What is Behind my Self Sabotage?

In response to Tiramit’s question in the comments of a previous post, I will have a closer look at this mechanism of my own self sabotaging behaviour, that frustrates me so. The causes behind my self sabotage are specific to the conditioning received in my childhood, and the reasons are quite varied from person to person.

Why do I self sabotage? What is it about success (happiness, emotional stability, financial), that I flinch away from? Even the word terrifies me! Why am I terrified to shine my joy and strengths as much as I can shine them? Why after a ‘successful’ day do I find myself getting so drunk I am ill and incapable the next day?

Here are a first few beliefs that come up off the top of my head.

  • By shining I might make others feel uncomfortable, they might compare themselves to me and feel envy or jealousy, and then they might not love or like or accept me. I have just been writing this morning on Facebook about how much I have dumbed myself down around men in particular in order to manipulate them to feel better about themselves and accept me. This I believe is something many women will be able to relate to. I have gone some way towards addressing this by completely altering the people I spend time with. Now I have nobody around me or those who celebrate my strengths and victories, and fewer that I fall into having a mutual pity party with. Sounds harsh but it just became too painful to be around very insecure, damaged people and to witness their repeated self sabotage. I will go as far as to say that I find my current closest friendships and family relationships toxic to me in this respect. I am spending less and less time with those people even though they are very dear to me. It doesn’t mean I stop loving those people but I put my health first.
  • I deserve pain. It is what I got as a child randomly and unpredictably and children tend to believe that whatever is happening to them, they deserve.  I am used to difficulty, feeling uncomfortable, struggle and strife and my nervous system has become attuned to this manner of being. I have a very well developed language for pain and worry and doubt and I know it and dare I say am ‘comfortable’ with it. I don’t have such a familiar language for joy, celebration, humour, fun, letting go and trusting life. The unknown is scary to the little me. If it senses freedom, it wants to run back into the prison cell it has know all along.
  • I dont deserve this‘ peace/joy/harmonious romance/material abundance is a belief I picked up somewhere in childhood. Other people can have nice houses but that’s not for me. Other people can have happy marriages but not me. Other people can feel safe but not me, I have to remain on edge, vigilant for unpredictable danger that can appear anytime. So self punishment behaviours go along with increasing success possibly, as I am ‘getting above myself’.
  • What you have can be taken away suddenly so dont expect much or get too used to abundance of harmony/love/peace/money. We had an unpredictable family where the mother could lose her temper easily and unpredictably with terrifying results for me, and we had relatives who seemed happy but got divorced unexpectedly, and we had relatives who were very unhappy and stayed together. We had family members seemingly financially stable but who lost it all. So somewhere in me I learned that to expect too much from life leads to disappointment and loss. Better to settle with what you have, not aim too high, less to lose. Play safe.
  • Being poor is virtuous This was maybe picked up from the Christian side of the upbringing and also family too, my parents were socialists and regarded wealth with suspicion or some kind of derision. ‘How can people tolerate having more money than they need when so many struggle in poverty?”How can one maintain a spiritual focus and have material abundance at the same time?, surely they are incompatible and wealth leads to moral corruption?’.’Rich people care less about others’ is another than floats about.
  • I might get to love and admire myself to an uncomfortable degree. Oh, ouchy ouch ouch that one! I have got a small example. I lost quite a bit of weight at the end of last year and started wearing clothes that I really liked rather than the usual baggy ones. I also really felt great, more confident and lighter on my feet which felt healthier. Then I piled it back on and I am back feeling overweight again right now and burdened by it. That is self sabotage! Okay it IS winter and I am not actually fat, only about 3 kilos over what I should be. How would that be to cherish myself, to be in love with myself (in a good way, not narcissism) to highly respect myself. This is where I have been going and it feels unsafe and dangerous.
  • So part of me is comfortable with a less successful version of me. It is scared that if I stood up and shone, I could be vulnerable and exposed as a fraud. The struggle protects me fro that somehow as people dont attack those who are struggling the same as they do those who are shining their brilliance out for everyone to see. Back to the playing safe belief above.

Here is an article from Psychology Today on these and more beliefs which hide behind outer manifestations of self sabotaging behaviour. I started reading through the list on that page and I actually had to stop, it was too much for me at once!

Waking up to this unconscious destructive behaviour and changing it is a process of self observation, radical honesty and a willingness to face everything, no matter how painful. Thanks for this question Tiramit. It has been very helpful to examine what comes up. This self sabotage seems ultimately, and in a maladapted way, to be about keeping ourselves safe.




  1. A breathtaking plunge into brainstorming the issue, most of it I could apply to my own situation. Thanks for starting this off, I’m planning a post about the sudden lurch towards self-sabotaging behaviours. intending to break through my own strategies by means of this introspective pondering…

    Liked by 1 person

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