Signs of Self-Sabotage and How to Stop This Destructive Behavior

Self-sabotage is when you get in the way of your own success. It can happen for a wide variety of reasons, and acts of self-sabotage can occur both consciously or subconsciously. But what exactly is self-sabotage, and what is self-sabotaging behavior? Below, we’ll break down the signs of self-sabotage, why you might be engaging in self-sabotaging behavior, and how you can stop the self-sabotage that’s holding you back.


Why Am I Self-Sabotaging?

The causes of self-sabotage vary. You may sabotage yourself and participate in self-destructive behavior because of issues that stem from your childhood and upbringing, past relationships, your own low self-esteem, cognitive dissonance, or imposter syndrome.

Self-sabotage occurs when your success doesn’t fit with the image you have of yourself. For example, as a child, your parents may not have believed in your dreams or may have told you that you would never amount to anything. That feeling of low self-esteem can become so internalized that when you’re on the cusp of succeeding at something, you veer in the other direction.

Instead of working on an important assignment, you procrastinate. Instead of making a career switch, you continue working at a job you despise. Instead of accepting help from friends and family who care about you, you push them away.

It’s important to remember that this behavior is not always conscious and leaves the self-sabotager feeling deep regret. WHY did I do that? WHY am I so stupid?

Unfortunately, this behavior further cements their belief that they’re no good. Self-sabotaging behavior proves to someone with low self-esteem that their belief system is correct—they can’t do anything right, and they don’t deserve anything good in life.

Why Am I Self Sabotaging?


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Signs of Self-Sabotage

What are self-sabotaging behaviors? Here’s an example.

Let’s say you live with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the lingering belief that you don’t belong, aren’t qualified to do something, and don’t deserve the accolades you receive. One of these days, someone is going to find out that you’re a fraud.

Let’s say you want to write a book. You enjoy writing, and you work hard at it. But when it comes time to consider showing your work to someone or finding a publisher, it dawns on you that you’re not a writer (despite all evidence to the contrary). What if they don’t like your book and everyone laughs in your face? Why did you think you could do this in the first place? Why would anyone want to hear what you have to say?

So instead of completing your work and trying to get it published, you stop writing and tell yourself it’s no good, you don’t show your work to anyone, or (god forbid 😱) you delete your work entirely. Instead of focusing on furthering your goals and dreams, you turn to self-destructive behaviors.

It should be no surprise that self-sabotage symptoms include shame, sadness, and stress. Self-sabotage and anxiety go hand-in-hand.

How do I know if I am self-sabotaging?

  • You are a perfectionist. You put impossible expectations on yourself. Even if a project is successful, it won’t feel that way to you. You will find a flaw where there’s none to be found, and you will feel like you’ve let everyone down. You feel like there’s no point in trying because nothing you do will ever be good enough.
  • You procrastinate. The fear of success, failure, or letting people (or yourself) down causes you to put things off, further proving to yourself that you can never be successful.
  • You self-medicate. The constant war going on in your brain between wanting to accomplish your goals and the voices in your head telling you you’re no good is deafening. The cacophony of voices gets to be so much that you look anywhere for a respite from the noise, turning to alcohol, drugs, food, social media, and other destructive habits.



Overcoming Self-Sabotaging Behavior

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Stop Negative Self-Talk

Negative self-talk is keeping you stuck in a cycle of self-sabotaging behavior. How do you speak to yourself inside your head? Are you kind and understanding, or do you put yourself down?

What about in front of other people? Do you put yourself down or make fun of yourself when you’re with others?

Would you say the things you say about yourself to your close friends and family? “You’re an imposter in your workplace, and you don’t deserve the promotion you’ve been given.” Or “ I can’t believe that you forgot your keys today. You are such an idiot, and everyone knows it.”

You wouldn’t dream of saying those things about the people you care about, so why do you say them to yourself?

Consider the Consequences of your actions

Consider the Consequences of Each of Your Actions

Every action you take has a consequence. When you choose to stay up late binging Netflix instead of focusing on your nighttime routine, that self-sabotaging behavior has consequences. You might have difficulty getting to sleep, not have the restful sleep you need, or have a rushed morning that makes you late for a meeting.

When you scrap a project and start completely over again because you don’t think it’s absolutely perfect, there are consequences to that self-destructive behavior. Think through your actions. Is this a project that needs to be absolutely perfect, or are you being needlessly hard on yourself due to your perfectionist tendencies? The time you waste starting over is taking away from time you could be using to work on other projects, practice self-care, or spend with your family.

Think before you act by playing out the scenario in your mind. If you choose to do X, what are the consequences of those actions, and how will that action hinder you from reaching your goals? Understand that your choices can have both short and long-term effects on your success, wellbeing, and happiness.

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Work With Your Strengths

We all have different strengths. Yes, we are talking to you—even if it’s tough for you to believe at times, you have very real and important strengths that can contribute to your success and the success of your workplace.

Don’t compare yourself to other people. What are your strengths? What can you offer others? What strengths can you use to help yourself succeed?

Gaining a better understanding of your personality preferences and tendencies can open your eyes to your own individual strengths. We are big fans of utilizing the Enneagram personality assessment as a tool to better understand ourselves and others. Determining which characteristics you relate to most will help you gain a clear picture of your strengths and why they are valued by those around you.

Learn more: Enneagrams at Work: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Careers.

Work with these strengths—not against them. How can you leverage your strengths to make positive choices and propel yourself forward instead of engaging in acts of self-sabotage?

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Set Small, Actionable Goals to Build Momentum

When you are stuck in a cycle of self-sabotaging behavior, it can be difficult to see how anything you do will make a difference or get you unstuck. Instead of focusing on the vastness of your dream and how you’ll never get there, focus on the small, actionable steps you can take right now.

Focusing on one small action you can take toward your goals will help you build momentum. Motivation doesn’t appear out of thin air—what you’re looking for is momentum. Momentum can propel you from one small goal accomplished to the next, and the next, and the next.

Are you unhappy or unsatisfied with your career? Instead of looking at the whole process of learning new skills, retraining yourself, changing careers, and job searching, take it back to one small step you can execute right away. That one small goal might be researching promotional opportunities within your company, taking a course in a subject you’ve always been interested in but never pursued, or reaching out to close friends or mentors to see if they recommend other employment opportunities.

Continue setting small, actionable goals for yourself that contribute to your big goals. These small goals will help you stay focused and engaged instead of overwhelmed by the larger process of what you’re trying to accomplish.

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What’s Inside Your Circle of Control?

We talk a lot about our circle of control in various Blue Summit articles, but usually, we’re focusing on how to ignore or push aside what’s outside of our circle of control. This time, we want you to focus on what you do have control over.

When you’re lost in self-sabotaging behavior, it feels like so many aspects of your life are outside of your control. While there are many things you don’t have control over, there are many things you do have control over.

How you act, what you say, what you buy, what you eat, how you treat others, and how you treat yourself are all inside your circle of control. You’re in the driver’s seat here, and that’s a lot of power you can use for good.

A prime example of this is how you choose to react when something goes wrong. If you break a glass, miss a turn, or have an unpleasant conversation, what do you do? Do you focus on what went wrong, work yourself up, and dwell on that negativity for the rest of the day? Or do you calm your nerves, refocus yourself, and make a point of turning the day around?

Leverage your circle of control to make a positive impact on your life—one small choice at a time.


Make Better Decisions For Yourself

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Jordan's passion for travel led her to design a career as a remote content marketer. Nearing 1000 published articles, she's spent the past decade using her interdisciplinary education to research and write content for a wide variety of industries. Working remotely, Jordan spends half of the year exploring different corners of the world. At home, she's content exploring fictional lands—Spark an immediate and detailed conversation by mentioning Game of Thrones, Red Rising, Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings.

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