Why We Self-Sabotage (& How You Can Stop for Good)

how to stop self-sabotage

When we decide to pursue recovery, we learn a lot about ourselves. Throughout the process of individual therapy sessions, group meetings, and 12-Step programming, many of us realize a critical fact. We have been standing in our own way for a long time… perhaps for our entire lives. This is referred to as self-sabotage.

Self-Sabotage Explained

Self-sabotage is any action that gets in the way of what you’re really trying to do. Procrastination is a great example of this behavior. While our goal may be to complete a major assignment, what we do instead is put off that activity, jeopardizing our grades and overall success. This habit can take countless forms; think about stress eating, showing up late, and struggling with commitment issues.

Here are a few sneakier ways that self-sabotage may have manifested in your recovery.

  • You expect major life changes to occur without putting in the work.
  • You’re a perfectionist, so you put off making little changes. You want to wait until it’s “perfect.”
  • You don’t prepare for the week; for example, you have to go to the store every other day because you didn’t prepare or get enough food the last time.
  • You’ve made yourself too busy to address your problems.
  • You ignore warning signs that you are struggling.
  • You engage in negative self-talk.
  • You overcomplicate solutions to your problems.
  • Your work/life balance lacks consistency. You deny yourself pleasurable activities and then binge on them once you’ve “earned” a break.
  • You complain about others’ behavior without analyzing your own.
  •  You waste a lot of time on little tasks instead of following an established routine.
  • In situations where you can choose whether to be happy or sad, you seem to choose misery every time.

If any of these items resonate, it’s important to give yourself a bit of grace. The reasons behind self-sabotage are varied, and we often don’t even know that we’re doing it.

Why Are We Like This?

What drives us to create our own problems in this way? If we want to stay sober, find emotional balance and strengthen our relationships, why do we seem to get in our own way? The answer is complex and varies from person to person. Generally, self-sabotaging behaviors can be attributed to…

A Need for Control

It’s much less scary to cause your own failure than to be blindsided by it.

Imposter Syndrome

If you feel like a fraud in your office, school, or family, you could be dealing with imposter syndrome. This is a natural recipe for self-sabotage.

Shifting Blame

It’s easier to blame our actions instead of ourselves. Failing a test because you didn’t study prevents you from worrying about your own intelligence or aptitude.


If we grew up in turbulent environments, we may seek chaos in adulthood. Similarly, those who were mistreated or exploited early in life may find it oddly comforting to put themselves in the same position again.

Low Self-Esteem

If we don’t think well of ourselves, it’s easy to create a life that is lackluster and often disappointing. Those who feel inadequate may trap themselves in a cycle where they are “not enough.”

Regardless of the reason behind your self-sabotage, you can address these behaviors and improve your mental health.

How to Stop Self-Sabotage

As with any cognitive or behavioral issue, we encourage you to seek professional help for this process. It is often easier to identify our blind spots when an outside party provides insight. In addition to working through your self-sabotaging tendencies in therapy, you can do some outside work to improve your outlook.

Identify Patterns

Figure out how you self-sabotage. Do you withdraw from others in romantic relationships? Do you relapse just as everything seems to be going well? Making note of these patterns can help us to increase awareness and modify our behavior in the future.

Make a Plan

Once you know what to look out for, you can begin planning for what’s to come. How will you respond the next time you feel the urge to break up with someone, drink, or pick a fight? Replace those negative instincts with positive behaviors that will further your true goals of connection and sobriety.

Progress, Not Perfection

It’s hard to change our impulses, especially hidden ones like self-sabotage. If you struggle at first, don’t lose hope! Aim to improve your habits gradually – by ten, twenty, or thirty percent – instead of expecting instant healing. With time, you’ll start seeing real results.

Recovery and Mental Health Help at Pine Grove

Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services is a treatment center located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Our clinicians are equipped to help men and women to work through the trauma and problematic behaviors that can contribute to addiction and relapse. To learn more about our individualized treatment programs, please contact our Admissions office.

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