How to Stop Self Sabotaging

By Marcus Neo | Self Improvement and Social Skills

Mar 03

However, why do some people effortlessly cruise through life and why do some people fail, year after year, repeating their same screws up in multiple aspects of their life? There are decades of research that points our behavior is rooted from our unconscious and seemingly derived from our past (childhood experiences). 

Yet, the majority of advice ignores this aspect of emotional life. I began to take an interest in psychology when I realised I couldn’t get to bed at without stuffing a beer down my throat during my first year in University. On one hand, that experience frightened me, but on another hand, I realized I needed to research this area of life.

How do people end up in positions, that they don’t want to end up in the first place?

Think of the rebel, the school drop out, the bankrupt and the convict. They are apathetic, and indifferent to certain areas of their lives in a certain manner. I asked myself, why do some people freeze up and get stuck for years? Why do some people have to exert huge willpower in get certain areas of their life right? I self sabotaged and deleted my projects year after year. Why do you have a constant nagging and self critical voice behind my head?

Self sabotage plays out in other areas of our lives as well: dating partners that you aren’t really interested in, avoiding emotional intimacy, not showing up for University classes, not putting in the required effort in work, rebelling without any cause or objectivity, not finishing what you started and more. I was that student who who didn’t go to school, missed test after tests, didn’t purchase the required textbooks and yet constantly rates himself as someone who was ‘intelligent’.

How does Self Sabotaging Occur

Self handicapping is researched to be a cognitive strategy used to avoid effort in the hopes of keeping potential failure from hurting our self esteem. Students don’t study their tests to their best of their abilities in fear of potential failure and they won’t be ‘as smart’ as they thought they would be. 

I was like that for the past decade. I avoided tests, didn’t study for them at all, and barely made it through my first year in University. This was done with the excuse and subtle arrogance of: if I had studied, I would have done so much better”.

This plays out in our dating lives: not asking a girl out, not asking her for her number when she’s obviously giving you positive signals, not texting a girl early enough, afraid that she’s not going to reply, not dressing to the best of our abilities, not hitting the clubs when you’ve obviously spent hours and hours thinking and preparing for it, are the multitudes of manners all of us fear rejection (despite contrary evidence that she likes you) and self handicap ourselves. 

Habitual self handicappers may also constantly pass up emotionally healthy individuals to date and are always dating girls who are married or in committed relationships or have constantly glaring emotional issues to date. This can also play out in your dating life by choosing emotionally abusive, absent partners over and over again.

Some people are fortunate to be naturally charismatic from young, with women. They are called the ‘naturals’, some people like me have to learn it to a certain extent. Some people are ignored right from the start, had to learn it, got good at it, however, are still stuck emotionally when they are ignored.

This is the guy that has has multiple PhDs but still beliefs he is dumb. This is the guy with 6 pac but still beliefs he is sexually un-attractive.

  • Self esteem

One common way people self handicap is to make the task they want to achieve much harder than it is. This pans out through alcohol consumption, choosing unattainable goals, refusing to perform a technique or task or technique. This is done so that if he or she fails, they can put the blame of these self created obstacles.

Once being a competitive martial artist, I notice in the self handicappers that they’ll drinking the night before a competition. Or not putting in the required practice and drill time for the fight.

  • Self Doubt

When there’s constant self doubt, the constant tension in your head invariably leads to hesitation and procrastination. It causes you to push the brakes with one foot even as the other is pressing on the accelerator. 

There’s no overnight fix for this constant self doubt in us, just like a host of other issues. The key is almost always awareness to your critical inner voice and regularly to contest those self defeating thoughts and beliefs. 

  • Past Trauma  

There may be disparaging messages you inherit may have come from overly critical parents. This might be because they might have set unrealistic standards for us during our developmental age. They may consistently tell you that you are not good enough or incapable. 

If you weren’t positively encouraged for failing as a child, your avoidance and procrastination may be shielding you from the emotional pain you experience back then many years ago when you weren’t prepared to handle the humiliation by overly harsh parents. 

It’s researched that a wrong style of parenting can internalize negative messages in children. If you are raised to fit only a certain mould, your place is to serve the parent rather than the parent augmenting your self, that when you form a continual and nagging self doubt. You’ll invariably be fearful of giving credit for fearing of being seen as arrogant or behaving selfishly. 

The child who grows up with a secure attachment can rely on their caregivers to meet their needs. This secure attachment bond helps lay the foundation for good relationships and self image in adult life. Insecure attachment is characterized by failure to meet the needs of the child by caregivers through inconsistency or insufficiency. This type of attachment theory can lead the child to question his worthiness and may contribute to the development of a general sense of self doubt.

The Compulsion to Repeat

Why do people subject themselves to some sort of abuse, or even self abuse in the form of physical, emotional or even sexual? Why do people stay in totally abusive friendships, romantic relationships, jobs and rationalize it away?

If you take the Freudian approach, you’ll say that, that is because when they are a child, that’s a form of love they’ve been conditioned to. They can’t feel love any other way. Some people can only feel loved when they are abused, abandoned or neglected. 

How to Stop Self Sabotaging

  • Cognitive Restructuring

There’s no easy way around how to stop self sabotaging. The first is the most common manner of learning new mindsets and ways of thinking such as cognitive restructuring. Cognitive restructuring is the orientation of belief and some form of behavioural conditioning or another. You’re attempting to re-wiring your belief systems on a cognitive level.

  • Therapy

Over the years, I’ve shared my experiences in psychotherapy. However, I’m always met with skeptic looks or hiddens thoughts of: ‘I had a happy childhood. This doesn’t apply to me.’To many people, discussing the unconscious is sounds like a whole lot of crap. People that go along with this are often heard saying: “stop crying, just man the fuck up and get a long with life”.  This is especially true in an Asian, Confucianists culture, it’s difficult to have an objective view on your parents and upbringing. No one talks about it.

One of the ways to stop self sabotaging is to understand your own behaviour, process the trauma and get help from a clinical psychologist. The research backs this up as well, with patients being more successful if they took a long term approach to it. The majority of my friends I recommended never started, or drop off after once or twice. They then go back repeating similar behaviours, hence a compulsion to repeat. You’re covering the leaking wound with a bandage after bandage, never healing the wound it self. 

People who have not made effort to understand their unconscious motivation from their past behaviour will be deemed to repeat it. 

Closing Thoughts 

One’s behaviour is the root of many of your decisions, success or failures. It determines if you finally dumping that crappy ex boyfriend of yours, to start attending University lectures or to start a business. The ‘why’ you do something and why you don’t is rooted in your behaviour. You either take it seriously, and understand it, or not.

Secondly, our beliefs and emotions are researched to largely biased and unreliable. What you believe and feel true at any given moment, may be totally wrong. Only when we step outside ourselves, beyond the padded walls of our minds, that you can gain a wider perspective of the issues at hand. This is hard to do.

Something I learned from therapy, is that numbness, denial, apathy, anger, hurt and sadness are often sandwiched in-between each other. The way to heal and grow is to see it for what it is, and not to deny, avoid or idealize it. Getting in touch and processing the hurt, anger and sadness is a painful process. This requires introspection, therapy and confronting self esteem issues rather than will powering through it. However, it’s definitely worth it in the long run.


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About the Author

Marcus Neo is an entrepreneur and coach. Enjoys writing about dating, relationship, business, and psychology. Introvert yet extrovert. Likes martial arts and music, but never got around to the latter.

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