11 Steps to Stop Your Self-Sabotaging Behavior

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Do you… 

Put off sending that email because you are worried about your boss’s response?

– Think anything done imperfectly is a failure even though you and your team did your best? 

– Keep going and burning the midnight oil, ignoring the signs that you need a break and are worthy of rest? 

– Keep focusing on the negatives in your relationship without any regard to the positive interactions? 

If any of these ring true, you are self-sabotaging your life, your relationships, and your work. 

Self-sabotaging behavior makes you your worst enemy. It’s often the only thing that stands between you going after your goals and attaining success, feeling fulfilled and happy, and being who you truly are. 

It’s like covert warfare with you as the target. You can engage in self-sabotaging behavior whether you are scared of failure or success (or both). But it’s time to stop self-sabotage, and here’s how. 

The Signs of Self-Sabotaging Behavior 

The most common signs that you are engaging in self-sabotaging behavior include:

  • Blaming others when things don’t go as planned 
  • Walking away when there are obstacles or things get difficult 
  • Not asking for help 
  • Inability to express what you need and not advocating for yourself 
  • Procrastinating and other avoidant behavior 
  • Picking fights 
  • Dating unsuitable partners, promiscuity, and serial dating 
  • A low self-esteem and constantly putting yourself down with extreme self-criticism and negative self-talk
  • Keeping toxic people in your life 
  • Unrealistic expectations of yourself and others
  • Micromanaging or controlling behavior 
  • Comparing yourself to others 
  • Isolating yourself or withdrawing socially

Why Self-Sabotaging Behavior Isn’t Beneficial for You 

The name should give it away and be a big enough red flag to warn you off. But we rarely listen and heed the warning. 

Self-sabotaging isn’t good for you because you are engaging in thoughts, actions, and behavior that prevents you from accomplishing what you actually want. 

Conversely, you might convince yourself that you: 

  • Don’t actually want that promotion (because you’re not good enough) 
  • Don’t deserve the time to relax (because you should work more to earn rest and chill time)
  • Aren’t worthy of a healthy and loving relationship (because you don’t need companionship, support, or love). 

When you self-sabotage, you just get in your own way, but you often don’t realize it. Your negative thoughts and toxic, sabotaging behavior is ruining your life (and the lives around you). 

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Look inward and really see yourself – the imperfectly perfect person you are – and become aware of how others see you too.

Self-sabotage furthers your insecurities, drains you of your motivation and enthusiasm, and kills your self-esteem. You stack up all your failures, and soon you think you aren’t good enough or worthy of the good things in life. 

The cycle repeats where you set yourself up for failure – and failure is now your comfort bubble – and you cling to that because it’s familiar.

Thinking about actually making a go of something and not sabotaging yourself makes you panic. And so you simply act against your best interests

As self-sabotage damages your psyche, your physical well-being suffers too. With no intimate and meaningful relationships and connections, loneliness and depression set in. 

11 Steps for Stopping Self-Sabotaging Behavior 

Getting out of the self-sabotage rut isn’t easy, especially when you don’t believe you are worthy of more than just a mountain of failure

But if you follow these steps, you can learn how to stop self sabotage

1. Become Self-Aware

You can’t know that you are self-sabotaging if you aren’t self-aware. While you may notice that things aren’t going as planned or that you don’t enjoy many (or any) successes in life, you won’t know why

It becomes real easy to blame everything and everyone around you for your failures in life – except you are to blame, but you don’t know it. 

When you become self-aware, examine your behavior and identify patterns. It’s a painful admittance once you’ll realize that you are engaging in self-sabotaging behavior. 

How to become self-aware? 

Self-awareness is a skill you need to cultivate, and it’s something you need to work on constantly. Look inward and really see yourself – the imperfectly perfect person you are – and become aware of how others see you too. 

Learn how to be self-aware by: 

  • Reflecting on your life and finding patterns of behavior that reveal why your goals and relationships don’t pan out 
  • Acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses (having a clear understanding of these will help you overcome your self-sabotaging behavior) 
  • Ask questions to get to know yourself

2. Take Responsibility 

Once you realize that self-sabotage is your go-to, it’s time to take responsibility. This doesn’t mean you blame yourself; rather, you choose self-compassion over self-punishment. You’ve been punishing yourself enough, and you don’t need more negativity.

Self-compassion is positive, and it helps you deal with and stop your self-sabotaging actions and thoughts. 

How to take responsibility for self-sabotaging your life?

It starts with the willingness to be vulnerable and strong enough to recognize how your behavior has negatively impacted your life. Then you own up to it, realizing you aren’t perfect and there are reasons why you believe you aren’t enough or worthy of success and love. 

You stop the blame game and you realize you aren’t a victim. With that, know that you have the power to change your thoughts, actions, and behavior – for the better. 

3. Journal to Find the Why and Learn Your Triggers

It’s important to understand why you are self-sabotaging because then you can identify your triggers and find ways to stop your behavior. One of the best ways to find the why of self-sabotage is by keeping a journal

You can keep any type of journal and write, doodle, or be artsy – as long as you put in the work to discover the reasons why you are self-sabotaging. 

A few common reasons for self-sabotage you can explore and see if any resonate are: 

  • A fear of failure and/or change 
  • A fear of success 
  • A low self-esteem and self-doubt 
  • A need to be in control (even of doom and failure) 
  • Cognitive dissonance where you have conflicting thoughts 
  • Childhood trauma

How to journal and find why you are self-sabotaging?

Decide on using a physical journal or a journaling app. From there, make time (it can be as little as 15 minutes a day) to sit with your thoughts and what happened during the day, and then note these on paper. 

Remember, your journal is for your eyes only and the journal won’t (and can’t) judge you. So be honest, vulnerable, and transparent as the thoughts flow from your mind. 

Revisit what you wrote once a week, and circle, underline, or highlight any patterns and triggers that stand out. This will help you become more mindful so you can overcome your self-sabotaging behavior. 

4. Work on Your Attachment Style 

Your attachment style explains your patterns of behavior with yourself and other people. Ideally, you’d want a healthy or secure attachment style because this means that you trust others and yourself while you remain authentic. 

Childhood trauma and experiences influence your attachment style, and if you have an unhealthy or insecure attachment style, it’s more likely that you’ll engage in self-sabotaging behavior. 

By putting in the work, you can change your attachment style for the better (to securely attach to others) so you can believe that you are worthy of success and everything that’s good in life. 

How to improve your attachment style?

Start by learning more about attachment theory and take a quiz to see how you attach to others. 

For example, if you have an anxious attachment style, self-sabotaging behavior presents as clinginess or jealousy, while self-sabotage in an avoidant attachment style means you may push others away

If you attach to others in a disorganized way, you self-sabotage by playing the blame game, while being clingy and closed off at the same time. 

Examine what you believe about relationships with others and yourself, become more emotionally aware, and enforce healthy boundaries.

5. Create a Plan 

Every journey should have a plan, and the journey to self-value (and not self-sabotage) is no different. 

Start with a map of what you need to change, what you need to work on, and what will be good for your mental health. If you stick with a plan, you create a habit that you need to stick to, no matter what. 

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It’s essential to be kind to yourself as you go through the process of overcoming self-sabotage. 

If you’ve identified that you procrastinate and leave projects and tasks until the last minute, then purposefully start them early. Do a little bit every day, chipping at the mountain until you get to the finish line. 

You’ll learn that you feel less stressed and you may perform even better than you do (or don’t) under pressure. But no matter what, you need to start early and consistently work on the project. 

Taking action is crucial because that’s how you build momentum to achieve your goals and say no to self-defeating behavior. It reduces your fears and improves your self-worth

How to Create a Plan?

Identify when you are most likely to self-sabotage and plan how you will counter this. You may self-handicap most of the time when you are tired or hungry

If you are more likely to self-sabotage at night, create a plan of attack. Limit how much time you spend on your phone or set a nightly ritual so you can get the rest you deserve. 

And if you self-defeat during the morning, for example, plan how you want your mornings to go and do whatever prep you need the night before. 

That may mean prepping breakfast or choosing your outfit for the next day. This will help ensure you aren’t so rushed in the mornings, setting you up for a better and more successful day. 

6. Be Mindful 

It’s not easy to break self-sabotaging behaviors, especially when these are coping mechanisms to help you deal with trauma. Therefore, it’s essential to be kind to yourself as you go through the process of overcoming self-sabotage. 

Mindfulness will help, and it’ll help you to be aware of when you are sabotaging your life. With being mindful, focus on your thoughts so you can be in control of your inner critic – don’t let negative thoughts rule or define you. 

How to be mindful?

Start meditating and engage in mindful breathing. You can follow meditations on YouTube or subscribe to an app like Balance, Headspace, or Calm. 

Even listening to mental health podcasts can help you be more mindful and improve how you feel mentally, which will have a positive impact on whether you self-support or self-sabotage

Regarding your thoughts, actively work on changing negative self-talk and thoughts to positive self-talk and healthy thoughts. If you think “I can’t do this,” reframe the thought to “I can. I’ll give it my all, and my best is good enough.”

7. Talk to Your Inner Circle

While you can surely go at it alone and stop your self-sabotaging behavior, you’ll be grateful to have your inner circle (or a soul friend) in your corner, motivating you and supporting you.

There’s nothing wrong with opening up to loved ones you trust. In fact, it can make the journey to overcome your self-defeating behavior a lot easier. 

Oftentimes, you self-sabotage because you fear intimacy and can’t talk about your problems and feelings. You don’t want to draw attention to your insecurities and how you are holding yourself back in life, and so you’ll do anything you can to avoid it

One of the main benefits (besides the support you’ll get) is that loved ones can help you become more self-aware of how you self-sabotage. 

They will likely have picked up on things you may miss. Openly and honestly talking about these instances can help set you up for success as you can better identify triggers and patterns and create a plan to counter your self-sabotages. 

How to get support?

Identify the people who are closest to you – the ones who want you to succeed, want the best for you, and encourage you to prioritize yourself. 

Tell them about your goals or that you are working on not sabotaging things for yourself and let them know that you’d appreciate support.

If you don’t have people in your life you can trust, that’s okay. Find a mental health professional who can help you while you work on stopping your self-sabotaging behavior. 

8. Learn to Let Go 

A huge part of your journey to overcome self-sabotaging your life is learning to let go. You need to accept that you’ll fail because failure is part of life. We all fail, but it’s what you do with that failure that really matters. 

Many inventions wouldn’t have been invented if not for failure; it’s how we learn and grow

You may think that failure is your best friend when you self-sabotage, or maybe you think that if you don’t try, you can’t fail.

But just because you think you aren’t worthy of more, doesn’t mean you aren’t scared of failing and making mistakes. You absolutely are, and that’s pretty normal. 

But you don’t want to let your fear of success or failure control you, and that’s why it’s so important to learn to let go – of your fears, of self-sabotaging, of thinking you aren’t good enough

How to let go?

Letting go also means practicing acceptance

A good affirmation when you are letting go of a fear of failure and self-sabotage is to say, “This is now, that was then.”

It helps remind you that you don’t have to repeat the past (mistakes) and that you can make decisions based on the now or present. 

You also let go of your expectations as they may be setting you up to fail. 

And detach yourself. Separate your emotions, sense of self-worth, and ego from ideas and tasks so you don’t say “I failed,” but rather “the idea failed.”

9. Identify What You Really Want 

When you are looking for a way out, you self-sabotage. Reflection may reveal that there’s something about that particular situation that you want out of that isn’t working for you

For example, if you consistently procrastinate in the morning and end up late for work, you probably feel unfilled and bored at work. Or it’s a toxic environment and you’re hoping that your boss will fire you because of you being tardy (aka self-sabotage). 

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Celebrating success starts with believing you are worthy of being celebrated.

So take a moment (or many) to identify what you really want out of your life in general, your relationships, and your work life. When you know what you want, you can set goals and make a plan to go after it. 

And if it’s something you really desire, you wouldn’t want to mess it up and self-sabotage (but of course, you’ll need to work hard to not self-defeat). 

How to identify your needs?

To identify what you want and need, you have to get to know yourself. Ask yourself self-revealing questions like: 

  • What makes me happy? 
  • What are my values? 
  • What’s my purpose in life? Or what’s my ikigai
  • What activities or hobbies put me in a flow state? 
  • Who do I admire? And why? 
  • What would I do if I had no limits (time, money, etc.)?

Then work on your self-worth by fostering self-love because you’ll only go after what you want – sabotage-free – when you respect and love yourself enough. 

10. Develop Self-Supporting Behaviors

To stop self-sabotage, you also need to develop self-supporting behaviors. So instead of tearing yourself down and self-handicapping, you support and encourage yourself to move in a positive direction and achieve your goals. 

Because you are scared, you need to shift or reframe the narrative. You need to make yourself an ally, not an enemy. 

How to develop self-supporting behaviors?

Learn to support yourself by: 

  • Being proud of who you are and what you do and how far you’ve come 
  • Being your own best friend 
  • Carving out time for you 
  • Looking after yourself 
  • Building your self-esteem and self-confidence 
  • Feeling what you feel 

11. Celebrate Your Successes 

Lastly, you must celebrate your successes: the small ones and the more significant ones. 

How to celebrate success?

Celebrating success starts with believing you are worthy of being celebrated.

Then, be mindful of when you stop self-sabotaging behaviors, when you reframe your narratives and self-talk, when you were compassionate with yourself, and when you went after something you’ve dreamed of. 

All of these deserve to be celebrated, and when you “see” that you (can) succeed and that failure isn’t a bad thing, you’ll feel even more motivated to not give in to self-sabotage.

Final Thoughts about How to Stop Self Sabotage 

Self-sabotage or self-defeating behavior doesn’t do you any favors.

But once you realize that you are your own worst enemy and that you are keeping yourself from all the joy, happiness, love, support, and success that you (secretly) desire, you can stop your self-sabotaging behavior. 

It starts with becoming self-aware, taking responsibility (while practicing self-compassion), finding out why you self-handicap, and creating a plan of action.

You also need to be mindful, identify what you really want in life, and develop self-supporting behaviorsSelf-limiting beliefs also hold you back in life.

Learn more about these with this article on 21 limiting beliefs examples, or follow this 6-step guide to overcome limiting beliefs so you can be free from another way of self-sabotage.

And if you're looking for more articles about personal growth, be sure to check out these blog posts:

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