Why You Self-Sabotage and How to Stop
I want to talk about self-sabotage because America is traumatized. Rates of depression have tripled since before the pandemic and more and more people are discussing their mental health challenges online.
As I started to heal from my own trauma, I began to see how I’d been unknowingly sabotaging myself in multiple areas of my life. Can you relate? If so, keep reading…
Today we’ll explore:
what is self-sabotage?
why do we self-sabotage?
how to stop self-sabotage
This information is gathered from my research. I am not a doctor or a clinician, so take it with a grain of salt.
What is self-sabotage?
Self-sabotage is when you undermine your own goals and success.
Sometimes we can sabotage ourselves without even realizing it. Other times, we can be conscious of the self-sabotage and go through with it anyway (like smoking cigarettes or engaging in high-risk sexual behavior).
Examples of self-sabotage:
picking fights in relationships
These are pretty clear examples but sometimes self-sabotage can be more tricky or covert.
For example, I noticed that I used to consistently choose emotionally unavailable partners even though I craved depth and intimacy in relationships. Here’s another example: I knew someone who would repeatedly put down/insult their closest friends because of deeply-held insecurities. This obviously hurt her friends and repelled them from her.
Why do people self-sabotage?
There’s no one reason why self-sabotage happens. It’s usually a combination of factors.
Comfort: Our brains want to keep us comfortable and cozy. Most of the time, humans don’t like surprises, change, or uncertainty. We default to what’s easy and familiar. In fact, we feel more “in control” when things are familiar. That’s why self-sabotage is common when you get to the edge of your comfort zone. Limiting beliefs might kick in to keep you in mental “safety.”
Our brains have a negativity bias.
We may have seen it modeled in our families
Unhealed issues/wounds/trauma: It is important to heal your wounding and feel your feelings. Otherwise, we keep traumatizing ourselves.
In Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s best-selling book, The Body Keeps the Score, he claims that when we suppress our feelings for the long term, we are fundamentally at war with ourselves.
Hiding your core feelings takes an enormous amount of energy. It saps your motivation to pursue worthwhile goals, and it leaves you feeling bored and shut down. Meanwhile, stress hormones keep flooding your body, leading to disease and discomfort.
This certainly resonates with my personal experience.
These unresolved wounds are then actually hijacking your brains and controlling your behaviors, most of the time without you being cognizant of it.
Here’s a quote from the book which illuminates this a bit:
“If you have no internal sense of security, it is difficult to distinguish between safety and danger. If you feel chronically numbed out, potentially dangerous situations may make you feel more alive. If you conclude that you must be a terrible person (because why else would your parents have treated you that way?), you start expecting other people to treat you horribly. You probably deserve it, and anyway, there is nothing you can do about it. When disorganized people carry self-perceptions like these, they are set up to be traumatized by subsequent experiences.”
Van der Kolk explains that the emotional & logical brains combine to form a response to information and stimuli. But when aroused by fear, the logical brain can go offline.
This is why some people can watch the Jan. 6 insurrection on television and deny it with their own eyes. It’s why we are more easily manipulated by a potential new lover right after a breakup. It’s why we eat junk when we know better, we procrastinate, or why we spend money we don’t have.
Our wounding hijacks our thinking.
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How to stop self-sabotaging?
Awareness: understand the need that your self-sabotage fills. Recognize it serves a purpose. This is where you get honest with yourself to figure out what that is. When you understand the need your self-sabotage fills, you can cultivate alternative behaviors to fill that need.
Perhaps make a list of what you want and then list the things preventing you from getting it.
Heal the core issues that might be causing the behavior: Allow any old, latent fears and feelings to come up. Fully feel it so you can release it. And then be conscious of your behavior moving forward so you can resist repeating old patterns. Keep doing that until the new, healthier patterns become second-nature.
Build distress tolerance: We could let our stress overwhelm us — or we can learn to use it as a strength-training opportunity. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Make yourself do hard things (exercise is an example). Work on building that mental toughness so that your comfort zone naturall expands.
I hope this was helpful. What does your self-sabotage look like? Let me know in the comments below!