"Why do I keep self-sabotaging?"
"I know it's not helpful, but I can't stop thinking this way!"
"Why do I keep doing this again and again?!"
Sounds familiar? Coming in your own way is what we call self-sabotage. It includes behaviours, patterns of negative thoughts, belief systems, and ideas about oneself that are destructive physically, mentally and emotionally.
Self-sabotaging happens when we deliberately behave or act in a certain way that we know will surely hurt us or those around us. It is a maladaptive coping mechanism that we develop to deal with irrational fears and thoughts.
Procrastination is one of the most common ways in which it manifests. In procrastination, we put off doing tasks or work until the last minute and then panic when the deadline gets closer. Why do we do this even though we could finish it off early and avoid the anxiety that sets in when we leave it for the last minute?
Another example of self-sabotaging is the "impostor syndrome." The impostor syndrome is simply feeling like we’re a fraud. We doubt your success, abilities, achievements, talents, or skills. We believe that we are fooling everyone by pretending to be capable and that one day, we will get caught, and all those who have been clapping for us will end up booing at us.
As a therapist based in India and working primarily with South Asian clients across diverse age groups, the most common self-sabotaging behaviour that I have come across is that of "people-pleasing." Our society prioritizes putting others before oneself. On its own, this is a noble thought. However, when it starts coming at the cost of our mental health and especially at the hands of people who are toxic for us, then it stops being noble and becomes a curse.
Along with those mentioned above, self-sabotaging behaviours like substance abuse, self-harm, stress-eating, perfectionism, overworking, etc., all come from a place of deep-seated self-loathing and low self-esteem. These accumulate through years of conditioning received from a very young age, which lead us to develop negative beliefs about ourselves and the world around us . This, in turn, leads to the development of negative thought patterns, negative self-talk, negative self-image, and a distorted understanding of ourselves ; and to cope, we engage in self-sabotaging behaviours.
When we start fearing failure or rejection, we decide to put off completing that important assignment or task. We do this so that we don’t have enough time to let our mind tell us how we’re incapable, unworthy of good things or undeserving of happiness. Instead, we choose to escape, destruct, harm, sabotage your within-reach chance of actually leading a satisfying and fulfilling life.
We, as South Asians , place a lot of importance on being more and doing more. We never pause and say to ourselves, "Wow, I have achieved a lot!" or "I am so thankful for all that I have faced and overcome in life." It's always about not being satisfied with what we have right now and wanting more so that we finally get that long-coveted fulfillment.
But, in reality, it never comes. Because how can one ever feel fulfilled if we believe we are not enough and need to be more, even after reaching and succeeding at so many "mores." Because that will mean looking at ourselves and seeing that what we are doing in the process of being "good enough" is believing we are "not good enough." And we do it by maintaining unresolved trauma, avoiding savouring the present, rejecting our strengths, being our harshest critic, and denying ourselves self-awareness.
So, yes, self-sabotaging comes easily to many people due to life experiences, genetic predisposition, and conditioning from family, environment, or society. But if we want to change that, we can start by first becoming worthy of ourselves. That means turning our inner critic into our inner friend and replacing self-sabotage with self-empowerment.