What Is Self-Sabotage? Signs and Behavior: What Causes It and How to Stop It

Since you’re reading this article, chances are it’s for one of two reasons. Perhaps you’re getting in your own way, or someone has identified an uncharacteristic behavior you don’t like at all.


Does this scenario sound familiar? If you’ve got a major presentation scheduled, You’re aware of the need to conduct additional research in order to knock the ball out of the park. However, you’re also plagued by an underlying belief that there’s no way to be able to do it, and you don’t invest the necessary time. When it’s time to meet, you’re unprepared, and your boss is aware. “I knew it,” you tell yourself.

Nobody wants to admit that we’re sabotaging ourselves; however, everyone does it at some point. We’ve all done things that put us out of line with an objective we’re trying to attain. It can be fine if you’re conscious of the issue.


If we’re unaware of our self-defeating behavior, it can be difficult to live a good life. It can be like playing a game without knowing the rules. There’s a possibility that we’ll never reach our goals or lead the life we would like to live.

If you’re looking to make changes in your own life, it’s beneficial to think about what you can control instead of what you cannot control. It’s good to know that your behavior is something you can alter. 

Find out how to recognize unhelpful patterns and end self-sabotaging behaviour in this article.

What Is Self-Sabotage?

Self-sabotage refers to any thought or action that isn’t in line with your ideals and detracts from your ability to meet your goals in life. There are things we all do from time to time that hinder our growth, but self-sabotage can be a set of thinking and doing that cause ongoing problems which hinder you from advancing and successfully navigating change.


Self-sabotaging behavior refers to deliberate or involuntary action (or inaction) which hinders the development of individuals and stops them from reaching their objectives.

Although it may seem surprising, certain people harm their ideals and long-term goals. If people make these harmful actions, their bad actions can have a negative impact on almost every aspect of their lives, including relationships and careers.

“Self-sabotage isn’t sabotage at all,” says Shirani Pathak, a licensed psychotherapist in San Jose, California. “It’s actually a defense mechanism that is created by your psyche to ensure that you are safe from risk or harm. What we know is what we consider to be safe.”

Also, it’s possible that you won’t be aware of self-sabotaging behavior. This isn’t an intentional act.

When we’re in unknown waters for a new direction, this can set off all the alarm bells within our internal system that warn us of danger! Then, our brains transmit signals to follow a routine behavior that will bring us back into the familiar waters.

There are a variety of ways that we can harm ourselves. This includes excessive eating due to stress, not completing the next task, drinking alcohol to distract ourselves from problems, and many more.

Self-Sabotage: A Psychological Definition

Self-sabotage happens when we hurt ourselves physically, mentally, or emotionally. We may also deliberately impede our well-being by compromising our goals and values. It’s insidious, deep, and universal. It comes from a negative mentality.

Self-sabotage, also known as behavioral dysregulation, may be conscious or subconscious, depending on the degree of awareness. One example of conscious self-sabotage is the decision to eat cake despite wanting to eat a healthy diet. Self-sabotage that is not conscious occurs when a personal objective or value is shattered but is not immediately recognized.

A person who is scared of failing might hesitate until the very last minute to complete a task while ignoring the possibility of progress.

Another aspect of self-sabotage involves cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance refers to the internal discord or discomfort that occurs when actions or words don’t align with convictions and principles. When this happens, we can ease the discomfort by altering our actions or words or redefining our goals and beliefs.

It’s unlikely that anyone would purposely self-sabotage, but they do it, and the consequences are extremely corrosive. Self-sabotage that is persistent depletes drive and energy and can leave us feeling sad, anxious, and with low self-esteem.

Signs You’re Self-Sabotaging

Many people don’t realize that they’re self-sabotaging; however, if you look closer, it may appear as the avoidance of conflict, creating conflict, and controlling behavior. When you are aware of all the indications of self-sabotage, you’ll be able to begin changing these behaviors.

Self-sabotage indicators are a set of behavior patterns:

  • Avoiding situations or people who can make you uncomfortable
  • Remaining in your comfort zone and staying away from change
  • The goals set are too small to guarantee the achievement of growth and success
  • Creating conflict with romantic partners, loved ones, friends, or coworkers
  • Refusing assistance
  • Micromanaging or controlling behavior
  • Controlling others
  • Attempting to gain others’ approval
  • Making excuses
  • Negative Self-talk and extreme self-criticism
  • Refusing to accept responsibility
  • Infringing on your values and goals
  • Doing things that don’t align with your beliefs and goals
  • Comparisons with others
  • The social withdrawal or isolation
  • Risky behaviors (such as drug consumption, gambling, excessive spending, or even promiscuity)
  • Procrastination
  • Avoiding responsibility and obligations, even if it’s because you “forget.”
  • breaking promises or failing to follow up on commitments
  • Insufficient preparation
  • The misalignment of your desires with your actions
  • Not showing up on time for important meetings or appointments
  • Reluctance to speak up for yourself

Why do I Self-Sabotage?

Self-sabotage is a problematic behavior to overcome, especially in the absence of adequate self-care. Here are some of the things that could trigger or ways you can think about that could lead to self-sabotage:

We lack self-worth

If we don’t have faith in ourselves, we will not be able to achieve our goals. The other aspect of self-confidence is self-worth. If we continually tell ourselves that we’re not intelligent enough or skilled enough to get the things we want, we will be influenced by the self-talk we tell ourselves. How we talk to ourselves is crucial and directly influences the way we present ourselves in the world. If we lack confidence and trust in ourselves, we’ll do anything to hinder ourselves from reaching our fullest potential.

“I don’t deserve this.” or “Do I deserve this?”

You think you’re not worthy of the wonderful events happening in your life today. For instance, you might feel that you aren’t worthy of an award or degree and believe other people have more merit. Also, you might not believe you are worthy to enjoy a satisfying relationship because you don’t believe you’re “good enough” for your partner.

You may assume they will end the relationship with you at some point anyway, so you might as well end it yourself first. This could be because of past mistakes that you are unable to forgive.

“I can’t control this.”

Before you even attempt to do something, you’ve already told yourself that you won’t be able to control the circumstance. It’s similar to overthinking something simply because you’re fearful of failing. This type of mindset stems from having a tendency to assume the worst. It can lead to negative results.

We want to control

It is better to feel as though we have control. Accepting a negative outcome before time makes us feel that we’re in control even though it’s not what we would like to see take place.

“Can I do this?”

You take a step back because you’re scared of the force you’ll feel when hitting the ground when you fall and fail. But, if you don’t take the time to practice and sometimes fail, then you’ll never be able to take risks that could eventually yield rewards.

“I’m bored.”

It’s not easy but at times, self-sabotage results from boredom. In reality, self-sabotage could be just pressing buttons. For example, starting a fight with your partner and provoking tension can give you a high feeling.

We want to place fault elsewhere.

If we believe we’re not going to perform well or be a failure no matter what we do, we begin behaving in a way that ensures we will fail. When we say something like, “I won’t get the contract anyways,” we take away the burden of responsibility for reaching our goals.

“It was my fault. I did this.”

Instead of thinking about the issue and looking into the cause, instead of blaming yourself for incompetence. There’s a significant distinction between “I failed because I didn’t try” and “I failed because I am not competent.” The idea of blaming yourself for something that didn’t go as planned is one way to give yourself an “out” so you don’t have to do the work required to achieve the end goal.

“This is already okay.”

You’re not looking to step out of your comfort zone because you prefer consistency over satisfaction. The comfort zone is where you’re not always satisfied with something, but it’s not bad enough to summon the motivation to take action.

Suppose you stay within the invisible lines of your comfort zone; you can stick to the routine you’ve already learned and repeat the same routines repeatedly.

Imposter syndrome

If you’re feeling a sense of self-doubt or a belief that you’re not gifted enough due to imposter syndrome, abandoning the ball is possible rather than risking someone finding out that you’re a “fraud.” This, of course, isn’t the case; however, you might feel as if it is, despite your knowledge, experience, or achievements.

We fear success 

After we’ve worked long for something, our achievement could cause stress. This is often the case when we lack confidence in ourselves. There is a fear that we’re not qualified or competent and could be exposed as a fraud. Fear of being successful can cause us to take actions that hinder our success.

We fear failure

We are afraid that we’ll put all our effort into achieving a goal but not achieve it. It feels easier to justify why you did not succeed instead of giving all you have and failing. 

Self-Sabotaging Behaviours

While there are a variety of motives for self-sabotage, the way it happens isn’t always identical. Self-sabotaging behavior comes in many kinds. How they manifest will depend on the individual.

Here are some examples of self-sabotaging behaviours:


Procrastination is a process of stalling instead of instantly launching into a project. Refraining from action and engaging in distractions allows people to avoid anxiety, stress, or other emotionally challenging and uncomfortable situations, even if they may eventually lead to progress. Understanding how to beat the habit of procrastination can stop this type of self-sabotage.


The need for perfection is for everything to be flawless, which could be detrimental to oneself. An intense feeling of perfectionism hinders individuals from progressing in their careers or having happy, long-lasting relationships since it creates an impossible level of standard. Perfectionists at school or work is a barrier to taking the necessary risk or finishing tasks. However, there are solutions to overcome perfectionist.

Lack of communication

You know that you require help completing a task, but you’re not reaching out. You’re behind schedule, but you decide not to make a call for assistance or notification.

Communication is an integral element of our lives at home and in the workplace. When we resist communicating, it’s often due to self-criticism. We are afraid that when we ask for help, we’re drawing attention to our weaknesses.

The absence of communication could be detrimental to our relationship. And even more importantly, it can provide the perfect setting to develop impostor syndrome. Since no one is aware of what you’re dealing with, You live in constant fear that you’ll be “found out.”


Self-doubt and self-criticism that are negative can impact our decisions and hinder us from achieving our objectives. It’s a habit that runs through our minds without a thought as a reaction in a flash to us, as well as the scenarios we are confronted with each day. Self-criticism that is harsh and negative about ourselves is self-defeating as it prevents our belief that we are able to reach our goals.


People who are struggling with moderate behaviour often struggle to establish limits. This could manifest as people-pleasing (which leads them to say “yes” to too many things). It could also be an inability to moderate their behavior in other aspects that they live in, such as drinking too much alcohol on the night out.

There are also more subtle methods to avoid “overdoing it,” like spending the night in bed watching television or working until exhaustion in the gym. While over-committing may seem like an unrelenting drive to reach, it is often disguised as an unspoken fear of being successful.


Certain people may substitute a desired goal or activity with an obligation of their own. For instance, someone could say, “I was unable to attend church service this month because I was doing a lot of reading for my coming exams.”

Resisting Change

Uncertainty intolerance is an underlying form of anxiety; resistance to change can cause people to remain locked within their comfort zone. It is characterized by clinging to traditional habits and making excuses (such that you are too busy), setting goals but not taking the appropriate steps to achieve them, or simply not setting them entirely. The resistance to change stops individuals from taking healthy risks or taking on new challenges that can bring about progress.

Poor Self-Care

The inability to take care of your health is a kind of self-sabotage that can stop you from being successful. This can be due to an unhealthy diet, insufficient sleep or exercise, or not visiting the doctor or therapist to address mental and physical health issues. This can also include engaging in risky activities like self-medicating through alcohol or other drugs, gambling, or engaging in risky sexual activity.

Courting Temptation

Self-sabotage can be accomplished by placing yourself in a position that tempts you away from meeting your intended goal. For instance, someone struggling with alcohol addiction and recovering decides to go to bars to spend time with their friends even though they could have spent time elsewhere.


Self-saboteurs can hide their emotional weaknesses by wearing a happy or strong disguise. They may become defensive when other people attempt to approach them. Defensive self-saboteurs may have difficulty living in the present moment and end up pushing people away to avoid getting hurt emotionally.

How Self-Sabotaging Behavior Impacts Your Life

Self-sabotage can hinder your progress toward realizing your goals and may hinder you from living the life you are proud of. Certain people get in the way of their happiness and progress in one specific area, whereas others are impeded in different areas. Common areas that are victims of self-sabotage include romantic relationships, careers, education, and relationships with friends and family.

There are a few ways self-sabotage can affect your life:

Self-Sabotaging Your Romantic Relationships

Sometimes, people do things that can harm long-term relationships and lead to a breakup. Most often, it is triggered by anxiety over the loss of romance; self-sabotage may involve:

  • Accusing others.
  • Causing conflict or giving a silent nod of controlling or observing your partner’s behavior.
  • Always looking for comfort and clinginess.
  • Maintaining unattainable excessive standards or resigning from relationships before they’ve had the possibility to develop.

Self-Sabotaging Your Career

The act of self-sabotaging your career hinders you from reaching your career objectives. Anxiety about failure or fear of uncertainty can keep you within your comfort zone and hinder you from progressing, regardless of your desire to move forward. This can lead to a lack of job satisfaction, which can negatively impact well-being and mental health. It may also cause one to switch jobs regularly.

The career sabotage techniques include:

Self-Sabotaging Your Education

Self-sabotage in the classroom can be deliberate or accidental. Most often, it is caused by anxiety or confidence issues and can result in behaviours that can explain why a student is in a state of failure or performing poorly. If failure is blamed on procrastination or deliberately avoiding a task, it’s due to the individual’s choice, not an inability.

Self-Sabotaging Your Relationships With Friends & Family

Self-sabotage of this type is usually motivated by a feeling of competition which stems from the need to demonstrate your worthiness or to prove your superiority. The actions also arise from a desire to influence others or gain their trust. Negative behaviour that impedes healthy relationships between loved ones could include passive-aggressive behavior such as clinginess, false praises, boasting, continuous explanation, or regular check-ins to find out if people are upset or angry with you.

The following behaviors are other examples of indicators of relationship sabotage:

  • Dismissing negative emotions
  • Criticizing your partner
  • Grudges and resentments
  • Focusing energy on things other than the relationship
  • Concentrating on your partner’s weaknesses

The Psychological Impact of Self-sabotage

When we’re unaware of our negative thoughts and how they impact our behaviour, self-sabotage may take over our lives. Sometimes we feel discouraged regarding the future or even achieving our goals. It’s possible to believe that we’re not doing enough or good enough to achieve success.

If this happens, negative behaviour patterns can be ingrained. They can intensify our anxieties; Self-sabotaging behaviours erode our motivation, energy, and self-esteem. As evidence from your “failures” starts to pile up, we don’t think we’re good enough.

This self-doubt perpetuates a cycle. When we are (inevitably) required to take action outside our comfort areas, we get scared. These uncomfortable feelings and fearful inner voices cause us to make decisions against our best interests. When it leads us to destroy an important bridge that matters to us, that’s devastating.

How to Stop Self-Sabotaging

Self-sabotage isn’t an element of your character and doesn’t define you or diminish your strengths and potential; therefore, it’s possible to overcome self-sabotage through self-advancement. Begin with a simple approach and slowly add additional methods to improve your self-esteem until your self-criticism is no longer stopping you from achieving success and happiness.

Here are some of the things you should be aware of to prevent you from doing more harm:

Examine the Root Causes

Find patterns in your life; Have you been known to hinder your best efforts in a series of instances? Do these incidents occur prior to when you had the chance to achieve, or were you near to achieving your goals?

This behavior could be a result of childhood. Parents either knowing no better or fear their children might be disappointed and advise them not to dream of themselves as big.

Pay attention to the patterns

It’s been said, The way that we conduct one thing determines how we approach everything else.

Keeping a notebook and thinking about situations that continue to pop up can be helpful.

If you’re in the same situation more than once whether it’s the perfect job application, the long-term relationship, or an argument that never gets resolved, Consider asking yourself why.

“Why have I ended up here again?” If you’re feeling that your experiences seem to be playing in the same way, self-sabotage might be the cause.

Stop Procrastinating

A study was conducted to determine students’ procrastination within academic settings. Researchers found that one common factor that causes procrastination is the inability to regulate themselves. This is because students are surrounded by a lot of freedom, distractions, as well as long deadlines.

Create alternative actions

In the shadow of self-sabotage, you’ll often feel a numbing emotion you would prefer not to feel, such as anxiety about failure, success, abandonment, or feeling inadequate.

After you’ve determined what it is, you can use the journal to write down the self-sabotaging (or self-preserving) ways you’re most likely to take.

Boost Your Self-Awareness

Spend time in reflection and introspection to improve awareness of yourself and your self-defeating behaviors. Keep a journal to record your thoughts and actions and try to discern where they emanate from. You should stop several times during the day to be in touch with your own thoughts and feelings. As you develop an understanding of your life, you’ll be more conscious of where you need to make changes.

Look Before You Leap

This old saying is a source of wisdom for today’s self-sabotagers. When you start to be aware of negative thoughts, behaviour, and feelings, take a look at whether these behaviours are helping you or harming you. We often feel under pressure to take action (or not do something) because of fear. Determining if something can hinder you or help you move forward is a good way to stop self-sabotage.

Stop Looking Solely at the Big Picture

If you’re aiming for something huge, such as being a top blogger or content writer, setting a massive target can be overwhelming.

To stop self-sabotage, avoid getting caught over the most minor details. Self-sabotage can spend a lot of time with irrelevant issues.

Another instance is: If you’re trying to be healthier and stay fit, you shouldn’t make any all-or-nothing choices. Don’t quit when you don’t go to your workout for a week. Return the following.

Implement small, gradual changes and gradually take them. In this way, you can keep your mind from applying the brakes. Make smaller, more manageable steps that will keep you from losing focus.

Stop Perfectionistic Thinking

People who self-defeat are usually perfectionists. You may think too much about every aspect; everything must be perfect.

Try to aim to be the best, not perfect. Small improvements can be made, and record your progress towards achieving your goal.

Make Small Changes

Positive action is better than self-defeating actions, but remember that habits can be best altered in small increments. Try to think of it as a small-scale change. Make a change to one thought or action every day and allow yourself time to make the change into a habit.

Set Meaningful Goals and Pair Them With an Action Plan

Goals are important because they help you live your life purposefully. More effectively, you can combine meaningful goals with concrete actions. Think about your most important values when you set your goals. What are you looking for more from your daily life? What gives you a sense of importance and significance? What can make you feel inspired and alive? Consider what steps you could take to get closer to your final goal.

Befriend Yourself

Self-criticism is the key factor that causes self-sabotage. So replacing automatic, self-critical thoughts with more nurturing ones is an essential step toward stopping self-sabotage. Develop a compassionate, open-minded attitude towards yourself by recognizing your emotions and accepting your mistakes as part of your human condition.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a way of living that requires being present and in the present moment. It assists you in separating between the future and the past, as well as your thoughts from reality. This aids you in determining how best to respond to an issue or an individual.

Make positive self-talk and affirmation a habit.

Discover your negative internal conversation and alter it to positive self-talk. When you’ve got a more positive view of yourself and self-talk, you will be able to take steps toward living the life you want to live.

You might find it helpful to note down any unhelpful thoughts that you may have throughout your day. Write them in your journal or on your phone. You can then declare a new idea that aligns with the way you’d like to feel. This can be done inside your brain, out loud, or recording it in your journal.

Know and Embrace Your Strengths

Everyone has strengths that allow them to thrive when recognized, acknowledged, and accepted. Review your strengths, not just the things you perform well but also the attitudes you cherish and positive emotions you feel. What times do you feel the most at your best? Understanding your strengths and finding ways to utilize them every day can aid you in learning to develop self-love.

Work With a Mental Health Therapist

A therapist can help you gain a greater understanding of yourself. They can also provide suggestions and strategies for confronting self-sabotaging ideas and finding ways to improve your self-care and emotional health. Find a therapist who you feel at ease with and begin the process of making changes to your life.

Types of therapy for self-sabotage are:

  • Motivational and behavioural therapy 
  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • Mindfulness-based therapies based on mindfulness
  • Therapies based on strength
  • Therapy of acceptance and commitment (ACT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Questions to Ask Yourself

If you believe you are self-sabotaging, You should ask yourself:

  • Are your actions aligned with your objectives?
  • If not, what’s holding you back from taking the necessary steps to achieve your goals?
  • Does your behaviour reflect your current beliefs?
  • If not, what’s hindering you from taking action that aligns with these beliefs?
  • Do you feel uneasiness or discomfort as you progress? If yes, dig deeper.
  • Is this discomfort based on what others told you that limited your aspirations?
  • Is this discomfort based on a fear of failure and worry about looking foolish?
  • Is this unease based on a fear of success?
  • Are you worried about achieving more than you ever thought was possible?
  • If you do better or achieve more, do you believe success is more than you deserve?

Read More: How to Be Prudent

Read More: The Pain of Discipline or The Pain of Regret?

Read More: Self-Objectification in Women: What It Means and How We Can Stop Doing It

Self-Sabotage Quotes You Need To Know

Quotes about self-sabotage can be a potent instrument to thwart the hidden habits that make you feel stuck in your life.

If you are having trouble communicating your thoughts about your self-sabotaging actions, these quotes will help you understand exactly what you need to know about your behaviour.

A lot of people stop themselves from feeling content because they’ve accepted self-abandonment and discontent as a way of life.

Others are scared of success, are afflicted by the idea that they are not worth it, or feel that they don’t deserve the good things.

Whatever the reason for self-sabotage, it’s hard to think of one scenario that could prove beneficial. Are you able to? Well, I didn’t think so!

Remember to send these quotes to your loved ones as well as anyone else in need of a boost of inspiration.

  • “Self-doubt does more to sabotage individual potential than all external limitations put together.” – Brian Tracy.
  • The most dangerous way we sabotage ourselves is by waiting for the perfect moment to begin. Nothing works perfectly the first time or the first fifty times. Everything has a learning curve. The beginning is just that, a beginning. Surrender your desire to do it flawlessly on the first try. It’s not possible. Learn to learn. Learn to fail. Learn to learn from failing.” – Vironika Tugaleva.
  • “What is required for many of us, paradoxical though it may sound, is the courage to tolerate happiness without self-sabotage.” – Nathaniel Branden.
  • “Nothing will sabotage our happiness and success more thoroughly than the fear that we are not enough.” – Bill Crawford.
  • We make tactless remarks because we wish to hurt, break our legs because we do not wish to walk, marry the wrong man because we cannot let ourselves be happy, and board the wrong train because we would prefer not to reach the destination.” – Fay Weldon.
  • Withholding love is a form of self-sabotage, as what we withhold from others, we are withholding from ourselves.” – Marianne Williamson.
  • “People who self-sabotage purposely shoot themselves in the foot in order to protect themselves from having to confront their possible shortcomings. Many self-handicapping behaviors are those small, subtle bad habits like being late, gossiping, micromanaging, behaving passive-aggressively, or being a perfectionist. We may not recognize these self-defeating and self-handicapping traits for what they are. Or we may even wrongly perceive them as strengths. But in truth, they often get in the way of us blooming.” – Rich Karlgaard.
  • More than anything else, I wanted not to be alone, yet all my actions guaranteed I would be lonely. Like wearing a vest of explosives when you’re coming in for a hug, the insatiable need is a form of sabotage.” – Gina Barreca.
  • The reason that I can’t find the enemy is that I have yet to look within myself.” – Craig D. Lounsbrough.
  • We each have our ways of sabotaging and keeping ourselves down. Do we need to remain the victim so strongly that we pull the ceiling down upon our own heads? There is a comfort in the familiar.” – Maureen Brady.
  • More times than I can remember, I look around and I ask why the hole I’m in looks so strangely familiar. Probably because it looks a whole lot like all the other ones I dug before I got around to digging this one.” – Craig D. Lounsbrough.
  • The biggest thing holding you back is almost always you. Start there.” – Hunter Post.
  • Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others.” – Epictetus.
  • “Most people sabotage themselves because they aren’t mindful in the moment. Let your goals and dreams govern your daily actions.”
  • Whenever you are making an important decision, first ask if it gets you closer to your goals or farther away. If the answer is closer, pull the trigger. If it’s farther away, make a different choice. Conscious choice making is a critical step in making your dreams a reality.” – Jillian Michaels.


Today, we’ve discussed the causes and signs of self-sabotaging behaviour. We’ve also discovered that it affects you in different ways that can cause you to be unhappy.

However, we also gave suggestions for stopping this behaviour. We hope these suggestions assist and motivate you to be more of yourself and, ultimately, a happier human.

When learning more about the various forms of self-sabotage (and how they manifest), be gentle with yourself. Be aware that trying to make changes too many in a single time is typical self-defeating behaviour.

Engaging with a coach or a mental health professional can be extremely beneficial. It will provide help and support as you begin to learn how to stop self-sabotage and take steps to move forward.

How To Stop Sabotaging Yourself
You May Also Like