Compassionate Care, National Accreditation:​​
The Joint Commission
NIDA logo
Treatment Professionals in Alumni Services
DSS licensed
Woman who can't stop self sabotaging

Understanding Self-Sabotaging

Jump to Section

As difficult as life can often be, external challenges aren’t the only factors that affect our ability to be successful. Many people place additional obstacles in their own path (often without realizing it) by self-sabotaging.

What is Self-Sabotaging?

Self-sabotage occurs when a person’s decisions or behaviors undermine their own progress, prevent them from achieving a goal, or diminish their likelihood of experiencing happiness. 

For some people, self-sabotage is the result of a conscious choice, while others may not grasp the detrimental impact of their actions (or inactions).

Examples of self-sabotage can include:

  • Procrastinating at work to the point that they either miss deadlines or only leave themselves enough time to do rushed, subpar work.
  • Overthinking problems, which prevents them from actually taking meaningful action or implementing potential solutions.
  • Ruminating on past failures or becoming hyper-focused on current shortcomings, which can pull them into a downward spiral of negative thoughts.
  • Using drugs in an attempt to hide from their problems or numb themselves to difficult emotions. 
  • Expecting perfection of themselves or others, which establishes an unachievable standard and virtually guarantees dissatisfaction.

Why Do People Self-Sabotage?

It can often be difficult to determine why a person self-sabotages. This can be especially true in situations where the person doesn’t even realize what they have in doing. 

With that in mind, here are a few possible reasons for self-sabotaging:

  • Sense of unworthiness: Some people believe that they do not deserve to be happy. When they are in situations where progress, success, or a reward is within their grasp, they self-sabotage.
  • Fear of success: As they saying goes, when you have nothing, then you have nothing to lose. Some people fear successes because it puts them in a position where a possession, title, money, or other desired outcome can be taken away from them.
  • Imposter syndrome: This can represent a combination of a sense of unworthiness and a fear of success. People who have imposter syndrome live in fear that they will be “discovered” as being less talented or intelligent than others believe them to be due to their title or position.
  • A history of trauma: Untreated trauma can cause people to expect the worst. For example, if they have previously been abused, neglected, or abandoned, they may self-sabotage their relationships to avoid what they believe to be inevitable future pain.

Long-Term Effects of Self-Sabotaging

Self-sabotage can cause both immediate harm and long-term damage, including the following negative effects:

  • Lack of meaningful relationships
  • Inability to trust yourself or others
  • Failure to progress at your workplace or in your career
  • Financial difficulties
  • Poor self-confidence and low self-esteem
  • Onset or worsening of mental health concerns 
  • Pervasive sense of hopelessness or helplessness

How to Stop Self-Sabotaging

Whether you have been intentionally or subconsciously self-sabotaging, here are a few tips for how to escape this maladaptive behavior pattern:

  • Identify your triggers: When you look back on your life, what are the common events or circumstances that prompted you to self-sabotage? When you understand why you have engaged in this behavior in the past, you can develop strategies for dealing with these influences in a healthier and less destructive manner when you encounter them in the future.
  • Keep a journal: Writing down what happens to you (and how you responded) can provide you with a valuable perspective on your thoughts and behaviors. This practice can also be a valuable means of identifying your triggers. Finally, journaling can help you establish your goals, express your fears, and reaffirm your values. 
  • Practice mindfulness: This encourages you to be fully present in the moment, to view external events without judgement, and to accept your emotions without self-criticism. Mindfulness reminds you that you can experience feelings without reacting to them. It also forces you to consider the potential impact of your behaviors before you take action.
  • Get professional help: If you are unable to break your personal cycle of self-sabotage, there’s no shame in talking to a therapist, counselor, or other professional. This type of help can be particularly effective if your propensity for self-sabotage is related to anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or another mental health concern.

Can Treatment Help With Self-Sabotage? 

As noted in the previous section, some people may need professional help to overcome the urge to self-sabotage. Before entering a program, it’s important to understand your options, so you can find the type of treatment that aligns most closely with your specific needs and goals.

Types of Treatment

Treatment for self-sabotage can occur at multiple levels and involve several therapies and support services. The ideal approach can vary significantly from one person to the next based on a range of personal factors. For example, some people may need the intensive interventions that are available at the inpatient level, while others may be best served by outpatient programming. 

This is why it is essential to find a treatment provider that can assess the full scope of your needs and then develop a truly customized plan of care.

Therapy for Self-Sabotage

The following four evidence-based therapies have proved to be effective at helping people overcome the urge to self-sabotage:

  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) – ACT sessions employ mindfulness exercises to help people accept difficult emotions and problematic life experiences without reacting in a negative or judgmental manner. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – CBT is a goal-oriented form of therapy that helps people identify self-defeating thought patterns and maladaptive behaviors, with the goal of replacing them with healthier and more productive ways of thinking and acting.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – DBT sessions can help people develop or improve their capabilities in several important areas, such as distress tolerance, emotion regulation, mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness.
  • Motivational interviewing – This therapeutic approach uses open-ended questions to help people overcome the ambivalence and insecurities that have been preventing them from making beneficial behavioral changes.  

Contact Our Montare Behavioral Health Centers in Southern California

If compulsive self-sabotage has been preventing you from living the successful and satisfying life you deserve, Montare Behavioral Health is here to help. 

When you choose one of our mental health treatment centers in southern California, you will have the opportunity to work in active collaboration with a team of highly skilled and deeply compassionate professionals. We can help you understand the root causes of your maladaptive behaviors, then develop the customized plan that will help you regain control of your thoughts and actions.

When you’re ready to get started, the Montare team is here for you. To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact Us page or call us today.