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How Self-Sabotage Wrecks Your Goals: 10 examples and tips to stop

Self-sabotage is a phenomenon that has been seen in various domains. Self-sabotage is where an individual prevents themself from exerting efforts to accomplish their goals. This self-limiting behavior manifests itself varies from person to person and depends on the goal’s nature.


What is Self-Sabotage

It most commonly manifests as giving up too soon or putting forth just enough effort to ensure that one does not achieve their goal. The force behind this is believed to be due to fear of success or the expectation of failure, which increases with time.

This often also leads individuals who suffer from self-sabotage to become more and more isolated. Their self-sabotage becomes a habit they can not break or control, creating a vicious cycle of low expectations and failure to succeed. It is also important to note that individuals who suffer from self-sabotage are often aware that this behavior prevents them from reaching their full potential, but they feel powerless to change it.

Self-Sabotage and Relationships

Self-sabotage’s effects on relationships can be devastating because it prevents the individual from getting needs met in practical ways. This then leads to dissatisfaction with one’s partner, which causes strain on the relationship as a whole.

Self-sabotage in relationships is often referred to as proximal need fulfillment, wherein one party fulfills their own needs through means that are detrimental to the needs of another party. This type of behavior will be seen repeatedly by an uncooperative partner who will refuse help even when offered and whose insistence on maintaining personal standards or engaging in counterproductive behavior is detrimental to the relationship.


How Does Self-Sabotage Manifest

Self-sabotage can also be used as a coping mechanism in response to the impending divorce. In an attempt to relieve anxiety associated with divorcing, one may subconsciously coerce their partner into filing first to avoid being the initiator of an adverse event. For instance, if one fears that they will be perceived as abandoning their spouse by initiating divorce proceedings, they may instead prevent themselves from filing for divorce and resign to living unhappily ever after.

Self-defeating personality disorder (also called masochistic personality disorder) is a psychiatric diagnosis assigned to people who subject themselves to unpleasant or painful experiences — including self-harm — despite having better options available for meeting their needs.

Self-sabotage can also take the form of anger against oneself rather than against others. The person inflicting sabotage upon themselves doesn’t necessarily intend to cause the problem; they mostly want to avoid coping with a situation that seems too difficult for them, or they’re unable to face it. This can be an even more deadly form of self-sabotage, as it doesn’t allow the problem to be solved or fixed.

People who are faced with significant stress put themselves under considerable strain; their behavior and responses might not seem to make sense to others but can indeed prove very effective from a psychological point of view.

For example, some people quit their jobs after finding out they have cancer because it is challenging to take care of other responsibilities while receiving chemotherapy treatments. Someone else could cope by working at less than total capacity to avoid becoming overworked and overwhelmed by the assignment: this way, they can stay afloat without letting the quality of their work fall below a certain level.


Common Examples of Self Sabotage

Self-sabotage is a critical theme in “The Hunger Games.” The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, sabotages her chances of living happily with the love of her life.

In sports, self-sabotage can be seen when an athlete shoots too quickly or makes an unforced error.  In the business world, it’s common to see a manager sabotage their career by overreacting, misinterpreting signals, and neglecting their own needs.

Historical examples of self sabotage

– René Descartes is a known philosopher that is believed to have sabotaged his work.

– Michelangelo abandoned the easel painting he was doing in Florence and instead focused on smaller projects, possibly because he was afraid that people might judge him for not finishing the more grandiose piece.

– George Michael quit a solo career that he was gaining acclaim with because he felt it was too hard to escape from the shadow of bandmates. Wham! And some say that he also had been disappointed by the level of control his record company wielded over his decisions.

People with self-sabotage of this sort often fear success and an “impostor syndrome” where they do not trust that others truly recognize their talent or effort. This can manifest in irrationally believing that one is just an impostor, despite evidence to the contrary, or believing that one has nothing left to contribute even though their contributions so far are valued.

Other examples of self sabotage:

The Unfinished Symphony – Van Cliburn was a pianist who won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition at 23 in 1958. Still, he never performed his winnings piece (Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1) because he thought it too hard and was afraid of failure.

-Andy Warhol (creator of pop art) believed that he had wasted his life doing this work when the world would have been better off if he’d done nothing at all; to compensate, he created increasingly complex visual works until late in his career when he started producing movies.

-Before her success as a writer, Flannery O’Connor worked for most of her young adult years managing a poultry farm while writing fiction in her spare time. However, she stopped working on it because she thought she wasn’t good enough and focused instead on other pursuits, such as running a gift shop with her mother. She learned too late to return to writing and could never publish any new pieces during her lifetime. However, she did leave behind several completed but unpublished short stories later published in the 20th century.

– William Shakespeare’s entire life is an example of self-sabotage: he stopped writing. Instead, he focused on acting when his plays started becoming famous because he feared that it would be harder to get more work as a writer than an actor. However, once he became an actor, there was no turning back – for every play he wrote after comedies like The Two Gentlemen of Verona and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which contained some of his most famous monologues), there are several written at earlier times in his life such as Much Ado About Nothing that is now lost.

– Nguyễn Du chose not to publish The Tale of Kiêu (one of the most famous Vietnamese novels) during his life out of fear that it would be criticized for not being by Confucian values. Instead, he wrote a sequel while pretending he was writing an unrelated novel. It wasn’t until after his death that someone discovered what he had done.

-Charles Darwin began studying medicine but switched to biology because he wanted to go on a round-the-world expedition; however, when this never happened, he abandoned biology as well for fear that it wouldn’t provide him with enough money or prestige. He then spent time working on studies of barnacles which were tremendously tedious and time-intensive, while only earning a small fraction of the income he likely could have earned had he just stuck with biology from the beginning.

-Before her success as an author, Charlotte Brontë ran a school until it failed. She became a governess for several years before abandoning that profession because she thought teaching would inhibit any chance at novel writing. Once she had become successful as an author, some speculate that she stopped having children because she believed them to be detrimental to her career or health (the decision was made shortly after Branwell, her only brother to survive past childhood, died in 1848).

– George Bernard Shaw renounced his Irish citizenship in response to Britain’s involvement in WWI – an act which probably didn’t have much of an effect but still likely reflected his internalized feelings that he was no longer a part of Britain.

-Mark Twain wrote several letters to the American Peace Society in 1898 – during the Spanish American War – while simultaneously working as a war correspondent and publicly supporting military action against Spain.

– Pablo Picasso, who expressed anti-war sentiments throughout his life, volunteered to fight for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War despite being nearly 40 at the time (he also served in WWI). He then returned from Paris to Spain after things started going poorly for the Republicans. However, some argue that this may not have been due to any actual devotion and instead just a desire to be close to his mistress, who lived in Barcelona.

– During his childhood, Abraham Lincoln read a couple of books about how to make things float using levers and pulleys; later in life, he became fascinated with gadgets and machines for their own sake, which resulted in him running successful businesses manufacturing and selling different devices – some of which were described as “strange.” He lost most of his earnings on these endeavors, and others he invested in failed to yield profits.

self-sabotage roadsign

Tips to stop self-sabotage

Self-sabotage can be stopped by addressing the root cause of the problem and facing those fears head-on. For example, if somebody feels overwhelmed by their responsibilities, they should get help from friends, family, or a mental health specialist to find ways to manage their time better.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown as an efficient way to treat self-sabotage. CBT has been implemented to help individuals learn the root causes of their self-sabotaging behavior and then teach them how to develop new ways of thinking to avoid falling into this pattern in the future. By changing one’s way of thinking, individuals can alter their behavior and break a cycle they may have been stuck in for years.

Dealing with self-sabotage can be a lot of work. It takes commitment, patience, and time to do it well.

The first step to dealing with your habit is identifying the type of counterproductive habits and causing you to procrastinate. Identify the beliefs that are preventing you from overcoming defeatism. Once you have recognized these beliefs, replace them with rational thoughts. For example, “I need to get this done no matter what” or “This is daunting but I can do it.”

The next step will be to plan out how you’re going to overcome your defeatism. For example, you might write down a goal for the day on a piece of paper (a specific one) as a way of holding yourself accountable. You might also create a reward system as a way of recognizing your accomplishment with overcoming defeatism and procrastination.

It is vital to assess your behaviors to determine if they are horrible habits or symptoms of other underlying issues. If you notice that you tend to give up at the slightest opportunity, it may be time to re-evaluate yourself and learn more about what makes you tick.

This might not be easy initially, but overcoming self-sabotage will become second nature with time, patience, and persistence. A trick that has been found helpful in fighting defeatism is rewarding after accomplishing a task; write down your accomplishments in a diary at the end of each day. At the end of a week or month, you may notice that you have accomplished more than expected. The feeling of accomplishment and self-satisfaction will reinforce healthy behaviors and reduce negative ones like defeatism and procrastination.


As you go through the process and struggle, take time to remind yourself that defeating the habits is a marathon, not a sprint. Once you have mastered defeating the bad habits, then you can start establishing new habits. Again, these should be SMART goals.

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