Why do we sabotage ourselves even when we know it is not good for us?

Jason Brien.

Self-sabotaging is the act of performing behaviours which are not in our best interests. When we self-sabotage, we disrupt our ability to achieve our long-term goals, dreams and desires. Why is this though? Why do we have a tendency to ruin all that we desire by doing something stupid and reckless? Like going on an all-night drinking binge, spending all of our money and having a severe hangover all before we are meant to attend an important job interview which is the best opportunity ever presented to us. There are many factors which underlie self-sabotaging. 

Poor risk assessment; 

Let’s use the binge drinking episode before an important job interview as an example. When people have poor risk assessment skills/abilities, they have a tendency to either underestimate or overestimate their ability to perform under certain conditions or to make decisions/goals which are in alignment with reality. I am sure before the binge drinking night began, the goal was to have one or two drinks and then have an early night. If you have a history of binge drinking though, and you were confident you could stop at one or two drinks, you have made a poor risk assessment. You have not calculated the odds correctly that you would be in a proper state of mind and health (sober) to attend the job interview the following day.

Always blaming others; 

When things don’t go our way, and we don’t acknowledge the role that we played in events and outcomes, we can take the easy route and simply blame others for our misfortunes. Or we can blame poor outcomes on bad luck. Or we can blame our best friend for continually buying us shots of alcohol when they knew that we had an important job interview the following day. Or we can blame our parents for not teaching us the right values, morals and priorities in life. Or we can blame the old man down the road 20 years ago who gave us our first beer. The point is, the more you seek to blame others, the less you hold yourself accountable. This brings us to the next point. 

Not taking accountability/responsibility for our choices and outcomes; 

If you missed your big job interview because you CHOSE to go out drinking the night before and you CHOSE to have more than one or two drinks, and you CHOSE to gamble all your money away and you CHOSE to come home at 6am when your interview was at 8am, that’s all on your shoulders. Sorry but that’s the way it is. Nobody is to blame but you. Nobody kidnapped you. Nobody forced the alcoholic drinks down your mouth. Nobody but yourself prevented you from going home early and having a good night’s rest. As harsh as this sounds, its reality. Fair enough there may be mitigating circumstances (trauma, introjects, poor self-control, etc) but at the end of the day, you are responsible for your actions as an adult. 

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results; 

If you have a history of dating the type of people who are abusive, dishonest, manipulative, etc, and you don’t change your dating preference despite however many times you have been hurt in the past, you are sabotaging yourself. Maybe not consciously but you are certainly not doing your present self and your future self any favours. The same goes for picking friends, workplace relationships, etc. If something doesn’t work, or if something is not working, you need to know when to pull the plug. You need to know when to call it quits and you need to know how to modify your preferences (learn) so that the same doesn’t continue to happen. 


The only cure for inaction is action. That’s the simple truth. If you are constantly putting tasks, activities, goals, etc into the ‘tomorrow basket’, and then when tomorrow comes you put them in the ‘following day basket’ and so on and so on, then you are procrastinating and you are sabotaging yourself. How can you achieve your goals, dreams, desires, etc if you don’t actively and proactively work on accomplishing them? No magic fairy is going to come along, wave their wand and ‘poof’ your goals, activities, etc have been magically achieved for you. That’s fantasy land and you don’t live in fantasy land. If something is difficult, break the task down into simpler components. Ask for help. Search on Google. Anything is better than nothing. 

Striving to only ever be a big fish in a small pond; 

Being a big fish in a small pond is great until you begin to stagnate. We will always learn and grown exponentially faster if we extend ourselves beyond our comfort zones. The unknown, as scary as it may seem, has the potential to helps us to reach our full potential – to self-actualise. This doesn’t mean that you jump from a small pond straight into the ocean, you work your way up to bigger waters. People who self-sabotage are often afraid to leave their comfort zones so that they never have to make the gradual transition to deeper waters. This is not always conscious but if you have been raised in chaos, and chaos is all that you know, then peace by comparison is unfamiliar and scary. 

To gain pity and sympathy; 

Sometimes people, again either consciously or unconsciously, sabotage themselves and their futures so as to remain in a ‘victim’ or ‘poor me’ state and why not? It is much easier to engender empathy and sympathy from others when you are down on your luck compared to if you are successful and competent. Some people like this form of validation. It makes them feel noticed and, in a way, it keeps people close to them. Victimhood can ease abandonment anxiety. There is always the belief that no matter how bad one’s life is, there will always be someone there to offer a hand to help. This mentality is ok, but it can be better used as a motivating factor to achieve all that one desires whilst knowing that there will always be a safety net of sorts if they should fall. 

If you are aware that you have a tendency to self-sabotage, it would be a good idea for you to develop a self-sabotage plan. This is essentially a plan of how to predict, manage and cope self-sabotaging behaviours. For me personally, I used to write down all my potentially self-sabotage triggers (anniversaries, if someone invalidated me) and I would then write down not just what I could expect to feel and experience (powerless, helpless, angry, sad, etc) but what I would do to prevent myself from sabotaging. 

I used to have a list of people to call (friends and 24-hour help support lines). I would stipulate, “if you develop the desire to go drinking and gambling, immediately cut up your bank cards”. I saw the hassle of getting new bank cards preferable to spending all my money. These are just examples but you can shape your self-sabotaging prevention plan to suit yourself and your needs.