Throughout history, several artists have both directly and indirectly referenced self-destruction in their work. Claude Monet allegedly slashed at least 30 of his water lily canvases. Fast forward to the year 2020, where popular musician Lady Gaga penned a song that almost read like a personal diary “Turning up emotional faders, keep repeating self-hating phrases. I have heard enough of these voices, almost like I have no choice,” read one verse. While a hauntingly autotuned line “My biggest enemy is me,” punctuated the song throughout its course.
This brings us to our main point of discussion—Why are we so obsessed with sabotaging ourselves? Of all human psychology, self-destructive behaviour is among the most challenging. After all, everyone assumes that people run after happiness and comfort. So what about those people who knowingly embark on a journey that leads to pain and disappointment? Let’s find out.
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What does self-sabotage look like?
You often put yourself down
We often set higher standards for ourselves than we do for others. While that can help us achieve our goals faster, it also has a downside. “It’s normal to fail at doing certain things from time to time. But people who are harsh on themselves often find it hard to deal with the consequences of failure,” says Dr C Manjula Rao, clinical psychologist, Apollo Health City, Hyderabad. “That ultimately leads to lack of motivation and prevents them from performing better in the next task,” she adds.
You blame others when something goes wrong
If you often blame the people around you whenever you face a difficulty, then not only are you ignoring the actual root of the issue, but you are also souring your relationship with loved ones. “This is indirect self-sabotage because you willingly choose to brush off valid critiques that might actually help you improve in the future. You sabotage your chances of learning and growing from the experience,” says Dr Rao.
You give up at the slightest inconvenience
“There’s nothing wrong with blocking out unwarranted negativity but this might not be the best option in every situation,” says Dr Rao. Picture this: You left your first job because your boss critiqued you harshly, you left your second one because of a toxic work environment, the third one because you didn’t feel comfortable travelling to your office—and so on. “While these are absolutely valid reasons to move on, creating a pattern of giving up due to minor inconveniences might sabotage your chances of holding a steady job,” says Dr Rao.
You keep attracting people that are bad for you
Self-sabotage doesn’t just affect your professional life. This behaviour often appears in relationships—both romantic and platonic. “Dating people despite noticing some obvious red flags can ultimately harm your mental health and affect your quality of living,” says Dr Rao. “Some people develop a pattern of picking partners that are bad for them even after their last relationship ended because of similar problems,” she adds
You let procrastination get the best of you
Have you ever sat down to finish an important task—and then suddenly discovered you were reading celebrity gossip on the internet? This is what procrastination looks like and almost all of us do it every day. While taking relaxing breaks is important, procrastinating for hours on end can decrease your productivity significantly. “Procrastination can happen for a multitude of reasons but when it’s serious, it often roots in self destructive behaviour. People often doubt themselves and that dramatically reduces their motivation to carry on a task,” says Dr Rao
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What causes it?
Your childhood might have something to do with it
The patterns laid down during our early years often repeat throughout life. “We’re attached to these patterns not just because we’re used to them, but also because we grew up believing that this is right for us,” says Dr Rao. “Most children look up to their parents as perfect individuals and pick up their habits, even the bad ones, and this also includes self-destructive behaviour,” she adds.
You are afraid of failure When you are constantly seeking success and are afraid of failure, you might unintentionally sabotage your efforts to perform as expected. “People often dread failure so much that they stop trying altogether. This significantly reduces their chances of succeeding,” says Dr Rao. Not only do you predict your own failure, but you also lead to it.
You want to control everything
“Self-sabotaging behaviours can also develop from your need to control a situation. When you’re in control, you might feel safe, but this can often be an illusion,” says Dr Rao. “For example when you constantly maintain the upper hand in a relationship because you fear losing control, you often miss the opportunity to be vulnerable and bond with your partner. This can have negative consequences,” she adds.
How to stop sabotaging yourself?
Identify the behaviour leading to it It’s never easy to examine your actions deeply enough to note patterns of self-sabotage. “Admitting we are self-sabotaging is not just hard but it can also be painful for a lot of people,” says Dr Rao. “We tend to avoid it for as long as possible but in order to solve a problem, you must identify the behaviour leading to it. That’s the first step to healing,” she adds.
Work on your triggers
Once you come to terms with the fact that you are indulging in self-depreciative behaviour, take note of when you do these things. “The goal is to identify the triggers and work on them individually. Maybe your boss yelling at you evokes a bad memory from childhood? Or perhaps you’re perpetually afraid that something bad is going to happen?” says Dr Rao. “ “Once you’ve tracked these triggers down, write them down in a journal and use this information to figure out a solution. If you feel it’s too much to handle on your own, talk to a therapist,” she adds.
Understand that failure is not always a bad thing
Coming to terms with failure is not easy—we all run away from it. But sometimes the fear of failure prevents you from performing a particular task in the first place—stripping away the opportunity of gaining experience. “When you work hard at preventing unwanted situations, you miss out on the ups and downs that life is all about. Instead, train yourself to go with the flow and learn something new each time you fall down,” says Dr Rao.
Take time for self reflection and find your inner voice
It takes serious self-reflection to understand why you keep shooting yourself in the foot in the first place. “After you’ve recognised your triggers and come to terms with failure, focus on how you can get better. Ask yourself what you really want out of your job? Out of your relationship? Keep your priorities straight and don’t let your inner saboteur get loud. Instead, practice mindfulness and meditation to search for the optimist within you,” says Dr Rao. “Even the most negative people have a positive side to them. You just have to work on bringing it out,” she adds.
Take control of your life
We often struggle with self-destructive behaviour because we are afraid of the future. And the fear leads us to manifest bad things that might otherwise not even happen. “Believe in the power of positive affirmations, tell yourself that you matter. Set both short and long-term goals to take control of your life. Start with something small—compliment yourself when you pass by a mirror, reward yourself with something nice when you finish a task successfully,” says Dr Rao. “When you go through life with self-love and confidence, the failures will automatically get fewer and fewer. And when they do occur, don’t be afraid. Learn from the experience and move on to the next one,” she adds.
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