job you hate. (Resentment builds, anger starts, you begin to lose yourself, and may quit or become ill from the stress associated, leading to issues at work.)
• Giving yourself up at work, allowing yourself to be used, not setting clear times for work and home or fun.
• Keeping yourself uneducated or refusing opportunities for learning, promotion, and growth, which stops you from doing what you really want to do.
• Pay attention to self-judgements. Self-judging is a big factor in self-sabotage. When you notice self-judgement and ask your logical, rational, Spock-like self what the higher truth really is.
• Examine whether your definition of self-worth comes from “success” or effort. Decide and commit to defining your worth by the loving acts you put into the universe and toward yourself, rather than the outcome of “success”.
• When experiencing failure, note what you feel you’ve “failed” at and be intentional about looking for successes. Maybe your sales pitch didn’t get a lot of products sold, but it did provide practice for your craft, new contacts, etc. Look for opportunities to learn more, for areas you may want to grow in.
• Learn to be as compassionate to yourself as you are to your friends and loved ones. When you are able to allow feelings of pain to come and be met with kindness toward yourself rather than self-blame and self-judgment for them you will start to embrace a higher truth. You’ll show yourself you’re willing to take loving action toward yourself.
Doing the work of introspection, thought monitoring and challenging, and building tolerance to the distress of your fears, is difficult – yet empowering. It is a high form of self-love, and will help you on you way to loving relationships and happier work experiences.