Why Do People Self Sabotage? Unveiling the Inner Patterns

When behavior causes issues in daily life and obstructs long-term goals, it is considered self-sabotaging. 

Procrastination, using drinks or drugs for self-medication, comfort eating, and self-injury like cutting is among the most prevalent self-destructive activities.

Connecting a behavior to self-defeating consequences does not prevent a person from engaging in it. 

Sometimes, individuals damage themselves without even realizing it. But almost all forms of self-sabotage can be undone themselves. But practically all types of self-sabotage are reversible. 

While fostering introspection and self-control, behavioral therapy can assist in breaking up deeply ingrained thought and conduct patterns.

With motivational therapy, a person’s goals and values can be reunited.

Why Do People Self Sabotage Their Efforts?

For a variety of reasons, people impede their advancement. They may deliberately or unconsciously engage in self-destructive behavior. 

Low self-esteem, coping issues, cognitive dissonance, and other factors can contribute to this destructive conduct. 

The root causes might be traced back to early relationships or childhood difficulties.

Conscious And Unconscious Self-Sabotaging 

Those who self-sabotage might be conscious of what they’re doing. For instance, a dieter who is overweight might purposefully undermine their efforts by devouring the entire carton of ice cream. 

They may behave inadvertently. An individual misses a deadline at work. The individual was late at first glance. 

Yet, in actuality, he is terrified of failing. Ignoring the deadline undermines his efforts to advance within the organization.

Challenging Childhood 

Our initial interactions with caretakers influence how we relate to other people. Your dysfunctional family upbringing may influence your self-destructive behavior.

If you need a secure connection style, you might have an ambivalent or avoidant attachment type.

You might have positioned yourself for failure if your parents had informed you as a child that you wouldn’t achieve too much.

Problems In Relationships 

You may still feel exposed if your ex frequently disparages you. People may claim that trying to progress with someone like you wastes time.

You now have an excellent relationship, yet you cheat on your spouse. Or split up without warning. You worry about getting wounded again or feeling inadequate.

Fifteen psychologists in Australia with expertise in romantic relationships identified the primary causes of self-sabotage in romantic relationships based on one study on the subject.

Low Confidence 

Self-sabotage is more likely to occur in people with low self-esteem and a negative self-image. 

They act in ways that support self-defeating behaviors. So, they feel uneasy when they are on the verge of success.

Their entire lives, they have heard that they will fail. Or, on occasion, they continually convinced themselves they would die. 

This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy thanks to self-defeating conduct.

Cognitive Instability 

Individuals exhibiting this behavior have trouble dealing with cognitive dissonance, which is the discomfort you might feel when trying to simultaneously keep two opposing concepts in your head. People prefer having harmony between their beliefs and behavior.

For instance, you might marry a wonderful person from a problematic home. Your mother transitioned from one abusive relationship to another after your father left. Thus, you don’t think marriage can be stable and loving. 

Nonetheless, you are still organizing the wedding and sending out invitations.

Examples of Self-Sabotage Behavior


Those who self-sabotage delay gratification frequently. Procrastinating can show people you need to prepare and delay a positive consequence.

People are afraid of disappointing others, failing, or excelling, which is why.


It will take longer and lead to setbacks if you hold yourself to an unattainable standard. Aiming for everything to go off without a hitch may seem like a good idea, but perfectionism stifles success.

Perfectionists fall apart when something goes wrong, as it will invariably occur. People experience humiliation as a result. They are prone to sadness and believe that they have let everyone down.


Many people turn to drugs, alcohol, and self-injury to cope with the ongoing conflict between their desire to succeed and the voice telling them they can’t.


Self-saboteurs may wear a firm and joyful façade to conceal their emotional brittleness. When others approach them, these folks could get hostile.

Protective self-saboteurs could have trouble being in the moment and push people away to prevent being emotionally damaged.

What Is The Impact Self-Sabotaging Can Have On Your Life?

According to Delisle, the actual result of self-sabotage is that you could fail to accomplish your objectives. 

Your relationships, employment, school, health, and finances are merely a few aspects of your life where self-sabotage may have a detrimental effect.

According to Dr. Pennington, failure to achieve desired objectives or goals can increase negative self-esteem or beliefs by causing or escalating feelings of melancholy, anxiety, self-doubt, and helplessness. 

When this happens, self-saboteurs may experience the self-fulfilling prophecy principle, where their opinion that they couldn’t accomplish the goal is validated by the fact that they didn’t.

 Dr. Pennington continues, “Look; I knew I couldn’t do it.” The saboteur keeps thinking along those lines.

Stop Self-Sabotage Before It Starts 

To stop engaging in self-destructive habits, it’s crucial to become aware of one’s triggers, says Dr Pennington. 

You can do this introspective exercise alone or with friends, mental health specialists, or respected religious leaders.

Suppose you know where you tend to self-sabotage, such as during a big assignment at home or a performance assessment. 

In that case, you can concentrate on controlling your thoughts and behavior to prevent self-sabotage.

Among the strategies for avoiding self-defeating behavior are:

  • Make a list of the beliefs and behaviors you believe are self-defeating, either verbally or in writing (or both). This brings it out in plain view, so you may be more conscious of them as you move forward.
  • Making a strategy with specific steps to accomplish an objective. According to Dr. Pennington, this can help you focus on the necessary actions to get there. Delisle also suggests using success in each level as motivation to move further.
  • You were describing your strategy and potential triggers to your support group. They can support you and serve as a source of accountability.

The following suggestions will help you recover and get back on track if self-sabotage has already begun:

  • Delisle suggests stopping talking negatively to yourself. By putting down your unwanted thoughts, By writing about them, you can get your thoughts out. Positive self-talk can also be used to replace negative or dubious ideas.
  • Delisle also advocates using mindfulness or meditation techniques. They seek to calm your body and mind to keep you in the present.

Key Takeaways

  • Self-sabotage refers to behaviors that hinder progress and impede long-term goals, such as procrastination, self-medication, comfort eating, and self-injury.
  • Self-sabotaging behavior can be conscious or unconscious, with individuals either intentionally undermining their efforts or engaging in self-destructive actions without realizing the consequences.
  • Self-sabotage can stem from various factors, including low self-esteem, coping issues, cognitive dissonance, challenging childhood experiences, and problems in relationships.
  • Common self-sabotaging behaviors include procrastination, perfectionism, self-medication through drugs or alcohol, defensiveness, and wearing a façade to hide emotional vulnerability.
  • Self-sabotage can have a significant impact on various areas of life, including relationships, work, education, health, and finances. It can lead to failure, negative self-esteem, increased feelings of depression, anxiety, self-doubt, and helplessness.


How does self-sabotage manifest?

Self-sabotage can manifest through procrastination, self-doubt, negative self-talk, excessive worry, addictive behaviors, self-sabotaging relationships, setting unrealistic goals, and avoiding opportunities for growth.

Can self-sabotage be unconscious?

Yes, self-sabotage can be unconscious. Certain behaviors or patterns may be driven by underlying beliefs or fears that individuals are not consciously aware of.

What are common signs of self-sabotage?

Common signs of self-sabotage include consistently missing deadlines, engaging in self-destructive habits, resisting positive changes, avoiding challenges, sabotaging relationships, and experiencing a pattern of unfulfilled goals.

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