You know what you need to do – to make healthy food choices, to meditate, to apply for that new job, to end that old relationship, to take time for yourself.
Why is it so hard to make it happen?
It’s self-sabotaging. We do it when we think we’re not worthy of good things, when fear, insecurity, or a lack of confidence tell us to expect little from and for ourselves.
Self-sabotagers may choose many different paths – both overtly negative and toxically positive – but the bottom line is, they hurt themselves in the long term because of the choices they make in the short term.
So, what does self-sabotaging look like?
When many of us think about self-sabotage, we think about it in terms of self-restraint. We feel like we’re self-sabotaging when we can’t say no to a slice of cake. Self-sabotage can also look like saying yes, though.
For example, demanding perfection and holding yourself to an unreasonable standard of behavior can be self-sabotaging. You won’t be able to achieve it – no one’s perfect at all times – and then when you don’t meet your unreasonable goals, you either feel like a failure because you didn’t make it, or you start feeling like nothing matters and like it’s not worth it to even try because you couldn’t be perfect.
Other self-sabotaging behaviors can include:
- Staying in a job because you’re afraid of change or that you won’t measure up in a new position
- Procrastinating because you’re not confident that you can complete a project to your standards
- Staying in a relationship because you are afraid to be alone
- Taking on too much because you want to make others happy
- Neglecting self-care because you’re focused on caring for others
Exhaustion can contribute to self-sabotage, but interestingly, people are often likely to self-sabotage at the peak of their circadian rhythm when they’re considered to be most alert and self-aware. This pattern indicates that self-sabotage can be intentional and derived from conscious thought rather than unconscious action alone.
How to Mindfully Shift from Self-Sabotage
The first step toward stopping self-sabotage is identifying triggers – both physiological and mental.
Listen to your body
Let’s say that you’re trying to change your eating habits. When you go without food, you may notice your blood sugar starting to drop and your emotions starting to feel more frayed. What happens then if you have a negative encounter with your partner, child or coworker?
You might say something you didn’t intend to say, get upset, and then turn to food to help you soothe your emotions.
Even though you had the best of intentions, a lack of attention to your physiological well-being made it easy for self-sabotage to strike and for you to fall back into the behavior you wanted to change.
Refocus your energy
Self-sabotage can also happen in relationships, where you fall into specific patterns with a specific person. If you’re driven by a fear of rejection, for example, you may say yes to a partner, a parent, or a manager who pushes you to do things you don’t want. This ends with emotional distress for you, which isn’t fair.
Instead, stop putting all your energy toward others, so that you have nothing left for yourself. If that means a negative impact on a relationship, you may want to consider whether the relationship itself was a self-sabotaging mechanism, settling for someone who didn’t truly value you, or allowing a family member to call their emotional abuse and manipulation love.
Reframe your self-talk
Your inner monologue can be your biggest cheerleader or your worst enemy. It’s up to you to shape it in a way that
I tell my clients to use the Yin/Yang approach – each time you notice a negative thought, STOP (I use a loud clapping of my hands as a reminder) and imagine two positive thoughts.
Looking for moments of joy can help you create an emotional reserve that you need when you’re struggling with the potential for self-betrayal. If you go for a walk, for example, take a moment to be fully present – to capture the beauty around you and how strong your body felt. Then, next time you’re considering cutting out that part of your self-care routine, you have a moment of beauty and wellness to reflect upon and to motivate you.
Get rid of that all-or-nothing attitude
No matter how lost you feel, you have the power to initiate change.
You don’t have to work past all the issues in a toxic relationship today. You also don’t have to settle.
If you’re still reeling from a bad breakup and you feel like sobbing every time you go to bed alone, that doesn’t mean you have to go back to that person or that you don’t deserve something better.
Just because you spent the day curled up in front of the TV or with a book instead of doing household chores, that doesn’t mean you have to spend the rest of your life there. And that also doesn’t mean it was necessarily a bad thing to give yourself some unfocused time to unwind and relax.
Above all, to stop self-sabotage, give yourself grace
When someone in your life makes a mistake or a misstep, you don’t write them off. Instead, you dust them off and help them keep moving toward the person they want to be.
Do the same for yourself, realizing that you have a bright and fulfilling future ahead of you, one that becomes better and better as you make small, incremental steps toward becoming the person you want to be, loving and healing yourself.