What is Self-Sabotage and How Do I Stop It

We all do things that we know we’re going to regret later.

We procrastinate when we’re under a deadline. We order fast food when we’re trying to eat more healthfully. We decide to exercise every morning, but then end up sleeping in. 

For some, this type of behavior happens on occasion. For others, it’s an ongoing pattern. And when it becomes an ongoing pattern, that can present ongoing issues.

What are some examples of self-sabotage?

You’re probably familiar with the term self-sabotage, and you may have even used it to describe choices you’ve made against your better judgment. 

Examples of self-sabotage would be consistently showing up late for appointments or meetings. Or, regularly spending money you don’t have on things you don’t really need. Or, repeatedly breaking off promising relationships when they’re about to get serious.

Other signs you may self-sabotage include:

  • Starting more projects than you know you’re reasonably able to finish
  • Focusing on low-priority tasks while leaving high-priority tasks for the last minute or unfinished altogether
  • Paying for subscriptions (such as streaming services or gym memberships) that you know you’ll rarely use

The examples above are just a few examples of how people act in self-defeating ways. 

Self-sabotage becomes a problem when it interrupts and interferes with daily life or prevents a person from achieving long-term goals. Those goals could include career, relationships, health, or personal goals.

Why Would Anyone Sabotage Themself?

But take a moment to think about the concept of self-sabotage. What does it mean to sabotage yourself? And when you do something that’s against your “better judgment,” who is it that has your better judgment? And if it’s yours and it’s better, why would you act against it?

When you think about it, self-sabotage may be very common, but it’s really a very strange concept!

The idea of self-sabotage is only difficult to understand if you think about it as a self-defeating characteristic that’s somehow a part of you, or it’s a problem that you have, like a chronic illness and you just have to learn to live with it.

But what if you think about it instead as a relationship? Granted, it may seem strange, but it’s an internal relationship between two sides of you! And as often happens in relationships, the two sides are in conflict with each other. 

If you view it as a relationship, it begins to make more sense: those two sides are fighting over what you should do. One side puts pressure on you to work harder and be perfect. The other side says, “Leave me alone and stop telling me what to do!” That’s a relationship problem. And when one side of you is able to undermine the other side’s goals, then you are sabotaging yourself!

Here’s the most important point: techniques that work well to resolve conflict between two people can be used just as effectively to resolve conflict within one person.

How do I get help?

People who self-sabotage are often puzzled by this behavior, and as the pattern is repeated, they feel increasingly hopeless that they will ever be able to achieve success.

So, how can you stop this self-destructive pattern?

Instead of assuming that you may lack willpower, self-control, or the motivation to change think about the internal conflict and how you would approach that problem in any other relationship.

At Equipoise Teletherapy, we understand why people often do things that they know they don’t want to do. We’re specialists in helping people understand both sides of their internal conflict, and we help them to resolve it.

One side is your “future self” that’s focused on long-term goals but doesn’t trust your willingness to do what’s necessary to reach them. This side can only persuade you to do what’s in your interest but doesn’t trust that you’ll do what you should. So, it tends to be strict and demanding in its effort to encourage you.

The other side is your “present self” who resents the future self’s controlling style. The persuasion feels like a threat to the present self’s need for freedom and autonomy. In response, it reacts like a defiant adolescent, and rebels against the future self’s control, regardless of the consequences that result. That defiant behavior is self-sabotage.

Our therapists will help you understand that the real cause of self-sabotage isn’t a defect or a deficit; it’s an internal conflict between two sides of you. We’ll work with you to help you overcome many types of unwanted behaviors like emotional eating, alcohol and substance misuse, procrastination, and more. 

Contact Equipoise Teletherapy by clicking here to set up an initial evaluation and see if online therapy with us is a good fit for you.

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