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How to Stop Sabotaging Yourself

Understanding the roots of self-sabotaging behavior can help us to find fixes that will make our lives more successful and less conflicted.

Do you ever find yourself rushing so much that you end up forgetting your cell phone charger? Then it turns out that you’ve got an important call and you spend the entire time feeling anxious about your phone dying?

Or perhaps you’ve decided your romantic partner doesn’t listen to you; so you keep talking more and more trying to hammer home your point. Unfortunately, this leads your partner to tune you out even more, threatening your bond.

These are just a couple of ways you may be sabotaging yourself and your relationships, creating unnecessary pain and self-generated stress. In my new book, The Healthy Mind Toolkit, I help readers self-diagnose the sabotaging thinking and behavioral habits that are holding them back in life and in love, and provide simple, practical tips for overcoming these patterns.

To stop sabotaging yourself, you must first recognize when you’re getting in your own way. Some of the time, we’re acutely and painfully aware of this—like when we find ourselves procrastinating before taking care of a (literal or figurative) mess, so that it becomes a bigger deal to clean up later. Or we impulsively buy a large bag of potato chips when we’re trying to cut back on junk food.

Of course, other times we’re less aware of our self-sabotage or we misdiagnose the core problem. This happens a lot in relationships. For instance, when you’re feeling competitive with the mom of your child’s playdate friend, you may get into a cycle of baiting and antagonizing each other, without recognizing your passive-aggressive interaction style. This gets in the way of you focusing on her great qualities and holds you back from potentially becoming good friends.

To stop sabotaging yourself, you need to figure out your patterns of behavior and then find creative ways to counteract them and form new habits. Here are some of the practical strategies I suggest in my book.

Know your typical thinking patterns

Our personality and life experiences predispose us to dominant modes of thinking, but these can be biased in ways that are unhelpful in the majority of situations.

For example, people who are prone to anxiety tend to be hypervigilant to signs of threat, and detect threats that aren’t really there. This happens to be one of my personal patterns of self-defeating thinking. The way this manifests for me is that problems always seem bigger than they really are; whenever anyone asks me to do something, I (internally) overreact and perceive whatever is being asked as more onerous than it is.

How do I deal with this? Knowing my thinking bias, I factor it into my judgments. I discount my initial reaction and go back and review requests with fresh eyes. I explicitly say to myself, “My brain is reacting to this as if it’s a threat, when most likely it’s actually an opportunity.” To read more from Alice Boyes, Ph.D., click here.


Besma (Bess) Benali, Clinical Social Work, Therapist, MSW, RSW, Counselling Ottawa New Chapter Counselling. I am trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Brief Psychodynamic Therapy, ACT, and mindfulness. Clients come to me because they are struggling and feel like they are trapped in a darkness that no matter what they have tried (and many have tried therapy before) they can’t pull themselves out. I help my clients understand themselves in ways no one has ever taught them before allowing them to see positive changes.