“Are you afraid of success?” My therapist asked me, intently.
I let out a put-out sigh, and my defense immediately went up. “How dare she ask me that?” I thought.
I sat back in my chair, quickly allowing a movie reel of life events that could potentially cause her to ask me such a thing. I quickly realized her pointed question was entirely valid.
I was straddling a thin line between breaking through in my career and remaining stagnant. I had an inbox overflowing with opportunities to guest speak, press and media interviews, and a book pre-order list a mile high — all of which I had yet to reply to.
I sat back, reflected quickly, then replied with a snarky rebuttal:
“I’m a self-saboteur, you know.”
Is it just me, or has society glamorized self-sabotage? Social media posts and memes mock our seemingly inherent need to destroy the good things in life. Pop songs romanticize being afraid to be happy. And how many romantic comedies depict a female co-star who is unsatisfied with her life, spurns happiness, and sabotages her potential love interests?
It’s everywhere, and somewhere along the line it was determined that self-sabotage is not only typical but humorous. When we actually experience it, however, it can leave us feeling victimized and helpless.
What is self-sabotage?
Psychology Today defines self-sabotage as behavior that “creates problems and interferes with long-standing goals.”
Self-sabotage can be any sort of behavior that blocks success in any category of your life, such as your health and fitness goals, success at work, your daily routine and productivity level, and within relationships both romantic and platonic — it can even include your relationship with yourself.
Let’s detail some common self-sabotage scenarios, to help understand how we can avoid this cycle in the future.
Self-sabotage and success at work
You know you have a deadline coming up that will be crucial to meet if you want that year-end bonus. You have your calendar and project management tool set with reminder after reminder, but you keep justifying it to yourself that you’ll “get to it later.”
The part of you that yearns to succeed in your career sets up these calendar reminders, but the part of you that is apprehensive or afraid to move forward at your job procrastinates so that you miss these crucial deadlines.
Everything you had to succeed was there, so why sabotage what should have been an easy win?
Self-sabotage and success with Your wellness goals
Most of us know what it takes to obtain a better level of fitness and strength. Even if this area of expertise is not our forte, there are thousands of resources available to us online, at the bookstore, and on social media channels.
We know what it takes to not pack on extra weight by sticking to the plan our trainer set for us. Yet, one might find themselves having that extra doughnut at your office’s lunch break, or cancelling your fitness class the night before because you Netflix binged until 2 a.m.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
Self-sabotage in your mental health journey
Whether you have a Talkspace therapist, an in-office therapist, or are just working on your mental health privately, we each have goals in our self-help and self-awareness journey. These goals allow us to take the next step in achieving a higher level of mental wellness and self-actualization.
You know what it takes to keep your stress and anxiety in check, yet you reach for the extra cup of coffee, don’t get enough sleep, text back that toxic ex, or don’t eat right during a crazy day. Most of these behaviors cause you to feel awful the next day.
So why didn’t we take that moment to breathe and recalibrate our mind?
Quitting the self-sabotage cycle
The first step in stopping the cycle of self-sabotage is to recognize you’re doing it.
The second step is to spend some time figuring out why you allow self-sabotage to take place.
We know what it takes to stop an unhealthy pattern, behavior, or cycle — so why do we continue to do it? For some, it may be fear of change or more responsibility. For others, it may be the fact that they don’t value themselves enough to make positive changes. For many of us, it’s that we become so discouraged living in this vicious cycle that we feel too overwhelmed to make any changes.
The third step is to recognize when this behavior is taking place so you can cut it off before the downward spiral begins. Self-sabotage is like any other bad habit, it needs to be worked through, and the bad habit “starved” for you to start to see the positive changes.
If self-sabotage is affecting you, make a change
Self-sabotage is more common than most of us realize, and it creeps into every avenue of our life, including the most pivotal ones. Regardless of how self-sabotage has affected each of us, the avenues to correct this and change course towards a healthier, more successful life applies to each scenario.
If you need help breaking free of self-sabotage, consider talking with a therapist. They’re equipped with the tools and training to reduce negative thought patterns that stand between you and your success.