What Causes Self-Sabotaging Behavior?

Our relationship with success and failure can be pretty complicated. There’s a subconscious struggle of which you may not be aware. A tug-a-war between intention and commitment. The subconscious way we deal with this is often what causes self-sabotaging behavior. Self-sabotaging behavior holds you back in life and can even set you further behind from where you started. This repetitive cycle can also leave you ultimately discouraged, until now.

There have been many times in my life where I started a project only to eventually give up before seeing it through. I didn’t succeed, but hey, didn’t fail either. Usually I would eventually come to the conclusion that I was in over my head. I just knew I would be better off cutting my losses and moving on. Looking back, this was the detrimental behavior of self-sabotage, clear as day. However I didn’t have the self-awareness to recognize what was happening.

The sabotaging mindset and behavior that, believe it or not, you are unaware of will always cause the most damage. It will hurt you both emotionally and in living everyday life. This unawareness sabotages any chance of success and sets limitations on yourself that you are not even conscious about. It nourishes negativity but it’s disguised as self-criticism, exhaustion, frustration and stress.

For me, when a goal would get too challenging, I would come up with the excuse that whatever I was reaching for was either no longer important or that something was simply unattainable. I would consume myself with negative thinking such as who am I to set this high of a goal, just behave in your status quo life, be thankful what what you have.

No matter how many situations, quotes or examples of self-sabotaging behavior we talk about, know there’s definitely a solution to this problem. Like any bumpy, windy road or discouraging challenge we face, the important strategy in overcoming it is navigation.

So first it’s really important to understand the deep root causes of self-sabotage. There are several catalysts to understand and I promise, with this knowledge comes all the empowerment you need to overcome self-sabotaging behavior. Once you do, you will have the motivation and confidence you need to get down to what’s important. After all, living your best life with the most effective strategies and tools in your toolbox is what Own Your Best is all about. 

First thing’s first. Let’s address What is Self-Sabotaging Behavior, and if it’s so bad for us then Why (the hell) do we do it?

Self-Sabotaging Quotes
Scroll to the end of this article for a list of inspiring quotes about Self-Sabotaging Behavior.

What is Self-Sabotaging Behavior

An article in Psychology Today describes that self-sabotaging behavior is “when it [Self-Sabotaging Behavior] creates problems in our life and interferes with long-standing goals. Among the most common selfsabotaging behaviors are procrastination, self-medication with drugs or alcohol, comfort eating, and forms of self-injury such as cutting.

People are not usually aware that their behavior is self-sabotaging. We don’t necessarily recognize nor acknowledge that the negative self-talk, aka lies, that stream along in our heads for what it is. In which case, we are not taking responsibility for when things don’t turn out the way we want.

Most of this is because of a lack of self-awareness and low self-esteem. Negative inner dialogue can behave like a schoolyard bully, paralyzing you from making a positive change. So in the end, usually it’s just easier to give up or blame outside influences like other people, money, society, lack of luck, etc. anyway.

While the subconscious is powerful, it’s only as powerful as we enable it to be. Like a severe hurricane, the longer it brews the more power it can build. Over the years perhaps yours have built it’s strength too. So you need to invest some time and commitment to take back control of your own mindset. This is where your call to action comes in.

If you do your best to become more aware of your own mindset and thought processes, along with your actual behaviors, you will come to realize your own role in the whatever outcomes you face.

What Causes Self-Sabotaging Behavior to Happen Subconsciously

Why do we self-sabotage? The first inkling may be to wonder if people who systematically self-sabotage have undesirable circumstances to begin with. Well that’s pretty far from the truth. Ironically, even when life is good, it’s very common to behave in a self-sabotaging way. Look at Hollywood celebrities and the over privileged. How often do we see them self-destruct what may seem like before our eyes on the news. Self-sabotaging behavior has many complicated causes and they’re only as limited as the human psyche. So like I said, there are many causes.

Julia Kristina Counseling explains the causes of self-sabotaging real thoroughly in her video below. She says making excuses, fear and living incongruent to the outside world from what’s inside is what makes self-sabotage happen.

Examples and Signs You Have Self-Sabotaging Behavior

Say you have people in your life that are really important to you yet your relationships are rocky. How do you stand in your own way from maintaining a healthy relationship? How about setting and achieving your goals? Do you get really close before you give yourself no choice but to bail out? The behaviors and negative thinking that carry you to these points are relatively subconscious. So don’t be too hard on yourself. It often comes down to a fundamental belief system that is telling you that you are not worthy.

Perhaps you realize you’re not worthy of a particular end result, such as achieving an accolade that you believe others deserve more. Or staying in a healthy, happy relationship because you are not good enough for your partner. They will break up with you sometime soon anyway.

So let’s break it down in to sections and go over the most common and overarching reasons for self-sabotage. Below are 5 tell-tale signs you might be behaving in a self-sabotaging way. I’ve included a link in each section that will help you address that issue.

  • Negative Mindset – If you are accustomed to thinking the worst, living in the past or worried about the future, then chances are things will not turn out in a positive way. When you only see what can go wrong, then you will only be going through the motions. This will not truly set yourself up for success nor happiness. Practice living in the present.
  • Need for Validation – If you are continually seeking the approval of others, then it’s relatively certain that you need to work on your low self-esteem. When you’re chasing a goal for the wrong reasons, you lose the true meaning of success. You wind up living with unattained dreams and disappointment. Start to believe and accept that you are good enough and worthy of happiness.
  • Self Preservation – If you don’t practice failure, you won’t take risks – plain and simple. Protection from failure, embarrassment or disappointment is a huge reason we abstain from following through. We don’t pursue what we truly want in life. Whether it’s in relationships or professionally, sometimes inaction, complacency or withdrawal from a promising endeavor are really signs of self-preservation.
  • Fear | Avoidance – No one enjoys uncomfortable or challenging situations, so it’s tempting to steer clear at all costs. Becoming complacent or procrastinating seems harmless but it’s the very behavior that sabotages progress. Usually this stems from fear of failure, so we protect our egos by not giving fully of ourselves.
  • Imposter Phenomenon – As Julia mentions in the video, as we begin to rise up in our own personal success, we confront ourselves. This is where we begin feel insecure and a sense of unworthiness. Negative thoughts intrude: It’s only a matter of time that people realize who I really am. This because you actually believe you don’t deserve success. Imposter Phenomenon will stop you in your tracks preventing you from ever being the best version of yourself.

How to Stop Self-Sabotaging Behavior and Get Out of Your Own Way

Knowing what self-sabotaging behavior is is only half of the battle. We all understand the concept of cause and effect yet still manage to fall in to the trap of behavior that is not in our best interests. How often do you buy something that’s too expensive? Or do you stay in a relationship that is not healthy, or leave on that is? Do you tell yourself you will fail without even attempting to achieve a goal? You can repeat and post all of the best self-sabotaging quotes ad nauseam, but that will not move you forward in a positive and productive direction. So yes, you know intellectually that there is a misalignment in your life. But the key is to commit to practicing mindfulness to where you recognize your self-sabotaging mindset and behavior in progress. So if self-deception such as negative self-talk, insecurity, complacency and low self-esteem are what lead to an empower-sucking mindset and attitude, what’s the solution to overcome them?

Essentially this is what you will do. You will turn the tables on this inner power struggle with the tools you now have to make a positive, meaningful change.

Overcoming Self-Sabotage

It’s time to close the gap between what you want and what you MUST do to get there … using conscious action. Now here are some of the best ways to overcome self-sabotaging behavior … and you must start now.

Sleep – The first question you should ask yourself is if you’re getting enough rest. Sleep is one of the most undervalued commodities to a productive quality of life, good mental health and overall well-being. When we are sleep deprived, we are both physically and mentally disadvantaged. We lose the ability to cope and be self-aware, as well as the energy to pursue goals both in a physical and intellectual sense. In order to perform at your best, make rest a priority.
Balanced Diet – This seems obvious, but it’s always the first thing we abuse, sacrifice for the sake of time, or take for granted. Malnourishment is a huge cause of depleted emotional well-being. When your mind and body are not in sync, both will suffer – and it’s really hard to recover quickly from the damage you do. Use a healthy diet to promote the energy and adrenaline needed to feel motivated and be physically capable to live your best life.
Self-Esteem | Confidence – Low self-esteem and insecurity are among the greatest obstacles to not only success but overall happiness, fulfillment and emotional well-being. There are many resources, books, podcasts etc. you can tap in to to work on your confidence and overcome fear of failure or the belief that you don’t deserve success.
Stop Playing it Safe – Fear of failure or feeling unworthy of happiness and success are just excuses not to take a risk or follow through on a goal. And doing something half-assed in order to say, hey I tried, is not trying at all. Once you can accept that success is not about the outcome but the integrity of your journey, you will achieve something even greater. The knowledge that you are worthy of a full abundant life and that the potential for success does not have an expiration date. that.
Practice Self-Awareness – When you know yourself well enough to acknowledge both your strengths and faults, you become empowered with self-awareness. This means you take responsibility for every decision, every action and yes, every inaction. When you hold yourself accountable in the management your life, manage your life successfully is what you will do.

Stop Self-Sabotaging Behavior and Begin Living Your Life

Overcoming self-sabotaging behavior comes down to changing your relationship with both success and failure. It’s about overcoming behavior patterns due to a negative mindset and self deception. Please take a look at my articles on rising above low self-esteem and low self-worth and changing your mindset and attitude to continue building upon the tools that you’ve learned here. Empower yourself with making your success and emotional well-being your priority.

In the meantime, here are some meaningful quotes about self-sabotaging behavior that I love. I hope you find these quotes inspiring and motivating. Please come back for some self sabotaging memes that I am currently working on!

Self Sabotaging Quotes

<strong>Self Sabotaging Behavior Quotes</strong>
The ego mind both professes its desire for love and does everything possible to repel it, or if it gets here anyway, to sabotage it. That is why dealing with issues like control, anger, and neediness is the most important work in preparing ourselves for love.” – Marianne Williamson

Stop standing in your own way. Stop making excuses. Stop talking about why you can’t. Stop sabotaging yourself. Decide which direction you are going in and take action. One decision at a time, one moment at a time.” – Akiroq Brost

If you don’t believe in yourself, somewhere or another, you sabotage yourself.” – Jason Day

We all have vulnerabilities that can sidetrack us from reaching our goals. Recognize the times when you’re most likely to give into temptation, and make it harder for a single moment of weakness to sabotage your best efforts.” – Amy Morin

I’m big on setting goals, but I also think that if you have too many lofty ambitions and set goals for everything, you can sabotage your efforts by overextending your brain.” – Jean Chatzky

For me personally it is because I get an awful amount of success and I don’t think I deserve it and then I want to sabotage it.” – Michael Parkinson

Our inner beliefs trigger failure before it happens. They sabotage lasting change by canceling its possibility. We employ these beliefs as articles of faith to justify our inaction and then wish away the result. I call them belief triggers.” – Marshall Goldsmith

This is how women self-sabotage and self-destruct. Unless we have constant witnesses to our hard work, we are convinced we pull off every day of our lives through smoke and mirrors.” – Sarah Breathnach

Sometimes we self-sabotage just when things seem to be going smoothly. Perhaps this is a way to express our fear about whether it is okay for us to have a better life. We are bound to feel anxious as we leave behind old notions of our unworthiness. The challenge is not to be fearless, but to develop strategies of acknowledging our fears and finding out how we can allay them.” – Maureen Brady

“What is required for many of us, paradoxical though it may sound, is the courage to tolerate happiness without self-sabotage.” – Nathaniel Branden

There is stability in self-destruction, in prolonging sadness as a means of escaping abstractions like happiness. Rock bottom is a surprisingly comfortable place to lay your head. Looking up from the depths of another low often seems a lot safer than wondering when you’ll fall again.” – Kris Kidd

The only reason I can’t jump in and engage life is that I’ve told myself I can’t. Yet I can’t helping wondering would happen if I told myself I could?” – Craig D. Lounsbrough

Do you have some great self-sabotaging quotes you would like me to add to the list above? Please leave a comment below with your self-sabotaging quote or of course any other comments you would like to add about this important topic!


  1. Great read. Thanks for sharing – self-sabotaging ways of thinking and things we do are most often done without even realizing it.

  2. Really appreciate your blog on self-sabotaging behavior. This is completely me but I’ve never called myself out on all of the negative self-talk I do to myself. Keep writing and thanks so much for the uplifting info.

  3. Wonderful blog! I found it while browsing on Yahoo News. Great info.

  4. I really like reading an article that can make people think – thanks for the self-exploration and awareness tips. Going to wok on not being my own worst enemy…

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