What Causes Self-Sabotaging Behaviors and How Do You Stop? - Dr. Axe

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What Causes Self-Sabotaging Behaviors? (And How Do You Stop?)


Self-Sabotaging - Dr. Axe

Are you guilty of self-sabotaging behaviors that get in the way of accomplishing goals and reduce your self-confidence? If so, you’re not alone.

It’s a common issue that’s often done without even noticing it. Self-sabotage can be rooted in feelings of worthlessness or fear and often harm our progress, relationships and overall health.

The first step is to realize that self-sabotage is a pattern of behaviors that you engage in, often without even realizing it. Then you need to pinpoint triggers that cause self-destructive actions.

What Is Self-Sabotage?

Self-sabotage is when you engage in behaviors or thoughts that interfere with your long-standing goals and create problems in your life. These behaviors, whether purposeful or done unconsciously, prevent you from living the life you hope for and lead to feelings of insecurity, resentment and self-judgment.

Why Do People Do It?

There are many reasons why a person may engage in self-destructive behaviors. It may be difficult for you to pinpoint why exactly you struggle with self-sabotaging behaviors, but a good starting point is to examine what behaviors hinder your ability to reach life goals, whether they are dietary, fitness, relationship, professional or personal goals.


1. Fear

Fear is a major factor in self-sabotaging behaviors. You may have a fear of failing or even a fear of being successful, which may seem unusual but happens when the path to success is stressful.

It’s not uncommon for people to fear what will happen when they finally achieve a goal, so they will engage in behaviors that make the achievement more difficult or unlikely.

2. Insecurities

Self-sabotaging may occur when a person doesn’t feel confident or worthy enough to find happiness or achieve a goal. Insecurities keep people from pushing forward and reduce motivation.

3. Need for Control

The uncertainty of new, perhaps positive outcomes can make people uncomfortable, leading to self-sabotaging behaviors that bring them back to more “comfortable” situations. In this case, comfort is simply a place or emotion they’ve experienced before, even if it’s negative.

4. Placing Blame

If you are quick to point fingers every time something goes wrong, then you may be self-sabotaging by placing blame instead of taking responsibility or realizing that sometimes things just don’t go as planned.

Plus, placing blame on others doesn’t allow you to learn and grow from challenging situations. It’s easy enough to blame others in the face of adversity, but how is that contributing to your relationships and personal growth?

5. Procrastination

It’s not uncommon to stall or hesitate before beginning an important task. This can be a reaction to fear or lack of motivation, but procrastinating is a type of self-sabotage.

Related: What Is an Internal Monologue? (And Does Everyone Have One?)


Wondering if you’ve been practicing self-destructive behaviors in your own life? Here are some common signs:

  • chronic procrastination
  • persistent self-defeating thoughts
  • thinking that you’re never good enough
  • putting yourself down
  • emotional eating
  • avoiding tasks that need to be completed
  • blaming others when something goes wrong
  • looking for instant gratification
  • being unable to achieve even short-term goals
  • never feeling satisfied, even after achieving a goal
  • pushing away or picking fights with people who love you
  • dating people who don’t treat you well


What causes self-defeating behavior? There are several reasons why a person may form self-sabotaging habits or hinder his or her own ability to find success.

  • Anxiety and stress: If a situation provokes feelings of stress or anxiety, it’s common to push it away to prevent negative emotions. This can be anxiety about a new job or relationships or even anxiety about something that’s going well in your life.
  • Fear of failure: Fear can lead to negative mindset and behaviors and can push you further away from achieving your goals. It can be driven by lack of self-confidence or past situations that didn’t go as planned.
  • Childhood trauma or unhealthy patterns: People who were put down as children or experienced childhood trauma may engage in self-sabotaging behaviors. This is a way of repeating the “comfortable” pattern. Over time, these actions feel normal, and anything outside of them triggers fear or discomfort.
  • Negative relationships: Past unhealthy relationships may cause you to have issues with trust and contribute to your sense of self-worth.
  • Boredom: It’s true that boredom may lead to self-sabotage, as you lose the desire to focus on something, like a relationship, job or task.
  • Addiction: Addiction to food, alcohol, drugs, gambling and other temptations can certainly cause dysfunctional behaviors and beliefs.

How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Yourself

1. Create a Vision Board

A vision board is a form of visualization that helps promote goal setting and makes it easier to prioritize your values. It highlights what you want from your life and how you plan to get there.

Creating a vision board and keeping it in a highly visible place in your home, like your bedroom, helps you stop self-sabotaging and keeps your short- and long-terms goals in mind.

Research indicates that goal setting has a positive effect on mental health, and it can have a positive effect on personal recovery, so it can certainly be a useful tool for people who are stuck in a cycle of self-sabotage.

2. Pinpoint Stressors

To stop self-sabotaging behaviors, you need to identify what triggers your actions. When you’re feeling stressed or engaging in self-defeating behaviors, write down the situation, how you’re feeling and how you handled the situation in a journal.

Over time, you’ll notice patterns and will be able to pinpoint what events trigger your stress and how you can react to them in a healthier way.


3. Communicate with Loved Ones

You may be pushing loved ones away because of relationship patterns you experienced as a child or in the past. To explore why you’re sabotaging important relationships, journaling can help you understand common patterns or habits.

Be sure to communicate with loved ones about your findings, and work on responding positively during conversations in order to build healthier relationships.

4. Practice Positive Self-Talk

Positive self-talk is when your internal narrative or inner voice is uplifting and fueled with understanding thoughts. Unlike negative self-talk, which can lead to low self-esteem and lack of self-worth, positive self-talk helps reduce stress, ease anxiety and encourage healthy habits.

Work on changing your self-talk by practicing, perhaps using positive phrases or mantras, and focusing on your own personal self-care throughout the day.

5. Get Professional Support

If you aren’t able to control your self-sabotaging behaviors on your own, it may be time to seek professional support. Therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy, has proven to be an excellent option for people who engage in self-destructive actions.

It helps bring the causes of self-sabotaging to the surface so you can face them and formulate a plan to better respond to your triggers or stressors.


  • Self-sabotaging occurs when a person engages in behaviors that reduce his or her ability to achieve goals.
  • There are several reasons why someone may be stuck in a cycle of self-sabotage, including lack of confidence, fear, procrastination and a tendency to place blame on others when something goes wrong.
  • There are ways to stop self-sabotaging, including pinpointing triggers of stress and negativity, making a plan of goals with a vision board, practicing positive self-talk, communicating with loved ones, and seeking help from professionals when you aren’t able to change your behaviors on your own.

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