Self-sabotage: why you stand in your own way

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Self-sabotage: why you stand in your own way

Do you know the feeling of sometimes standing in your own way? You are certainly not alone in this. In its most pronounced form, this is known as self-sabotage, which is often an expression of psychological stress. Below you can find out how to recognize self-sabotage and what you can do about it.

What is self-sabotage and how do you recognize it?

Self-sabotage means, as the term suggests, that you destroy your happiness and great opportunities through your own actions. This only happens unconsciously to some extent. In many cases, you are well aware that your actions are destructive and get you into trouble. But why do you still act in this way?

There can be several reasons for this. Self-sabotage is often observed when people literally become afraid of their own courage. Let's say you're up for a promotion and you're afraid of failing. To avoid an embarrassing defeat in the first place, you sabotage your impending success to protect yourself from it.

The feeling of not deserving something good is also a common cause of self-sabotage. We will discuss the connection with mental illness in more detail later on. You can recognize self-sabotaging behaviour by the following recurring pattern: you thwart something you actually want through your own actions (e.g. through deliberate negligence).

Self-sabotage in relationships: Why we sometimes destroy the good in front of ourselves

Self-sabotage in relationships is a common phenomenon, according to an Australian Study proves this. Subconscious protective mechanisms also play a major role here. To avoid being hurt, you block intimacy from the outset, which self-explanatorily sabotages the relationship.

These are usually recurring patterns of behavior that are repeated in every new relationship. Breaking this negative spiral is not that easy. The self-sabotaging behavior causes your partnerships to fail again and again, which becomes engrained as another bad experience. The protective pattern is thus maintained.

Some people are not only afraid of being hurt, but generally find it difficult to allow closeness. If a partner wants to build closeness, the relationship is sabotaged. Conversely, it is also called self-sabotage if you are suffering from your relationship but cannot end it because your self-worth depends on your partner.

Self-sabotage relationship

The link between self-sabotage and personality disorders

In many cases, self-sabotage is directly related to a anxious-avoidant personality disorder. People who suffer from this have an acute fear of being rejected, criticized or insulted. As a result, they avoid all social interactions.

This in turn leads to numerous opportunities in professional and private life being sabotaged from the outset for fear that it could end in disaster anyway. For example, deadlines are deliberately missed at work when there is talk of a new position. This is especially true if the new position involves personnel responsibility.

When those affected meet a potential new partner, they deliberately drive them away in order to protect themselves from disappointment. They are also accompanied by the constant feeling of being inferior and not deserving of anything good. Self-sabotage therefore acts as self-punishment.

Symptoms of self-sabotage: warning signs you shouldn't ignore

Do you feel like you're sabotaging yourself? Then you should look out for the following warning signs:

  • You constantly doubt yourself and your abilities.
  • You distrust people who try to encourage you.
  • You have the feeling that your life is stagnating.
  • You are never satisfied, no matter what you have achieved.
  • You deliberately set yourself tasks that you can't do on your own in order to confirm your negative self-image.
  • You have difficulty making decisions and always put them off until the very last minute.
  • You deliberately ignore your own needs.
  • You have internalized the conviction that you deserve nothing good.
  • You have difficulty rejecting other people.
  • Your thoughts are constantly revolving around your personal weaknesses.
  • Experienced failures replay in your mind like a continuous loop.

The influence of trauma on self-sabotage behavior

Anyone who has had to live through traumatic events in the past - especially in early childhood - is much more susceptible to self-sabotage. Self-image is formed during childhood. If a child is given the feeling that they are not loved (e.g. through neglect or violence), the conviction that they are not a valuable person is imprinted.

These and similar traumas (such as experiences of loss) continue to affect the affected person into adulthood and have an impact on their entire life. Many trauma patients develop restrictive fears or are no longer able to trust other people.

In any case, trauma should be dealt with professionally as part of psychotherapy. If the traumatic experience is reflected upon, re-evaluated and ultimately processed, the self-sabotage behavior will also dissolve.

What does self-sabotage mean for your self-confidence and personal development?

The fact that self-sabotage has a devastating effect on your self-confidence and personal development does not need to be explained in detail. If you sabotage yourself, you will repeatedly experience failure. The latter changes your self-image in a negative way so that you ultimately have less and less confidence in yourself.

The personality cannot develop further either. The latter is related to the protective mechanism that self-sabotage fulfills. By preventing new experiences from the outset, you deprive yourself of the chance to grow from them.

5 steps to overcome self-sabotage and make positive changes

We have put together 5 steps for you to overcome self-sabotage and make positive changes in your life.

Step 1: Recognize self-sabotage as such

The first step is to admit to yourself that you are sabotaging yourself. This is not always easy, as self-sabotage serves a protective function for you and you justify your behavior to yourself.

Step 2: Accept risks

To let go of self-sabotage, you must gradually accept that there can never be 100% protection against failure, pain and disappointment. These experiences are part of life.

Step 3: Set goals

The best way to outwit your inner saboteur is to set yourself specific life goals that motivate you. What do you want to work towards? With a clear goal in mind that you really care about, you are more willing to take the necessary risks.

Step 4: Take small steps

Overcoming self-sabotage is not easy. So start with small steps to gain a sense of achievement that you can build on. Take on small challenges that you would have previously said you couldn't do anyway, just to be on the safe side. This could be a difficult phone call or simply sending off an application, for example.

Step 5: Talk about the problem

It is often very relieving to talk to trusted people about self-sabotage. Outsiders can mirror your behavior much better and support you in adopting a new perspective. It can also be helpful to look for role models who can encourage you and point out impending relapses before they happen.

self-sabotage personality disorder

How coaching can help you break through self-sabotage patterns

Self-sabotage patterns are often deeply rooted over years, so it can be very difficult to break out of the vicious circle without outside help. Professional coaching can provide valuable support here. Together with the coach, you identify and analyze your harmful patterns of behavior. As already explained, self-awareness is the first important step.

The next step is to find out the causes and work through them. Once this has been done, you will work with your coach to develop alternative behaviors to defeat your inner saboteur. Another goal is to strengthen your self-confidence in the long term so that you don't fall back into old patterns of behavior in the event of a crisis.

Conclusion: The journey to more self-confidence and overcoming self-sabotage

Self-sabotage fulfills a supposed protective function. However, it can massively hinder your personal and professional success. It is therefore important to recognize the harmful patterns of behaviour and strengthen your self-confidence in the long term. Once you have recognized that you are sabotaging yourself, the first step has been taken.

Breaking out of the vicious circle requires a lot of inner strength. It makes sense to set yourself small goals at first, but you should pursue them consistently. It can also be relieving to talk to trusted people about the problem.

If the behavioral patterns are very deeply rooted, coaching can give you valuable impulses. However, if the problem is based on traumatic experiences or an anxiety-avoidant personality disorder, you should consult a psychotherapist.

Every person occasionally struggles to find more self-worth. But self-worth predators lurk everywhere. Learn how they trigger you less and less and how you can develop yourself further at Greator. In our Self-confidence seminar you learn how to develop yourself. Positive feelings bring you forward - not only in your private life, but also at work. In this way, you can strengthen your self-esteem on your own initiative and with professional support. With the right tips, you will find your way to more self-worth and self-determination.


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Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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