Self-sabotage – why do we do it?

Updated: Jul 23, 2021

Self-sabotage is a concept everyone is familiar with, regardless of whether they realise they do it. As I feel it is a rather wide-spread characteristic across different cultures and ethnicities, I will be using “we” a lot in this post. So here “we” go.

We all know the term, and if we don’t, now is the time to peel the plaster off. Most of us actually do it to ourselves one way or the other. Let me try and explain what self-sabotage is with the following analogy. Think of skipping rope and imagine you can skip fairly well. So you start skipping, but for some reason – we will explore what “some reason” means in a bit – we trip over the rope. This can happen and it’s no big deal so there is no reason to feel a way about it. Except we don’t trip over the rope by accident. It may appear like that from the outside, but deep in our heart we know we did it on purpose. Accidents and mistakes are an inseparable part of life and I am a strong advocate of the tremendous value of mistakes and failings as part of our personal growth. But in our skipping rope example, the fact that we tripped over was no accident. Still, it can be kind of funny that we tripped so we giggle and continue to skip. Soon after, we trip over it again. And we giggle some more. And we continue skipping and we trip over again. You get my point. In the case of skipping rope the fact that we trip over it is cute and fun. In some way we derive a level of satisfaction from it, so – like a game – we continue to do it until we decide to stop.

However when it comes to self-sabotage, we don’t really gain pleasure from doing it. We actually struggle. And that struggle is real. Self-sabotage is as if we know how to do skipping rope but we keep tripping over. On purpose. But we get frustrated. But we do it again. And again.

In my analogy, tripping over the rope is reinforcing for us; it is amusing and as long as we don’t hurt ourselves it’s all good. Unfortunately, when we sabotage ourselves we ALWAYS get hurt. Let’s all sit with this for a moment.

When we feel that someone else has sabotaged us we get incredibly angry, furious even. But what about when we do it to ourselves?

Do you ever get mad at yourself for creating obstacles that are unnecessary?

I consider self-sabotage one of the most catastrophic things people do. It can prevent or even reverse our progress and growth, it can keep us imprisoned in situations that are far from healthy, it can ultimately keep us stagnant and unfulfilled. The list goes on but a few other consequences that come to mind are: it can keep us emotionally and psychologically stuck in a never-ending loop. It can hinder us from reaching our true potential in career, friendship and love. It can narrate the wrong story about ourselves to ourselves, while it continues to manifest like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Self-sabotage is the definition of self-destruction.

Yet we continue to do it…

Are you wondering why? Me too, and these are my thoughts – personally and professionally – on the subject.

Each case is best explored in confidence with the support of a therapist, because we are all unique and carry our own stories and experiences that have shaped our reality. However I can offer you a glimpse of the “why” in more general terms.

Self-sabotage is something we may not be aware that we do.

In this case we are genuinely in angst every time we fall into the same damaging situations and all we can think of is “Why me? Why again?”. Sounds familiar?

Self-sabotage often hides other stuff in the background.

By “stuff” I mean fear, hesitation, worry etc. In other words, we often do it in order to avoid what may happen in case we don’t do it.

Are you confused yet? Let me rephrase: we self-sabotage in order to avoid things, situations or people that we would have to encounter otherwise. So in this case self-sabotage acts as a protective mechanism! A dysfunctional one but effective in its own right. A repeating loop of self-sabotage is something rather familiar to a lot of us, which – paradoxically – gives us a sense of safety.

Familiar = Safe VS Unfamiliar = Unsafe

By unsafe I mean unknown. We are inherently afraid of the unknown and we feel safe when a situation is predictable because we have experienced it in the past. Even when said situation is unhealthy or unpleasant. So we sabotage ourselves to avoid having to deal with a novel or scary thing.

The result is that on the surface we seem to be frustrated and distressed, but in reality we feel relieved and secure that:

1) We avoided being exposed to the scary unknown.

2) We can continue to live peacefully within the safety net of a familiar self-sabotage where we know how to behave.

What I have just revealed is huge, so I would love for you to take your time and allow all this to sink in; it may take a while. The truth is that when we finally see something we cannot unsee it. We can no longer pretend it is not happening. Such is the power of awareness. And when we realise that we have been secretly working against ourselves, that is a hard pill to swallow.

This is why I absolutely adore therapy! It provides us with a safe space so we can bring these elements into awareness, explore them, dig deeper to find out the “why” that hides behind the curtains and – most importantly – work on overcoming any pre-existing dysfunctional patterns and replace them with new healthy ones that support our journey towards our true self. Unleashed from the constrains of self-sabotage. Free to be whoever we desire.

If you have been spending all that time and energy to be tripping yourself over, imagine what you can achieve when you channel that into helping yourself flourish!

So today, I invite you all to flourish!

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