Are you 'winning at life'? Are you moving towards your goals? Or are you holding yourself back? Self sabotage stops us succeeding - it can come up in all areas of life, from personal relationships and career progression to changing eating habits and other health behaviours.
It often boils down to a lack of self esteem, confidence and self-belief. Please know this is NOT a criticism or coming from a place of judgement.
Let's begin with what self sabotage might look like before we get to tackling it:
Signs you might be self sabotaging....
- You tend to procrastinate
- You dwell on your mistakes
- You hate criticism
- You refuse to seek help or support
- You do not set boundaries for yourself, or others
- You identify with your negative beliefs
- You struggle to communicate your needs effectively
- You struggle to go with the 'best for you' option.
.It might show up as
It's of course easy to blame others for failures or things that don't go to plan - your friend for offering THAT dessert or your kids making the mess but ultimately you sabotage yourself. It's a common behaviour and the good news is there is lots to learn from it!
The tricky bit can be spotting it however. Self sabotage can be incredibly subtle....that one glass of wine that becomes two.....every night. Or when the self sabotage behaviour appears to help (such as eating your feelings rather than allowing yourself to feel them), why would you want to stop that?
Whatever is going on, self sabotage steals your confidence, energy and the drive you need to fulfill your dreams.
So lets' look at the most common reasons for self sabotage and see if you can work out how your inner saboteur is operating in your life...you will notice that many of them overlap:
As humans, we only create as much love, fulfillment and success as we feel worthy of having. There's a definite connection between self esteem and self worth too.
You may be completely unaware of this being a factor for your self sabotage - it may be your unconscious mind believing you are undeserving of success or happiness...interestingly in my younger years I was incredibly driven. I worked my socks off, burnt myself out and stayed stuck in an unhealthy relationship because I had a point to prove. I didn't 'give up' because 'giving up' wasn't in my DNA.
The result? I was knackered, unhappy and not very well! It took me a long time to realise I was trying to make up for a self-imposed sense of inadequacy. Check in for feelings of guilt, shame and self doubt that may reflect low self esteem or worth. A potentially difficult but great question to ask yourself is 'do I believe I really deserve success?'
2. The Inner Critic
We all have an inner voice, or two. If you have a cheerleader on your shoulder, the voice will be encouraging, positive and uplifting! The inner critic however is just that. Disparaging, dishonest and draining. It mat not be there all the time but when it shows up, it's usually loud and persistent. The inner critic is shaped by your lived experiences - the things you've heard, seen and witnessed from a very young age that typically influence your self worth, self esteem and self care.
That voice that says you are not good enough when in a larger body, or that says weight gain is a sign of laziness or lack of control....that's all a bunch of lies told by the diet industry in the name of making money. But we often internalise those harmful messages. They get repeated and repeated and repeated, until we start to believe them which can further turn up the volume of the 'you can't do this' voice. It may be time to detach yourself from your inner critic...
Doesn't it feel better to control your own failure rather than face the possibility of it sneaking up and biting you in the arse? Self-sabotage may not be pretty, but you may feel it's better than spinning out of control...like when that diet has been going well and you've 'been so good', then you embark on a full on binge fest. Or that nice sympathetic voice that's less easy to spot as a saboteur - the 'you’re fine, go on have that extra slice' 'you deserve another glass' 'you’re tired, put your feet up, tomorrow is another day'.
I'm all for intuition and self compassion BUT your saboteur can be a wolf in sheep's clothing! It may be time to let the control go and work on self compassion to help build your resilience and self worth. Self compassion is also associated with more effective coping skills, particularly around anxiety and fear.....which leads me to number 4:
Fear is typically at the root of what holds us back. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear that our inner critic will be proven right, fear that we have too much to lose or that we will have to face pain or rejection.
Fear is an emotional response to both real and perceived threats. And that perceived threat may well be a big pile of hurt and emotional turmoil. Just as your inner critic says you can’t handle challenges, it also feeds your fear. Your inner critic tries to protect you from discomfort and pain. It keeps you in a chronic state of numbness simply because it feels safer. To face your fears, you must consciously identify and actively ignore this voice.
We are creatures of habit - we tend to choose consistency over our own contentment. If you’re used to being or feeling ignored, taken for granted or in a state of overwhelm, it can be strangely reassuring to keep yourself in that position because it's preferable to the unknown.
Typically, this creates and reaffirms any limiting beliefs (feeling incapable or at fault) and is often what stops people asking for help. You get stuck in the chaos. You may want to pick fights or press buttons, inciting more instability. It might be time to step out of that comfort zone and see the unfamiliar is actually pretty exciting and that your best is actually good enough.
What can you do to stop self sabotage?
- Identify your limiting beliefs - what is holding you back?
- Explore these beliefs, using your lived experiences and evidence to find the truth.
- Identify your triggers for self sabotage
- Assess your self care practice
- Explore alternative behaviours and responses to your triggers
- Work on self compassion not criticism
- Look at the bigger picture – have you really ruined your efforts with one setback?
- Identify your mistakes (with compassion) and learn from them
- Consider challenges and obstacles in advance and plan how you will overcome them if they crop up
- Consider asking for help from a mentor or coach
I have a self care assessment tool I can share with you - it's a great place to begin - just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org