Self-sabotage is wanting something, but then unconsciously putting obstacles in our way that prevent ourselves from achieving it. Sounds irrational, but it's more common than you think. These behavioural responses, in the form of sabotaging obstacles, make us our own worst enemies and feed negative mindsets but why do we do it?
1. Negative core belief
All too often, with the women I see in the clinic, it's down to a negative core belief. My clients often feel like they are not good enough and low self-esteem drives them into creating rules for living their life, like believing they don't deserve happiness or success. They sabotage the thing they really want by all sorts of behaviours including the classic behavioural avoidance. One client deliberately avoided applying for the dream course she wanted to do at University because she didn't believe she was good enough to pass her A' Levels and get the grades she needed. So she avoided doing anything and didn't apply for anything. She passed her A' Levels with flying colours, but missed out on the course she wanted to do because she'd not applied for it. All this did was validate her core belief.
Or take the client who felt so worthless and unloveable that she had a fear of abandonment in her relationship. Her biggest fear was that eventually, her partner would leave her for another woman, and if it did happen, it would be proof of her worthlessness. Her fear of abandonment turned her into an extremely jealous, paranoid, manipulative and controlling partner. She was behaving in a way that would ultimately destroy her relationship but she felt compelled to behave in his way and was at a loss of how to stop self-sabotaging.
2. Failure becomes familiar
Low self-esteem and negative self-belief over time results in failure becoming familiar. We can be so used to things not working out for us that we start to put obstacles in our way in a whole host of situations, by behaving in some way that either worsens or destroys something promising. Take one of my clients who is desperately lonely and unhappy. She has been actively dating but had some bad experiences. She is now convinced she is going to be on her own for the rest of her life - lonely and unhappy. Dating for her now induces full blown panic attacks. Her response is to now avoid dating, despite being ready for a relationship. She is self sabotaging her own happiness and feeding the negative mindset that will ultimately keep her feeling alone and unhappy.
How do we overcome it?
1. Recognise self-sabotaging behaviours
The first step is to recognise that the self-sabotaging behaviours stem from negative automatic thoughts (unconscious thoughts). These thoughts produce feelings and emotions, which then produce behavioural and physical responses.
2. Understanding where the negative core belief has come from and destroying it.
The next step is to understand and own your story. Typically, the women who come to see me in the bringing sparkle back clinic, come, because of difficulties or struggles they are experiencing in their lives, and there is always a story behind it. More often than not, a trauma they have experienced early on in their life. The impact of our childhood events can show up in our present lives in many different ways. They affect how we make relationships and how we feel about ourselves - our worthiness, how loveable we are and our sense of belonging, which can all lead to self-sabotaging behaviours.
That trauma can be a death, divorce, abuse, abandonment, neglect, bullying, tragedy and a whole host of other reasons. In the immediate aftermath of these traumas, children experience emotions and behavioural responses, but they struggle to make sense of what happened.
Adults of course face the same challenge, but children do it with an added handicap. They literally don’t have the fully functional, rational brain we have as an adult. The coping skills of children are limited and their view of the world is understandably self-centered, so they internalise these traumas. They make unconscious decisions about how to prevent this emotional pain from happening again and create stories. By creating some narrative from the event and attaching some meaning to why it happened, albeit a self-critical meaning, it enables the child to move forward.
These stories take hold and gain momentum and strength the more they are validated. The problem is, they don't work as well in the adult world. These belief systems aren't fact. They are only opinions we have created, therefore, through the therapy process they can be undermined and destroyed.
3. Rewriting your story and establishing a more positive/balanced self-belief.
This is the transformational bit. Letting go of the past, rewriting the future and with it, a more positive and balanced belief system.
"I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become" Carl Jung.
Catherine Asta Labbett is the founder and owner of Yorkshire based 'Bringing Sparkle Back' Psychotherapy, Relationship and Life Coaching for women who want to sparkle again.