From the workplace to your relationships, how to spot even the most subtle signs of self-sabotage

From the workplace to your relationships, how to spot even the most subtle signs of self-sabotage

Are you guilty of getting in the way of your own success? You could be self-sabotaging without even realising it.

When so much is happening around us on a global scale, our emotions and everyday decisions seem insignificant in comparison. The thought of taking stock of what’s happening to us internally can seem overwhelming, and we begin to slide towards destructive behaviours without even realising it.

Self-sabotage, as it’s often termed, isn’t always obvious. It manifests in covert and unconscious ways that deliberately hinder our own success and wellbeing by undermining our personal goals and values.

It’s the idea that we say yes even when we want to say no and feel the need to agree with others even when we don’t. It can also look like following the crowd, not praising yourself for your achievements or overindulging in things you know aren’t good for you.

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Why do we self-sabotage?

According to Rochelle Knowles, founder of Mindful Eyes coaching, it all boils down to fear.

“There is a part of our brain, the ‘critter brain’, also known as the brain stem, which doesn’t like change, which prompts our compulsion to slip into destructive patterns and essentially self-sabotage,” she tells Stylist.

“When it senses change, the critter brain has the limbic system load up feelings of fear and worry, so the cortex (or ‘human brain’) has to come up with a logical reason to justify those emotions.”

In many instances, we self-sabotage because we desire acceptance. We don’t actually want to go out, but we do because our friend needs a wing-woman and she doesn’t want to go alone. We put ourselves forward for extra responsibilities at work because we know that our boss wants us to.

“Our critter brain just wants to keep us safe,” Knowles continues, “so if we’re socially anxious, we’re likely to do something that makes us feel accepted again. ”

So what can these behaviours look like?

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Whether it’s constantly staying late to please your manager or always letting yourself be trauma-dumped on, these may seem like positive actions that prove your value as a colleague or friend but people-pleasing behaviour can actually end up contributing to self-sabotage.

“As humans, we want to be accepted and be part of the pack,” Knowles explains. “If you want a job promotion that your friend also wants, your need to be liked and accepted may sabotage you so that you don’t go for it and push her forward for it instead.”

In this instance, by prioritising being a ‘good’ friend, you’ve unintentionally pushed yourself further away from what you truly want. 

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When we're overwhelmed or feel under threat, it can lead to self-sabotage
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You regularly experience imposter syndrome

When an individual is self-sabotaging, their internal narrative is overwhelmingly one of “I can’t do this,” or “I don’t deserve that.” Believing you’re not good enough – for your partner, in your job or any other realm of your life – reinforces the feelings of worthlessness or incompetence that can, if left unchecked, lead towards a sense of self-hatred.

You’re always expecting the worst

There’s a big difference between being realistic about your chances of something happening and constantly catastrophising that nothing is going to go your way.

Not only does it reinforce negative behaviours that eat away at your potential for success, feeling like a “failure” or “disappointment” allows guilt and frustration to spiral.

Those who self-sabotage are likely to use things like “I’ll probably fail anyway” as an excuse not to try and therefore avoid any potential rejection or embarrassment. 

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Those who are in the throes of self-sabotage are often actively looking for and picking out not just their own faults, but the faults of others.

Whether it’s gnawing self-doubt or a praise complex linked to your childhood conditioning, the idea of putting yourself down before someone else is able to is both a protective instinct and a survival reflex.

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How to overcome self-sabotage

Knowles believes that every self-sabotaging behaviour has a positive intention. “But it’s about taking a moment to think: ‘Is this the right action for me?’ ‘Is what I’m doing self-supporting?’” she explains.

She suggests using prompts such as “What do I really want for myself?” and “What did I do that I didn’t actually want to do?” to help begin to unpick the coping mechanisms we’ve learned but are perhaps no longer serving us.

Once you have a better understanding of what patterns of thinking cause those emotions, you can begin to challenge them with positive self-talk, affirmations and self-supporting behaviours.

“Remember that you’re the one in control, and you’re the one that’s got to be ultimately accountable,” Knowles reminds us.

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