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Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D.

Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Self-Saboteurs and What Can Be Done to Stop the Self-Destruction

Are you a victim of self-sabotage?

Key points

  • Occasional self-sabotage is common, but when it becomes a pattern, it can interfere with your productivity and happiness.
  • Telltale signs of self-sabotage are ignoring the positive, acting out of fear, and focusing on the past.
  • Techniques to overcome self-sabotage include daily affirmations and avoiding self-comparison.

High-achievers thrive on challenges, and that's great ... except when those challenges become knock-out punches —self-generated knock-out punches, that is. I'm talking about those self-defeating behaviors and thoughts that work against your own interests and add unnecessary stress to your life.

Occasional self-sabotage is pretty common, like saying something to your boss or your partner that was probably better left unsaid. But when self-sabotage becomes a pattern, it can interfere not only with your ability to perform at your best, but also in your ability to live a happy, fulfilling, and productive life.

Signs of self-sabotage

So what are the telltale signs of self-saboteurs?

  1. Self-saboteurs focus on the negative and ignore the positive, which can not only lead to chronic feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment but also can cause others to want to avoid being around them. You often see this kind of negative focus in high-achievers when they make a minor misstep in an otherwise stellar performance and are unable or unwilling to celebrate all the things that they did great because they're consumed by the one thing that wasn't as great.
  2. Self-saboteurs allow fear to guide their thoughts, plans, and actions. Self-saboteurs are so worried and afraid of what "might" happen ("I'll fail," I'll look stupid") that they become frozen by their fears. As writer and blogger Olusegun Jegeda writes, "Fear is like a virus that wreaks havoc in our lives. It develops into mistrust, anxiety, worry, hopelessness, and other negative emotions. It paralyzes us and hinders our progress in life. When fear grips you, you become powerless. It's the greatest obstacle to personal success."
  3. Self-saboteurs focus on the past, which can lead to missed opportunities in the present. There are two ways this happens. Some self-saboteurs live in their past glory; others can't let go of past failures. Either way, being stuck in the past makes it difficult to move forward. Examples of these kinds of self-destructive behaviors include wallowing in pity, getting caught up in "would've, could've, and should've," or using alcohol, drugs, or food to ease the "pain."
  4. Self-saboteurs feel that deep down inside they don't measure up. "I'm not as smart." "I'm not as attractive." "I'm not as skilled." "I'm not as fit." "I'm not as wealthy." Maybe these things are true, or maybe they're not. But regardless, the problem with making these kinds of comparisons is that there will always be someone, somewhere who is something or has something more. Therefore, making these kinds of comparisons only serves to make the "comparer" feel as if she or he is never "good enough."
  5. Self-saboteurs settle. Rather than pushing for what they want, self-saboteurs settle for less because they don't see themselves as worthy or deserving of anything more.
  6. Self-saboteurs drive people away. Often rooted in underlying feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure, self-saboteurs push others away. Most often, they do this by being overly critical and negative of those around them.
  7. Self-saboteurs are masters at procrastination. They put off major projects and responsibilities until the last minute, and then have to rush to get them done in what usually ends up being a mediocre performance.

If you recognize yourself in some or all of these descriptions, there are a few steps you can take to overcome these self-defeating behaviors.

How to overcome self-sabotage

  • Start paying attention to how often you focus on what went wrong instead of what went right. Rarely are situations completely negative. So when you find yourself starting to talk about what isn't working, do a little self-correction and force yourself to think about (and talk about) what is working, even if it's something minor. This holds true not only for your internal dialogue but also in your interactions with others. Modifying your way of thinking and talking takes a lot of effort and repetition, but the alternative is to let yourself and/or your relationships get swallowed up in negativity.
  • When you make a mistake, learn what you can from it and move on. Failing is a necessary part of learning.
  • When you find yourself feeling afraid, write down what you're afraid of. Writing it down will force you to put your fear into words, which sometimes takes some steam out of it. Once you've written it down, ask yourself, "Do I have any control over this?" If you have some control over it, do whatever you can to avoid a "worse case scenario" situation, then let the rest go and hope for the best. If you have no control over the situation, then worrying about it won't do you any good. Your time is best spent taking care of the things you can control instead of living your life in constant fear of "what-if."
  • Stop comparing yourself to others. The great thing about being a human is that we all have unique and special qualities. Okay, maybe you're not the best-dressed person in your group of friends. Maybe you don't have the nicest car or the best organizational skills. But what do you have? And if you just can't resist making comparisons, start thinking about those who have a tougher life than you instead of those who you view as having it better. Just like there is always someone who has more than you, there is always someone who has less, or someone who is dealing with much worse circumstances than you are.
  • Practice making daily positive affirmations. Like anything else, if you remind yourself to do this enough, it will become a habit.
  • Books have been written on procrastination. But, in a nutshell, here are some of the most commonly recommended strategies to lessen procrastination:

a) Block out time in your calendar for each project you take on.

b) Set earlier-than-required deadlines for yourself.

c) Remove as many distractions as possible from your environment when you're working on a project you're less than thrilled about. This includes turning off your phone and your email alert signals.

d) Break down the projects that you dread the most into smaller tasks and reward yourself when you complete each of the smaller tasks.

© 2011 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved.

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