Self-sabotage: 4 ways you might not be backing yourself and what to do about it

Self-sabotage sounds like intensely dramatic and obvious thing that we may be doing to ourselves, but we’re often surprised at how subtle it can be. It begins in the mind and then insidiously affects the rest of our lives if we let it take root, affecting relationships, our goals and our mental health among other things, before we ever trace the problem back to ourselves.

It’s important to be on the lookout for signs and signals that it may be time to check in with your mind and reassess some of your thinking and behaviour. Taking a step back now and again can help us to get out of our own way, even when we may not realise we are.

Pushing people away instead of communicating

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When you have a problem, whether it’s personal, professional, physical or mental – do you notice that you tend to hide it from the people around you?

If so, it could be a major sign of self sabotage. Not asking for help or trying to control the problem by keeping it secret helps no one and simply isolates you further from a solution. Instead of reaching out, you may internalise the problem until it becomes much bigger, either in reality or in your head, and by the time it comes out, you’ve catastrophised so much, you either can’t handle it any more or it’s gotten out of your control.

If this sounds familiar, you may want to interrogate that impulse to hide or control the problem further. Do you have people around you that you can trust with these problems and emotions? Do you trust them to help you and share the burden? The saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is a cliché for a reason. Unloading the issue onto someone else allows them to share a fresh perspective or even bring a little balance to your fear of the problem. Not reaching out does more harm to you than good when there’s people around who you can trust.

Downplaying achievements

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If someone compliments you, is your knee-jerk reaction to say ‘Oh, no it’s not’, or to turn the conversation around quickly to someone or something else?

By not taking on board the compliment, or worse, by rejecting it, your internalising the idea that you don’t deserve that compliment. Thinking someone is saying it ‘just to be nice’ or not believing the compliment is actually affecting the way that you see yourself and your achievements. It is the kind of reaction that will steadily bleed into the rest of your life – it may start with someone complimenting your new haircut and slowly morph into not believing you deserve promotions at work or to be treated respectfully be others.

How you talk to yourself affects your world view and your sense of place in it. If you feel you don’t deserve these compliments for your achievements and hard work or just for being you, where does that negativity end?

Putting off big tasks until you can do it perfectly

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We’ve all procrastinated before, and it can happen to the best of us – but it’s important to look at why you’re procrastinating, especially if it’s something that’s happening regularly or compromising your performance on certain projects and tasks.

What is the impulse behind the procrastination? Is there a deeper meaning than just lacking motivation? If you find you’re often at a loss of where to start or worrying about putting pen to paper because that first sentence/paragraph/draft needs to be perfect, you could be cutting yourself off from success before you ever even start the project.

Holding off because you want the perfect first sentence means you have less time to ‘perfect’ the project as you go on. Trusting in your ability to turn a first draft into a polished project is trusting in your own skills. If you seek perfection to the extent that you can’t bear to start until it’s too late to try anything else, you’re actually stopping yourself from producing your best possible work by not giving yourself enough time or trusting yourself enough to create a considered and re-drafted piece.

Not setting boundaries

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Do you often find yourself bending over backwards for others at the expense of your own needs? Do your goals and needs find themselves unmet because of the many professional, social and relationship obligations you feel you have to meet?

Personal boundaries are the limits we set in our relationships. They are the lines we won’t let others cross, the set of personal rules that should not be broken in order to protect ourselves and our mental health. Having personal boundaries is the ability to say no to something that others may ask or want from you and will depend on what you value. If your personal time is important to you, then you set limits between your work life and home life. If your privacy is important, you may keep your personal and work life separate.

These boundaries are there to protect our mental health, not to close us off from intimacy and close relationships. It’s all about what you are comfortable with and how your values align with others. It feels awkward and uncomfortable sometimes to assert our boundaries, but long-term, it is important to be able to say ‘no’ to things that you’re not comfortable with so that you can feel you’re living a full life for you – not just tending to others and taking on mental and emotional loads.