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What happens when we become our own worst enemy.

We’ve all done it before, put off accomplishing something at work, not taking that next step forward in a relationship or not booking that trip. Sometimes we put these things off for valid reasons. And sometimes we do it for far more troublesome reasons. Maybe we are worried that even if we meet the project delivery deadline - the work still won’t be good enough. So we put it off, rush it and turn it in late which ultimately proves us right. That we weren’t good enough, and the cycle starts all over again. This cycle is often referred to as “self-sabotaging” and it can significantly impact our daily lives. 

In this article, Lindsay Killam, MSW, RSW and the TELUS Health MyCare Clinical Director, Counselling Services, discusses: 

  • What self-sabotaging is, and what causes it 

  • Everyday examples of self-sabotaging 

  • What ways we can overcome it

  • Resources and when to seek help

What is self sabotaging and what can cause this behaviour? 

Self-sabotaging behavior refers to intentional action (or inaction) that undermines people's progress and prevents them from accomplishing their goals. Killam explains that there can be many different reasons why a person might self-sabotage such as a fear of success, comfort in the status quo, low self-esteem or imposter syndrome. There is comfort in the familiar and stepping out of the comfort zone puts us into an uncomfortable place, it’s a lot safer to just keep doing what we are doing. 

“Other times it can be related to self-esteem.  In this context we might feel that we don’t deserve better in life and sabotage good things as our mind plays out the narrative of not being worth more.” - Killam

This one can be particularly challenging to overcome and can be rooted in things like past traumas. We might also feel like we are not as smart or skilled as others thereby impeding our success, this is also known as imposter syndrome. Think of yourself as a kid in school, when your teacher asked the class a question, did you know the answer but not raise your hand for fear someone else would answer it better? That can extend today into meetings at work, trivia with friends or even in relationships. 

What are some examples of self-sabotaging behaviours in a professional and relationship setting? 

Self-sabotage can affect many areas of your life such as work, school, relationships and finances. Killam explains that in professional settings there can be many examples of self-sabotaging. “This may be an employee not applying for or turning down a promotion because they believe they wouldn’t be good despite the belief that others have in their ability.” Or putting off a project to the point that it’s turned in late. Turning in the project late further reinforces the belief that we are not good enough at work. 

Killam explains that in relationships examples of self-sabotage could be controlling, withholding communication, developing unrealistic expectations or even infidelity. 

“Often people enter into relationships with ideas about how a partner “should be”.  These ideas may come from past experiences or what we see in movies and books.  It can prevent someone from seeing the good qualities (or in some cases the negative qualities) in a partner that then prevent the relationship from thriving.” - Killam 

When we develop these unrealistic expectations it can hinder the relationship from moving forward. Killam explains that in some situations a partner might cheat as a way of self-fulling that they are not good enough for the relationship or to pre-empt what they believe will be an inevitable end to a good relationship. 

How can we identify self-sabotaging behaviours in our own lives? 

Gaining awareness of the self-sabotaging triggers is an important part of avoiding self-sabotaging behaviours. Killam suggests observing and asking yourself questions as you become more aware of your thinking patterns:

  • Does negative self-talk lead you to engage in destructive actions?

  • Do you waste time when you know you have something more important or constructive to do?

  • Observe if you sit in fear and have limited beliefs about what you are capable of

  • Observe if you hold on to the past and use it to impede relationships or opportunities in the now

  • What are your communication skills like?

  • Do you have difficulty asserting boundaries or expressing your needs at work or in relationships?

  • Notice if perfectionism gets in the way of good working relationships/friendships or recognition of success

Once we’ve identified the ways we might be self-sabotaging, what methods can we take to address this? 

Small changes lead to big impacts. The first thing to realize is that these behaviours won’t just change overnight - and that’s okay, give yourself some grace and compassion. “Simple kindness to ourselves can help mitigate negative self-talk and overcome challenging mindsets like perfectionism” -Killam.  Start by identifying one area for change, for example, setting good boundaries, this could be a great first step to addressing the self-sabotaging cycle. 

In your relationships with others - whether romantic, friendship or professional it’s important to develop your communication skills. We can build healthy relationships by being authentic, honest, and transparent with others in order to build healthy relationships. We can also start by stepping one toe out of the comfort zone. 

“Doing things that make us uncomfortable can be a positive sign that we are stepping into something new or taking on a challenge.” - Killam 

Change typically feels uncomfortable because it’s not easy. But stepping into the change is a brave and bold step. 

Are there any books you would recommend to help navigate self-sabotage? 

Killam is a fan of Brene Brown’s work particularly  “I Thought it was Just Me”  or “Daring Greatly”. For more insight on being present with ourselves Killam recommends Eckhart Tolle “The Power of Now”. 

At what point do you reach for counselling vs other self-help solutions?

Killam says that books and videos can provide us with helpful insights into behaviours but since they can’t get context on an individuals life they can’t provide specific guidance. Counselling on the other hand works with the individual, understanding their lived experiences and provides personalized recommendations.  Killam says “I always recommend therapy for anyone who is ready to make change. Therapy creates a safe space to address issues and provides access to professional knowledge and training that we as individuals can’t get from a book.” 

Counsellors on the TELUS Health MyCare app can help identify negative or unhelpful thoughts and behaviours while creating a safe place to learn and practice tools for making healthy changes. If you think you could be engaging in self-sabotaging behaviours booking an appointment with a counsellor is a great place to break the cycle. 

Users must be 16 years or older to access counselling appointments. Counselling appointments require additional payment of $120 plus applicable taxes. Any payments for appointments must be paid using a valid credit card. An in-app receipt will be provided for you to claim for reimbursement if applicable.