Self-Sabotage September 18, 2014

What is Self-Sabotage? Self-Sabotage is the tendency to engage in self-limiting, sometimes impulsive, risky, or fear based behaviors. These behaviors can alter outcomes in order to validate negative thoughts and deep seated negative beliefs. An example of a negative thought and belief might be “I knew it wouldn’t work out for me. It never does”. On an unconscious level the belief and behaviors of self-sabotage help to thwart circumstances leading to desirable and favorable outcomes. Self-sabotage can be understood as a misguided defense mechanism to feel safe and comfortable in what we “know” as opposed to the scary stuff of what we “don’t know” resulting in a state of impasse.


Where do these baffling beliefs and behaviors come from? Self-sabotage and accompanying beliefs usually come from problems of self-esteem that formulated during childhood and carried over into adulthood. Often times this can be due to negative social experiences when we were younger or as a result of how we were parented, creating negative internalized beliefs. We all remember certain moments from childhood where we felt less than adequate or socially challenged. Most of us can also recall statements or behaviors that led us to feel less than adequate by our parents or other influential adults in our lives. However, the point of this writing is not to stay victimized by these faulty beliefs but to understand where self-sabotage and low self-esteem came from in order to reduce our self-suffering as an adult… because adults have CHOICE.


How can one alter self-sabotage and stop their self-suffering? By first, recognizing the behavior and accepting responsibility. This can be difficult, not the concept itself, but the behaviors inside a set of circumstances often can conjure up further defenses such as denial. It’s important to explore for behavioral patterns where the desired outcomes are consistently not met. For example, some people tend to find something wrong with others or environmental factors related to the task of gaining a desired outcome, thus sabotage themselves from completing the task based on external factors they can blame, as opposed to taking responsibility for their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.


Secondly, once patterns have been identified, exploring for the underlying beliefs and engaging in what’s called “reality testing” those faulty, self-defeating thoughts and beliefs. Reality testing is a method of refuting or challenging self-defeating or unrealistic thoughts or beliefs. Examples of reality testing would be “What real proof do I have that I am not good enough to have A, B, or C?” or “I have accomplished other tasks in my life, why would I let this current task hold me back?”.


By practice and use of reality testing one can then engage in the third and final step of “reframing” their negative thoughts and beliefs toward more helpful, true, and realistic thoughts or beliefs; allowing for pause, impulse control, and choice. Reframing is a technique where a negative thought is restated in the positive. Take the example above of someone who consistently finds something wrong with other people or factors in the environment, thwarting them from their desired outcome. And let’s say they find that they have an underlying belief of “I don’t deserve good things in my life, It never works out for me”. We know that everyone can identify a time when things went their way, where a feeling of accomplishment was the result, maybe not related to the specific desired outcome but the same feeling quality was present. So a reframe might look like, “Sometimes it does work out for me. It felt so good when I accomplished ____________. I believe I deserve A, B, or C, because I have desired it for a long time. I think I can look past these other people and environmental factors this time and continue with my plan”. See how much more open and positive this statement is? Much more helpful than the previous self-defeating belief. In time, with the action of follow through a new and improved belief system will be validated —thus increasing self-esteem and self-worth, and eradicating self-sabotage.


*Words to the wise, start small and be patient. Choose behaviors where the stakes are a little less intense such as procrastination or other self-defeating thoughts.


If you liked this information or know someone who could benefit from it, please share. Also, if you have comments or questions, feel free to respond to the post or email me directly at afoster@fosteringawareness.org.

Aaron Foster

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