WHAT IS THAT, REASONS AND HOW TO STOP IT.
Have you ever wondered why sometimes you start doing something and then suddenly stop without any clear reason? Like if you have a goal is to lose weight – you go and buy a tub of ice cream and eat all of it? Or if you have an important exam in the morning, but instead of studying you go and get drunk the night before?
You know, sometimes (just sometimes) I get those moments of enlightenment, and so once I’ve noticed that instead of writing I turn on and binge-watch all kind of videos on Youtube, or instead of trying to reduce my sugar intake I crave for sweet cupcakes and eat family size pack of crisps, and instead of all the goals that I set to myself I choose to do… nothing at all.
I came across the term SELF-SABOTAGE just a few months ago. A combination of these two words sounded really terrifying, but I wasn’t worried and skipped thinking that it’s something I would never do to myself.
Little did I know.
When I’ve noticed that instead of reaching some kind of my goals, I turn against myself and do completely opposite, I realised that I needed to dig deeper into understanding what the hell is happening here.
What is self-sabotage?
Self-sabotage is when we actively or passively take actions to prevent ourselves from reaching our goals. Self-sabotage can affect our lives in many negative ways, as it can look like procrastination, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, comfort eating, or physical self-injury. Sometimes it is easy to spot these destructive behaviours, but sometimes we can’t really understand what and why we are doing things (like picking up on a fight with a friend or partner or blaming others for our failures).
Self-sabotage might be called a fear of success or a fear of failure. Some people also describe it as a fear of consequences or a fear of change that our actions might bring.
As an example, if you nailed a job interview, you have to start working in a totally new place, meet new people. If the first date was a success and you decide to go on a second one, that means you have to put time and effort to open up, be vulnerable and work on building relationships. Or if you decide to start your own business you might have to quit your current job, spend your days and nights working on something that might not bring any value to your life.
All of these and other big life events force us to let go of the control and step into the unknown, which also means that we create uncertainty and instability in our lives. What will this change bring to our lives? What if we aren’t good enough? What if we won’t like the change? And our protective part of the brain doesn’t like that at all!
So what is hiding under self-sabotage?
- Fear of disappointment.
We live our lives based on expectations. Sometimes our expectations are very very high, but they don’t match with the effort we put into to get it. Actually, we unconsciously stop ourselves from putting a lot of time and energy into it, so it’s not surprising that the outcome of our actions isn’t the same as we expected (most of the time it’s much worse). This is where sabotaging comes – from the past events there is a memory of a horrible feeling of being disappointed when things don’t go as expected, so we try to prevent it from happening again by doing less than we should to actually achieve the goal! It’s better to do absolutely nothing than to start the things that already feel like a failure, right?
- Fear of loss.
There is one certain thing in life – the uncertainty. We are exposed to constant change which often leads to losing one thing or another. Like if you are thinking about leaving your job, you are afraid of losing financial stability. If your relationship is ending, then the fear of losing comfort and fulfilment that it might have. And there are some losses that are unexpected, like death, parental divorce, or changing living places, ends of relationships and others… There is no secret that life is unpredictable and we can’t control everything around us. Thanks to the protective part of our brain we tend to attach to certain things (or people). We like that safe space where we are familiar with everything. We like our comfort zones. So when we are exposed to certain life events where we have to let go of the things we already know and step into the unknown, we tend to stop ourselves from making that decision. We procrastinate or ignore it because it’s too hard to handle the sadness, confusion and grief.
- Low self-esteem.
When we have low self-esteem it often feels like there is a person following you around, all day every day, criticizing you and pointing out every flaw or shaming you for every little mistake. It might also sound like ‘you’re a loser’, ‘I knew you will fail’, ‘why do you even try’, ‘you look horrible’ and others… You might also worry that if you fail your family or friends won’t accept you, or if you’re successful your co-workers will be very jealous. I think a lot of people sometimes have self-doubting thoughts when they face some challenges, but they move on very quickly from it, but some people constantly feel like nothing they do is good enough or that they are unworthy or undeserving of good things in life. These deeply rooted negative self-talks often lead to sabotaging behaviours, like dismissing good opportunities, avoiding to go out with new people, or not taking any risk in life.
- Self-fulfilling prophecy.
Have you ever predicted the bad ending of a date? Or that you will fail your exams? That’s the self-fulfilling prophecy! When we believe something about ourselves, we are more likely to act in ways that align with those beliefs. If you are pretty sure you can’t win, you won’t put time and energy to prepare for it. If there is something in your head saying that you’re not good enough, it keeps you away from throwing yourself out there and taking all the opportunities you have. And if you wake up and your first thought is ‘it’s gonna be a terrible day’ there is a big chance that it’s actually going to be a terrible day.
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
– Henry Ford
These are just a few things that I found hiding under self-sabotage. And I believe that it’s important to know why sometimes we do things that are clearly opposite then what we wanted to do.
Sometimes we are actually aware of it – like when we procrastinate before cleaning the messy room, and it becomes an even bigger deal to clean up. Or when we impulsively buy a large chocolate bar when we try to cut back on junk food.
But sometimes we are less aware of our self-sabotage. It happens a lot in relationships and friendships, like when instead of becoming good friends we are picking up a fight, pointing out negative things about each other.
If you find something familiar in your behaviour, here is some tips how to overcome self-sabotage:
- Recognize your self-sabotaging behaviours. When do you procrastinate the most? What makes you feel uncomfortable? Are you suffering from lack of motivation?
- Understand the emotions that lead to this behaviour. Self-sabotaging is always related to anxiety, anger and worthiness. You should learn to notice your emotions and manage them so that you wouldn’t act in a way that would affect yours and other people’s lives in a negative way.
- Notice your thinking pattern that caused this emotion. Our thoughts cause our feelings, but most of our thoughts are irrational and come up unconsciously. Notice how you talk with yourself when something triggers you, what kind of thoughts they are?
- Change your thoughts, emotions and behaviour. When you start noticing negative thoughts, you can start changing them by involving more logical explanations, positive affirmations. When you change your thoughts about something, you slowly start feeling different emotions about it and with them, your body’s reaction and behaviour also change. It might be very challenging to change negative thoughts, but it’s definitely possible to do that!
- Give yourself some love. Drowning yourself into self-care, self-love and self-compassion will change the way you see yourself. It is important to understand that this life is given to you for a reason, and also it is important to understand that this life is not perfect, it changes all the time, and it’s ok to fail, it’s ok to be a student and learn new things for the rest of your life, it’s ok to be who we are.
Self-sabotage is a very serious condition when we consciously or unconsciously take actions to stop ourselves from reaching our goals. Self-sabotage sets us up to fail in life, and it often starts by negative behaviours which leads to massive self-destructive habits.
The roots of self-sabotage often hide under fear of disappointment, fear of commitment and loss, self-hatred, low self-esteem, negative self-talk, and related negative emotions, which are reinforced by the failure over and over again.
To stop sabotaging yourself, we must first recognize the behaviour, recognize emotions that came up and thoughts that created it and then keep on changing it until it becomes a new normal in our daily lives.
It takes time to unlearn negative things and create positive ones, but to start building a life full of joy, new experiences and fulfilment we have to get out of our own way!
Keep on shining!