Is Self-Sabotage Causing You to Make Bad Choices?

pexels-photo-142971-medium-jpegEver feel as if things never go your way or that you can’t catch a break? Maybe, instead of the world being against you, it’s actually your bad choices that are holding you back. By recognizing the ways you self-sabotage, you can begin to make better decisions and feel better about your life choices.

What is Self-Sabotage?

Self-sabotage is best captured by the phrase “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” Just when you’re about to get something you really want—a promotion at work or a new level of closeness with your partner—you do something to undermine it.

People who self-sabotage don’t recognize that they’re harming themselves and blame external circumstances for their problems. They say that their job wasn’t right for them or that their partner had too many annoying habits. So, to effectively treat self-sabotage, the first thing to do is to help the client realize what they are doing.

How Do You Create Awareness?

People who self-sabotage have an emotional pattern. Yet, they don’t recognize it. It takes a trained therapist to recognize these patterns and help them see and understand them.

Psychoanalyst Bernard Brandchaft describes this pattern as “enthusiasm followed by malaise.” At first, you’re excited by the prospect of a promotion at work or getting closer to the person you’re interested in.

Then, when everything you want is within reach, your feelings change. You don’t care that much about your job or your partner. You don’t do the things you need to do to get the promotion. Or you break up with your partner.

These decisions feel liberating. You tell yourself that the job didn’t interest you anymore or that your partner didn’t share enough of the same interests. Quickly, you begin to regret your actions and realize you’ve made a mistake.

Do You Have Any Examples of This Pattern?

I want to preface this by saying that any examples I give are fictionalized. I would never write about anyone whom I had actually seen in my practice. Having said that, I once worked with a man who was just beginning to have the kind of success he had always dreamed of. He was getting invited to international conferences to present his work and collaborating with successful people in his field.

Having said that, I once worked with a man who was just beginning to have the kind of success he had always dreamed of. He was invited to international conferences to present his work and collaborating with successful people in his field.

When he returned from a conference, he had a lot of energy and enthusiasm for his work. Within a few weeks, though, he’d lose steam and start doubting himself. He procrastinated on projects and found himself in a slump that lasted for months.

After witnessing this pattern several times, I asked him about it. At first, he couldn’t even remember that he felt any enthusiasm when he returned from a conference. As we reconstructed the events upon his return home, we discovered a pattern.

In the weeks after he got home, he’d call his friends from high school and go out drinking with them. None of these friends had the kind of success my client experienced, either professionally or personally. As he and I talked, we realized that his periods of procrastination and malaise began after he went out with his friends. In addition, we started to think about why he felt compelled to go out with them every time he experienced professional success.

This began his realization regarding his self-sabotage. It helped him make changes that ultimately stopped his self-sabotaging behavior. Thus, these changes allowed him to take genuine pleasure in his work again.

Do You Need Help?

Are you struggling to maintain enthusiasm for your work or relationship? Do you find you don’t understand why you make these bad decisions? Working with a therapist who understands self-sabotage can help you to get your life back on track.

Click here to learn more about making better life choices with Dr. Jane Rubin, Licensed Clinical Psychologist.

Jane Rubin, PhD., is a clinical psychologist in Berkeley, California. She works with individuals in Berkeley, Oakland, the East Bay and the greater San Francisco Bay who are who are struggling with depression and anxiety. She also specializes in working with people who are trying to find meaning and direction in their lives.