I find it fitting that the first blog I’m writing after months of not writing is one on self-sabotage. Even more fitting? The fact that as soon as I finished researching this topic, I did not start writing this blog. Instead, I started wrapping presents for my son’s birthday, which is a week
away. Never mind the fact that this is my only day to write this week; it was urgent that I wrap presents. Happily, I only did half of the presents, and I’m now sitting at my computer, writing about the very thing I was doing.
Self-sabotage. It is something I am very familiar with. I can’t count the number of ways I have done this to myself. Want to focus on writing? You can’t! You must go out and plan and purchase everything for your child’s birthday party, which is a month away. Or throw it way back to my dating days: Like that boy? Better call and text him obsessively, because he won’t find that obnoxious and stalker-ish at all. Worried about being smart and cool enough? Binge-drink when you go out, so that everyone can see how cool and fun you are! Throwing up and passing out is super relatable and a funny story to tell later!
Those are, and were, some of the many self-sabotaging behaviors that I have battled. Deep down, I knew what I was doing. I knew there was no way I could succeed with these behaviors, yet I kept going. I continued a very self-destructive cycle for years and years. I am turning 40 this year and just now am starting to clearly see all the ways I liked to sabotage myself. Some are easy to spot (i.e. binge drinking), but some are not. Overcommitting myself and being obsessed with how clean my house was seemed like virtues, not clever ways to prevent me from achieving my actual goals. Yet both binge-drinking and obsessive house-cleaning ultimately had the same result.
I found a great article on Psychology Today that talks about self-sabotage and why we do it. I would like to share a few takeaways. First: What is self-sabotage? The dictionary defines it as “the sabotaging, whether consciously or subconsciously, of oneself." The article took this a step further and stated that it is “any action that gets in the way of your intent.”
My intent may be a loving relationship, self-care or achieving a dream — anything, really. The key is that whatever it is, for some reason, we feel the need to block ourselves from achieving it.
WHY? The author of the above mentioned article, Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D, says there are six main reasons:
1. Self-worth. We don’t think we are worthy of success, so we prevent ourselves from succeeding. “The concept of cognitive dissonance sheds some light on the answer. People like to be consistent — our actions tend to be in sync with our beliefs and values. When they aren’t, we make an effort to line them up again. If we start to rack up the victories and accomplishments, yet still view ourselves as flawed, worthless, incapable, or deficient, we pull the plug to get rid of the dissonance.”
2. Control. It can be scary thinking that failure is right around the corner; better to just fall into old habits so you know exactly when it will all fall apart. “It feels better to control your own failure rather than face the possibility of it blindsiding you and taking you by surprise.”
3. Perceived fraudulence. “If you call attention to your triumphs, it’s more likely you’ll be called out as a fake. This is otherwise known as "impostor syndrome."
4. Scapegoating. "If things aren’t resolved (or when they aren’t resolved, because that’s the only option, right?), we can blame the action instead of ourselves. … While these reasons may be true, they are more frivolous, and easier to come to terms with and swallow than the deeper reasons we secretly believe to be the cause.” Personally, I used this one a lot.
5. Familiarity. “You’ve probably been there your whole life, and while you may not be happy, that which you know is preferable to the unknown.”
6. Sheer boredom. “Sabotaging ourselves creates familiar feelings of instability and chaos; plus, if we’re stuck at the bottom, we might as well brandish power while we’re down there.”
If you are at all like me, several of those reasons are a gut punch. Sadly, like most of these sorts of problems, there are no quick fixes. The first step of changing the pattern, though, is to realize why we’re doing it. According to the article, the root of self-sabotage is a fear of failure. It’s not that we are afraid to achieve; it’s more that we are afraid to try our hardest and still not get what we wanted. That our best is just not good enough.
Again, if you are like me, that will hit home hard. I still remember numerous phone calls and talks with friends, trying to figure out why this boy or that did not like me. It was easier for me to blame my stalker tendencies than to affirm my fear that I was not lovable. My self-sabotage stopped me from digging into why I felt unlovable and trying to fix that, because I could just point to X,Y and Z.
Much like shame, the only way to start the slow recovery of self-sabotage is to work on the deeper issues and misconceptions you are carrying about yourself. This can be hard and painful work, and sometimes just pointing to X,Y and Z is a lot easier, but it also is a life of living in circles, going nowhere. I, for one, am tired of doing that. I hope you are, too.
I guess I end this blog with a challenge. Can you see any ways that you may be self-sabotaging? It may be obvious (social media obsession) or it may be something not so obvious (over-committing). Regardless of what it is I challenge you to look at it and see it fully for what it is. Sadly, simply seeing the behaviors does not create a quick fix to the problem, but it is the first step to healing.