Who Needs Enemies When You’ve Got Yourself?

An introduction to self-sabotage.

Posted Dec 07, 2009

What is self-sabotage? Well, perhaps calling it by some other names might help give you an idea: "shooting yourself in the foot," "putting your foot in your mouth," or "cutting off your nose to spite your face." These phrases all refer to a desire to achieve a goal, but in the process of pursuing that goal you burn bridges to achieving another, more desirable goal. Everyone does something that is self-sabotaging once in a while. Smoking one last cigarette, over and over again, while you are trying to quit. Hitting that snooze button one too many times and being late for work. Yelling something insulting at your romantic partner during a fight - that always goes well, doesn't it?

These are common examples of self-sabotage that may be classified as "oops moments" if they happen once in a while. Yet, when these types of behaviors become habits, they can become very problematic. For example, smoking long enough to suffer health problem, getting fired from a job for being late too often, or driving away someone you love. There are more problematic forms of self-sabotage too: binge-eating, excessive gambling, cutting or other types of self-injury, problematic alcohol use, physical fights, hoarding, and in my opinion the worst of all, suicide. The list goes on. Self-sabotage is a diverse series of problems that are commonly found throughout our society. That's probably why you're reading this. There is good news though: You can do something about it!

The purpose of this blog is to help raise awareness about self-sabotage. A lot of research has been conducted on self-sabotage (often called "behavioral dysregulation" in professional psychology literature), yet a lot of this knowledge never reaches the general population. We know a lot about what causes people to self-sabotage, and a lot about how to treat and overcome it. However, I am often frustrated that this information is never discovered by many people who would benefit from it. My hope is that by reading this blog you will identify ways that you may self-sabotage, come to understand the psychological mechanisms that drive such behavior, and learn techniques that you can use to improve your life. Although I hope that this blog will help many people improve their lives and achieve the goals they're after, this blog is not a substitute to psychological therapy. If you are having major difficulties with some of the problems I mentioned above, then I encourage you to seek professional help from a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). These scientifically generated therapies are very effective in helping overcome self-sabotage, and in many cases these therapies are more effective than medication.

Because self-sabotage includes a large collection of behaviors, some posts on this blog may seem very different from other posts. Yet, despite how different many of these behaviors may be, as you follow the blog you will likely see many common characteristics between different types of self-sabotage. You will discover that there is nothing mystical about self-sabotage, but just the opposite, these destructive behaviors are quite predictable! Furthermore, because self-sabotaging behaviors can be so diverse, I encourage readers to post comments with their experiences of self-sabotage. My hope is that you will see that many of these problems are common and that you're not alone. I also hope that your comments will alert me to forms of self-sabotage that I may not have previously touched on and give me ideas for future posts. Help me help you! Finally, I will leave you with the following teaser: Self-sabotage often has rewarding effects - in this sense it is a false friend. Keep that in mind, because sometimes it's difficult to end a longtime friendship!