7 Psychological Reasons You Self-Sabotage Everything Good In Life

If you want to stop self-sabotaging, you need to understand the underlying cause.

Man with hand on forehead, sabotaging goals Pekic, Bulat Silvia, João Jesus | Canva

Do you often get in the way of your dreams, ambitions, and best intentions?

For example:

  • Do you have a habit of starting creative projects but never finishing them?
  • Maybe you have a pattern of ending relationships as soon as they start to get serious or complicated.
  • Or perhaps you tend to give up on personal commitments like diets or exercise regimens at similar points in the journey?

If so, it could be that you are self-sabotaging, which simply means that you tend to undermine your own goals. And if this is something you struggle with, the first step to breaking the cycle is to understand why you do it and what’s causing it.


Here are 7 psychological reasons you keep self-sabotaging: 

1. Limiting beliefs

Limiting beliefs are irrational or unhelpful stories we tell ourselves that hold us back from success and happiness. For example: If the story you tell yourself about money is that only greedy people work hard to get it, is it any surprise that you tend to self-sabotage your financial goals?

The stories we tell ourselves shape how our own story unfolds.

If you want to undo these limiting beliefs and the self-sabotaging behaviors they produce, the first step is to confront them. Now, this often takes great courage because confronting your limiting beliefs means facing up to how much you’ve lost and holding yourself back as a result.


So start small: Begin by cultivating a healthy skepticism and curiosity about any thought or belief you encounter. Play with it, examine it, poke it a little. Once you get used to questioning your smaller thoughts and beliefs, you’ll have more confidence to confront the bigger ones that are holding you back.

“Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that — thoughts.”

— Allan Lokos



RELATED: If You Do These 12 Things, You're Addicted To Self-Sabotage


2. Judgmental self-talk

I’m always amazed at how people can describe in painful detail the nature of their self-sabotaging behavior but have almost zero insight into what’s going on mentally when they’re self-sabotaging.

Specifically, there’s often a flood of self-judgment and self-criticism leading up to the moment of self-sabotage that most people are barely conscious of. This is unfortunate because in many cases that’s exactly what puts people over the edge from challenging obstacles to self-sabotage.

Feeling bad is hard enough without feeling bad about feeling bad. 

See, most people underestimate their capacity for dealing with challenging situations because they don’t know what it’s like to deal with a challenging situation without the whole extra layer of emotional pain and baggage that comes from a habit of self-judgment and criticism.


But it turns out that when you respond to challenges with self-compassion and kindness — the same way you would with a friend who was struggling — your capacity to deal with your challenges is far greater than you realize.

“Words matter. And the words that matter most are the ones you say to yourself.”

― David Taylor-Klaus

3. You don’t know what you want

One of the most underrated reasons why people self-sabotage is a lack of clarity about personal values.

Let’s say you struggle with self-sabotage with sticking to a diet. How much work have you done to understand and clarify the why (or value) behind your goal of dieting? On a superficial level, it might be to lose weight, look better in a swimsuit, have more energy, etc. But why do those matter? Why is it personally meaningful to you to have more energy? What will that help you achieve, feel, or experience?


It’s a lot easier to resist the things you don’t want when you have a clear vision of what you do want.

Self-sabotage happens when we get pulled into unhelpful behaviors by our emotions at the expense of our values. To resist the pull of those unhelpful emotions, you need to strengthen the pull of your values. And the best way to do that? Clarify them, make them specific, juicy, and palpable! Because the clearer and more specific your values, the more likely you are to stick with them.

“Man cannot stand a meaningless life.”

— Carl Jung

​RELATED: 5 Self-Sabotaging Habits Of People Who Never Heal


4. Perfectionism

One way to think about perfectionism is that it’s an addiction to unreasonable standards. For example: You constantly tell yourself that if you can work harder on your business you should. While that sounds superficially motivating — and briefly alleviates your need for control — it’s a recipe for self-sabotage and failure.

Perfectionistic striving feels motivating in the short term, but it’s a setup for self-sabotage in the end.

If your expectations are constantly unreasonable, you’re inevitably going to fail to reach them, which is a setup for chronic disappointment, frustration, and even hopelessness. And boy, you can only take so much frustration, disappointment, and discouragement before you throw your hands up and quit or start unconsciously giving yourself a way out of all those painful feelings by sabotaging the whole project.

“My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.”

― Michael J. Fox



5. You’re afraid to be assertive

Assertiveness means asking for what you want in a way that’s respectful of other people and your wants and needs.


Unfortunately, a lot of people are indoctrinated by society to think that standing up for yourself or asking for what you want directly is rude, manipulative, etc. As a result, many people end up chronically ignoring their wants and needs for fear of upsetting or disappointing others.

This poses a problem for achieving our goals. How can you hope to meet your goals if you’re unwilling to ask for what you want?

If you want to stop self-sabotaging, do the work to understand the basics of assertive communication, get over your FODO (fear of disappointing others), and start going after what you want with confidence.

“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”

— Greg McKeown

​RELATED: 12 Common Ways People Self-Sabotage Their Happiness


6. Chronic worry

If you’re stuck in the habit of chronic worry — catastrophizing and imagining the worst, for example — you’re going to feel chronically stressed and anxious. And if you’re constantly stressed and anxious, you’re not going to be able to perform at your best with whatever ambition or goal you’re working toward.

For example: How are you going to be able to focus deeply and work at full capacity on your creative project if your concentration is constantly being broken by worries about what people will think of it or whether it will be successful?

Chronic worry is the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ultimately, worry is a way of avoiding the discomfort of some kind of anxiety — usually a lack of control or uncertainty. But in the long run, it solves nothing and makes you incredibly stressed and anxious, which can’t help but sabotage your goals.


If you want to stop letting anxiety and stress sabotage your goals, you must learn to control your worry habit.

“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.”

― Kahlil Gibran

7. You don’t enforce your boundaries

A lot of self-sabotage stems from a lack of confidence and self-respect.

For example, I worked with a client once who had a long pattern of starting businesses successfully only to virtually abandon them just as they were getting traction. Turns out, while he had a lot of confidence in starting a business, he was terrified that he couldn’t handle the responsibility of running them once he had employees, investors, etc. So he would end up self-sabotaging.


But what’s key to realize is that a lot of our lack of confidence and self-respect comes from unhealthy boundaries. It’s hard to respect yourself when you don’t respect your boundaries.

Think about it, what are you teaching your brain if you’re in the habit of setting boundaries with people and then constantly giving in or not enforcing those boundaries? You’re teaching it that what you want isn’t important — or at least, it’s not as important as what other people want. So is it any surprise that you don’t feel confident in your abilities?

I mean, how can you respect yourself and act confidently — and avoid self-sabotage — when you’re unwilling to stand up for yourself and enforce your boundaries?

“If people keep stepping on you, wear a pointy hat.”

― Joyce Rachelle



​RELATED: 3 Limiting Beliefs That Sabotage Your Confidence


Nick Wignall is a psychologist and writer sharing practical advice for emotional health and well-being. He is the founder of The Friendly Minds newsletter.