Self-sabotage is any action that gets in the way of our valued intention. It can be procrastination, avoidance, self-medication, lacking the effort required to fully excel. Many of the behaviours can be small and subtle. Not making effort in an otherwise healthy relationship, putting off the return to exercise, or making unhealthy food choices. These simple things can build up to a cycle of self-sabotage and leave us feeling stuck and largely unsatisfied with life.

So why do we do it? What makes us do things that we know are not in our best interests?

1. Fear of failure. This is associated with the belief that failure says something about your worth as a person. It requires a change in your relationship with yourself and failure.

2. Fear of success. If you dare to dream big for yourself and consider for a moment that it could become reality, the shame gremlin steps in with, “who do you think you are?” The idea of everyone in your life seeing you get too big for your boots and rejecting you is overwhelming, so you pull back.

3. Feeling undeserving. A deep rooted sense of inadequacy or worthlessness can often lead to feelings that you are undeserving of success or happiness. In some people, a sense of inadequacy can promote a strong sense of drive in the early stages of a goal or career. However, when that success starts to materialise and you experience an increase in status and power, then the self-sabotage begins.

The reason for this is cognitive dissonance. Our actions tend to be in line with our core beliefs. When they are different, it shakes how we view ourselves and the world. This is psychologically threatening. So, if we start to feel an increase in status, but hold the deep rooted belief that we are worthless, flawed or deficient, then we start to engage in behaviours that are more in line with those beliefs. Failing is hard but success can be unbearable.

4. Feelings of guilt or shame for obtaining something good. Linked to imposter syndrome, is the discomfort that comes with any achievement and striving. The higher you get, the further you will fall when you inevitably come crashing down. You fear being called out as a fake because you believe that you are fake. Believing that way causes stress, so a nice dose of procrastination pushes that away nicely.

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