Ever ditch your diet for an ice cream cone? Walked away from a happy and healthy relationship because you were scared? Or never seem to get your business plan off the ground? You might be self-sabotaging yourself.
Self-sabotage is when you wreck your own best-laid plans. On the outside, you may want to get healthy, be in a happy relationship, or work on your business idea, but on the inside, you’re compelled to get in your own way. Regularly, self-sabotage is considered behavior that interferes with achieving your goals.
Why would you want to betray yourself that way? It’s complicated. We sabotage ourselves in response to early feelings of hurt and helplessness, says Susan Anderson, author of “Taming Your Outer Child: Overcoming Self-Sabotage—the Aftermath of Abandonment.”
Self-sabotage most commonly appears in quick-fix behaviors like shopping when you need to save or get out of debt, starting relationship with unavailable partners when you’re looking for “the one,” unhealthy eating when trying to lose weight, or refusing to risk failure when you want to succeed.
Fear is usually at the center of self-sabotage.
Self-betrayal is usually buried deep. And so many of us don’t even realize we’re self-sabotaging our self.
Why do we sabotage ourselves?
Psychologists say we have a “pro-self” as well as an “anti-self,” an internal enemy whose critical voice is shaped by our early life experiences. If we’ve been, say, treated as a burden or made to feel stupid. The anti-self adopts views that support how unworthy we are. Anti-self can also take on the attitudes of our early caregivers—so if they were self-blaming, depressed or critical, so are we.
The anti-self likes to write us off as unworthy of whatever we want to accomplish and becomes the critical voice annoying us to mess it up. “Go ahead and have that ice cream cone.” “Sure, watch TV instead of work on your idea.” “Why not go out with the emotionally unavailable person again—isn’t that your type?”
Fear is usually at the center of self-sabotage. Fear of success, fear of the unknown, fear of pain or rejection, and so on. That fear keeps us in a chronic condition of limbo—never moving forward on our goals, wishes or desires.
These three ways can help you break the self-sabotage cycle.
Start with self-compassion
Studies show that self-compassion is related with emotional resilience. Also with less narcissism and angry outbursts. Self-compassion can likewise focus us, help us go after our goals, and better deal with fears and anxiety.
Kristin Neff, Ph.D., associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin, recommends treating yourself like you would a best friend when you’re suffering. What would you say to your friend if they screwed up on achieving a goal? Odds are it’s very different from what you’d say to yourself.
It’s useful to keep a self-compassion diary in which you process difficult daily events through a lens of compassion and kindness.
Be more mindful
Self-compassion also involves mindfulness, seeing ourselves and the situation in the moment. Meditation is perfect for helping you achieve that. Neff says meditation helps to retrain the brain to bring more self-compassion to your life.
Watch what you say to yourself
You might be so used to self-criticism, self-blaming, and name-calling that you don’t even realize you do it. Start focusing on the internal voice that speaks to you on a daily basis. Whenever you notice it being critical, stop and offer a compassionate though instead. Rather than, “I’m so dumb for missing that deadline,” try, “I’ve been working so hard and am stressed out, it’s no wonder I missed the deadline.”
Look to the people around you who are doing what they set out to do, accomplishing their goals. What do they have that you don’t have? Probably nothing more than a quiet anti-self who is not sitting on their shoulder trying to screw up their plans. Take a chapter from their story. If you can be a bit more mindful, self-compassionate and less self-critical, your pro-self may gain a foothold and put an end to your anti-self’s sabotaging ways.