Self Sabotage: The Definitive Guide
It happens to everybody. You are on your way to living your best life. You receive a promotion, you are in a great relationship, you bought your dream house, things are going great!
And then you do something to blow it up.
Maybe it is a fight over something little. Maybe you panic and switch things up at the last minute. Maybe you are frozen by doubting thoughts.
Whatever it is, you do something that unravels the gains you have just made.
Just as things are going great, you get in your own way and keep it from getting “too good.”
So why do you self-sabotage? And what even is self-sabotage? And, the most crucial question, how can you stop self-sabotaging so that you can create the amazing life you want and deserve?
In this definitive guide on self-sabotage, you will find the answers to these questions and more!
What is self-sabotage?
Self-sabotage happens when you undermine yourself. Alyce Cornyn-Selby, author of What’s Your Sabotage?, says it happens “when we say we want something and then go about making sure it doesn’t happen.” (p. 1).
It is self-defeating behavior or even just self-defeating thoughts. And it usually shows up when things are going great.
In The Big Leap, author Gay Hendricks describes this behavior in one of the best self-sabotaging quotes:
Each of us has an inner thermostat setting that determines how much love, success, and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy. When we exceed our inner thermostat setting, we will often do something to sabotage ourselves, causing us to drop back into the old, familiar zone where we feel secure. (P. 20)
Another self-sabotage definition is any undermining behavior internally directed that keeps you from living your best life. Hendricks further sums it up well:
I have a limited tolerance for feeling good. When I hit my Upper Limit, I manufacture thoughts that make me feel bad. The problem is bigger than just my internal feelings, though: I seem to have a limited tolerance for my life going well in general. When I hit my upper limit, I do something that stops my positive forward trajectory. I get into a conflict with my ex-wife, get into a money bind, or do something else that brings me back down within the bounds of my limited tolerance. (P. 7)
Another way to understand self-sabotage’s meaning is - if your ultimate goal is to create your best, most amazing life - then any behaviors that keep you from getting there can be considered self-sabotaging.
One of the challenges of resolving self-sabotaging behavior is that many people are not aware of how they self-sabotage.
Often when you self-sabotage, you do it unconsciously. Your subconscious manifests things that get in the way of you reaching your dreams. That way you won’t step outside your comfort zone or exceed the amount of good you will allow in your life.
For example, you might say, “I want to get a job that pays me $80,000 a year with great benefits and allows me to do what I love.”
This higher salary might be your intended goal, but, in your head, there might be an old tape running in the background that isn’t going to allow that salary to manifest.
You might secretly believe, “I don’t deserve to get paid this much,” or, “I don’t deserve to get paid to do what I love.”
If you don’t address this, then, unknowingly or unwittingly, one of two things might happen.
One, you might subconsciously act in ways that ultimately prevent you from reaching that goal. Or two, you might achieve the goal then engage in a behavior that gets you fired or demoted.
Engaging in this self-defeating behavior is self-sabotage.
One of the ways that will allow you to get better at recognizing self-sabotaging behaviors is by becoming more aware of yourself and who you are. I cover that more in the section below that is entitled, “how to tell if you are self-sabotaging.”
Why do I self-sabotage?
Cornyn-Selby asks “What makes someone on the brink of success suddenly push the self-destruct button? What makes you work to get the weight off and then just put it back on again? What makes you spend money you don’t have? What makes YOU the biggest, toughest obstacle you have to deal with in your Life? Why aren’t you on your side? Why are you your own worst enemy? (p. 4)
Like Gay Hendricks explains above, you sabotage because you have an upper limit to what you believe you deserve or are capable of doing.
You can only make so much money. You only deserve to be so happy in a relationship. You shouldn’t be able to have nice things.
Whatever that upper-limit is, once you surpass it, you subconsciously do something to undermine yourself to bring yourself back into your personal comfort zone. In short, you self-sabotage.
So where do these upper limit beliefs come from? What causes self-sabotaging behavior?
These upper-limits come from many sources and can be regarded as inner interference in the way of our goals.
This interference has been called many different names: traumas, constructs, neuroses, stories, past life agreements, hidden family loyalties, karmic scrap heaps, emotional imprints, cultural learnings, survival patterns, etc.
While the list goes on and on, the impacts are the same: self-sabotaging behaviors that keep you from your best life.
Below you will find two of the biggest, most powerful reasons why you self-sabotage once things get too good: family dynamics and limiting beliefs.
The family system that you grow up in plays a significant role in how you view the world, no matter who you are, no matter where you are, no matter what your family was like.
Sylvia Lafair, family therapist turned expert leadership consultant, says in her book Don’t Bring It To Work: Breaking Family Patterns that Limit Success that
“Your past family life and your work behaviors cannot be separated.” p. (XX)
Lafair goes on to say,
We like to think we are rational as leaders, yet the fact is that we don’t always tailor our actions to the actual demands of a situation. Instead, we fall back on old ways of responding that are emotionally laden and sometimes horrendously counterproductive. Adopting behavior we first encountered in our families, we do the same thing over and over again - even if it kills us. We remain imprisoned by our pasts. (p. 21)
Inevitably, the family system that you grow up in affects the way that you interact in the world, whether it i with interactions specifically with your family, in other relationships, at work, or beyond.
Your relationships with your family, whether you want to admit it or not, shape the way you look at the world, and what you think you are deserving of.
When you go beyond what is allowed or expected in your family system and break free of your family patterns, you may subconsciously feel that pressure.
It may weigh you down, and ultimately, if you don’t address it, result in self-sabotaging behavior.
A lady I worked with (we’ll call her Janet) was employed at a job she was unhappy at. Janet had worked very hard to get this job. She thought it was what she wanted, and signed on, passionately thinking it was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
It soon turned out Janet didn’t like the job that much. She didn’t enjoy the work environment she was in or the work she was doing, and it didn’t contribute to a good work-life balance.
So Janet decided after just a few months that she wanted to apply to Ph.D. programs tied to her passion and leave her job. She thought it through and decided that this was the best decision for her both in the short term and long term.
But when it came time to quit her job and tell others about the decision, it left Janet extremely internally conflicted, guilt-ridden, and an emotional wreck.
Janet couldn’t figure out why this thing that she thought was best for her to do, best for her future, caused so much inner turmoil.
Ultimately she managed to leave, but it later came out that many of her family members had a history of continuing to work at jobs they didn’t enjoy and weren’t passionate about anymore.
Unbeknownst to her, that family pattern was weighing her down and making it extremely difficult for her to make the best choice for her.
In doing what was best for her and quitting, some part of her felt like she was betraying her family system.
This dynamic is called a hidden family loyalty. These hidden family loyalties create powerful bonds and make it hard to transcend certain family patterns of behavior if you don’t realize they are there.
In Janet’s case, once she realized she was being loyal to a family story, she was able to work through it.
Different family dynamics roles can limit you every day.
However, because these family dynamics and loyalties play out in your subconscious, you may not always understand that is what is limiting you.
You can’t manage what you can’t see, so many people aren’t able to transcend these family behavior patterns.
They give in to the inner turmoil, then self-sabotage, and stick with what they are doing because the family dynamics involved are too powerful to break through.
The examples range far beyond the one instance provided here. Many types of family dynamics keep you from your biggest success. These include dynamics tied to money, relationships, work, how happy you think you deserve to be, the list goes on and on.
If your parents never made more than $60,000, maybe you feel guilty making more than them and self-sabotage an opportunity to make more than that.
If your parents never chased their dreams and got a 9 to 5 job because it was the safe route, maybe you feel bad pursuing your dreams because they never got the chance.
Your family system powerfully ties into how you relate to the world and is a powerful driver of self-sabotage.
The good news is you can overcome it with the knowledge you will find later in this guide!
Limiting Beliefs from Previous Experiences
It’s not just family dynamics and family systems that shape your view of the world. Limiting beliefs from previous experiences do the same.
You might be wondering, “what are limiting beliefs?”
Limiting beliefs are beliefs that limit what you believe is possible for yourself or what you will allow in your life.
Your own previous experiences can cause you to believe certain things about the world that can impact how much success and abundance you allow for yourself.
A lot of limiting beliefs begin to develop in childhood when you don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to process what happens to you.
When you are unable to process what happens to you, the energy of traumatic event can remain stuck in your psyche. That energy becomes like a skip on a record, stopping you in the same place over and over.
Whatever choice you made during the trauma to remain safe, you play out over and over as you grow up.
If you don’t address that trauma, you might find yourself in your 50s allowing the interference from a wounded & stuck 5-year-old to make your big life choices for you.
There is no judgment here. No one escapes childhood unscathed, and it can take a long time to overcome what happened to you. At a certain point though, unraveling all of those record skips is on you.
At 54, I can’t blame my self-sabotaging behaviors on anyone else - not my parents, not my friends, not my enemies.
If you want to get where you want to go, you have to be willing to dive into those beliefs.
Limiting beliefs don’t just come from childhood wounds.
Limiting beliefs can also come from relationships with friends or significant others, from experiences at work, or from random interactions with others.
These beliefs tend to build upon the ones already coming from your family system and your childhood. It’s a double whammy.
Here are some examples of experiences that can impact the way we see the world:
If you had a partner who cheated on you or betrayed your trust, maybe you started to think you can’t trust in a relationship because you will only get hurt.
If you had a bad experience with a bank or financial advisor, maybe you decide you can’t trust them.
If you struggled in school growing up, maybe you didn’t feel smart or worthy of success.
In my case, I was born deathly ill with a learning disability so no matter what I did, I always felt like I wasn’t good enough. My experiences throughout the years just piled on top of that belief.
Whatever the pattern or belief is, it restricts the scope of how you see the world and keeps you from your ultimate success.
If you decide you can’t trust a partner, you will never let yourself be open to finding one you can trust, and you will keep self-sabotaging relationships.
If you don’t trust a financial advisor, you may not be able to set yourself up for retirement successfully, or maybe you end up attracting the unsavory advisors to you.
If you don’t feel worthy or good enough, you will continue to play it safe in a big, big world.
Here is a limiting beliefs list and some limiting beliefs examples that can cause you to self-sabotage:
I will never find a great partner who treats me well.
I will never get a big break.
Free things never come to me.
Everyone else gets all the good stuff.
I will never be able to trust a relationship partner again.
If I get too close to someone, I will only get hurt.
They’re after my money.
Everyone has it out for me.
Whatever can go wrong, will.
I don’t know how to make a choice (saying I don’t know about your life path over and over).
These beliefs keep you from creating your best life because they don’t let you see all of the possibilities before you. Only by working through these beliefs can you step into all of who you are.
How to tell if you are self-sabotaging
The ultimate key to knowing whether you are in a self-sabotaging behavior pattern is awareness.
Usually, when you self-sabotage, you act out of alignment with who you are, or do something you never do. When you know yourself well, you can recognize signs of self-sabotaging behavior.
Self-sabotaging behaviors can be sneaky. Recently, my husband and I sold our home of 22 years and were on the hunt for a new house.
A friend of mine told me about a house going on the market that might match the description of my dream house. We arranged to see the house, and I started feeling very excited. I felt it in my bones that this house was going to be the one.
I wouldn’t let myself get excited. Was it possible I was going to get all my “wants and desires” met? It felt too good to be true.
As my husband and I walked up to the front door of the house the very first time, I tripped and fell. I went splat on the concrete walk. As I rolled over from the fall, I knew I had scraped some skin off my hands, but it was my ankle I was most worried about. In seconds it was throbbing.
Because I thought this house might be my dream home, my body was subconsciously testing my limits. A part of me thought, “Who am I to have the home I have always wanted?” As a result, my body didn’t even want me to walk in the front door.
Despite this, we still viewed the house and loved it and ended up making an offer on it. Though I tried to self-sabotage, we were able to push on through.
Self-sabotage is always trying to tell you something about your internal limit for goodness.
When I fell, I could have said, “I am hurt. We can’t see the house right now. Why does this always happen to me?” or I could have let it get me in a negative mindset.
Instead, I was able to recognize the self-sabotaging behavior, and I used a clearing question (which we talk about in the next section) to invite my subconscious to see larger possibilities instead of remaining stuck in limiting patterns.
The key in this situation was that I knew myself well enough to know what my body was trying to do by falling on the sidewalk in front of that house. It was trying to self-sabotage.
If you want to become better at recognizing when you are self-sabotaging and out of alignment with yourself, you have to become familiar with your authentic self.
You have to know yourself inside and out.
Luckily, the first step in my Superpower System is Know Yourself, and I have created other guides to help you do just that! The first big step to knowing yourself is finding your values and the second is finding your life purpose (your superpower).
Your values are the bedrock of who you are, and are good things to pay attention to if you are concerned you are self-sabotaging.
For example, if you value communication, you might self-sabotage in your relationship by randomly not communicating important information that you normally would to your partner.
If you value health and wellness and find yourself eating a whole tub of ice-cream, you might be self-sabotaging.
Your superpower is what you are best at and is your life purpose. You might be self-sabotaging when you take actions that don’t align with your superpower.
My superpower and life purpose is facilitating personal transformation. If I were to start looking for jobs that didn’t allow me to do that, I might be self-sabotaging because I am scared of living my purpose.
Getting to know your deep, authentic, true self will help you identify when you are self-sabotaging.
How to stop self-sabotaging
This is the million dollar question. How can you overcome the things blocking your biggest success? Are you stuck where you are, or can you overcome these blocks and live your best life?
The good news - and the reason for this guide - is yes, you 100% can overcome your limiting beliefs and self-sabotage! It just takes work, commitment, and a little discomfort along the way.
The way you stop self-sabotaging is by clearing the family patterns and limiting beliefs that lead to self-sabotage.
This involves digging into the different experiences of your life, whether that means exploring your family system, previous relationships, work experiences, or beyond.
This can be painful and not always the most fun, but despite this, the stuck energy of those painful and traumatic experiences needs to be released so you can be free of self-sabotaging thoughts and free to live the life of your dreams!
I have created two methods for clearing the sources of self-sabotage and overcoming limiting beliefs.
The first method I created for clearing sources of self-sabotage, The Invitation, is outlined in my book, What’s Your Superpower?
In my book, I call the sources of self-sabotage the Energetic Karmic Scrap Heap.
The Energetic Karmic Scrap Heap is made up of the different sources of self-sabotage. They can be:
Childhood wounds or traumas resulting from betrayal, abandonment, shame or overwhelm.
Family entanglements resulting from a violation of order, balance or belonging.
Soul choices from past lives such as sacred contracts or vows.
The Invitation helps you overcome the Energetic Karmic Scrap Heap with inviting statements, inviting questions, and healing sounds. You can listen to samples of The Invitation on Youtube:
You can also get the CD and What’s Your Superpower? in the Llama store.
The second clearing limiting beliefs technique I have created to work through family patterns and limiting beliefs is called the Open Heart Process.
The Open Heart Process
If you have been looking for how to clear subconscious blocks and overcome limiting beliefs, then the Open Heart Process is the answer.
The purpose of clearing away these self-sabotaging behaviors is so that you can create and live your best life without any interference. You reprogram your subconscious mind and belief system so that you are free to live your best life.
Because of this, the starting point for the Open Heart Process is a clear intention or goal, maybe one you have been struggling to reach for some reason, or one that is on the way to your best life.
The Open Heart Process then follows a series of seven steps that let you overcome your self-sabotaging behaviors, change limiting beliefs and manifest amazing things in your life.
You can find the steps of the Open Heart Process explained below. The intention I use as an example is, “I desire a love that is easy, comfortable and makes my heart sing,” but the open heart process can be used for anything.
If you enter your email below, you can also get my Open Heart Process Worksheet to help you clear away self-sabotage.
1. Make your intention known to the Universe.
Say or write down your intention loud and proud: I desire a love that is easy, comfortable, and makes my heart sing.
2. Clear any energetic blocks in the way of your intention showing up in your life.
This ties back into the causes for self-sabotage above. As you go through life, your family system or previous experiences cause you to develop limiting beliefs about the way things should be or what you deserve.
In the example of a relationship, if you haven't had much success, you might have started to believe it will never work out. Maybe you think that you can't trust anyone in a romantic relationship.
These beliefs get in the way of your intention showing up. If you believe you can't trust anyone, then that is what the Universe is going to give you. You have to clear those limiting beliefs before what you want can show up in your life.
Here’s how I like to visualize clearing these beliefs:
Imagine you are a planet. The universe is sending incredible abundance your way, but all of the hurts and limiting beliefs you have accumulated throughout life are surrounding your planet in the form of an asteroid field.
Each of those limiting belief asteroids is blocking that amazing universal abundance from reaching you. It hits an asteroid and pings off and goes in a different direction.
If you want that incredible universal abundance to show up in your life, you have to clear away those limiting belief asteroids so that it has a path to reach your planet.
You do this by using clearing statements and clearing questions (examples below). As you say these, imagine feeling the most incredible feeling you have ever felt. You are surrounded by divine love and light; life is fantastic, and everything you have ever dreamed of has come true.
Then, when you say these clearing statements, they are like laser beams of golden light coming from your planet, blowing up all those limiting belief asteroids to make room for new, amazing abundance to shine through.
It may take a while to feel like you can get good at this, but the more you do it and really feel it, the more impact it has!
Clearing statements and questions:
Whatever blocks my ability to receive love that is easy, comfortable, and makes my heart sing, everything that is, regardless of origin and nature, I de-story and clear it across all time, space, dimensions, realities and soul choices.
Whatever fear and resistance I have to achieving my love intention, everything that is, regardless of origin and nature, I de-story and clear it across all time, space, dimensions, realities and soul choices.
Whatever family patterns that prevent me from being in a healthy, happy relationship, I de-story and clear it across all time, space, dimensions, realities and soul choices.
What would it take to for my love intention to come true?
What would it take to integrate the fear and resistance I have about my love intention?
What else is possible with my relationships?
(The Invitation has many more great clearing statements and questions that you can tap into.
3. Forgive yourself or others for anything that has happened in the past surrounding your intention.
For the example of the of finding an easy love, those might be:
I forgive myself for the way my last relationship ended.
I forgive my partner for the way the last relationship ended.
I forgive my parents for not modeling a healthy relationship.
I forgive myself for making love hard.
I forgive myself for my contribution to the breakup.
I forgive my partner for his/her contribution to the breakup.
Really feel it when you say these things. You were doing the best you could at the time. Maybe the reason it didn’t work out was that you self-sabotaged. When you forgive yourself for how things turned out, or what you believe, it creates space for something new to show up.
4. Offer gratitude for what has happened surrounding your intention:
I am grateful for the love we had.
I am grateful for the good moments in my love relationships.
I am grateful I am opening my heart to see what else is possible.
Really appreciate what the universe has given you! Everything leading up to this point has been a learning opportunity, and now you have the chance to do it even better than before.
5. Give yourself permission to achieve your intention:
I give myself permission to love myself just as I am.
I give myself permission to have a love that is easy, comfortable, and makes my heart sing.
I give myself permission to transcend my family system.
I give my prior partner permission to have a love that is easy, comfortable, and makes his/her heart sing.
Sometimes all we are waiting for is permission from ourselves to do what we feel is right. Give yourself that permission to be all that you are, and not who others want or expect you to be.
6. Clear any limitations to forgiveness, gratitude, and permission with these clearing statements
When you say these, imitate the same feeling as mentioned above!
Anywhere I can't forgive, everything that is, regardless of nature or origin, I de-story and clear it across all time, space, dimensions, realities and soul choices.
Anywhere I can’t appreciate and be grateful for my life just the way it is, everything that is, regardless of nature or origin, I de-story and clear it across all time, space, dimensions, realities and soul choices.
Anywhere I withhold permission for love, everything that is, regardless of nature or origin, I de-story and clear it across all time, space, dimensions, realities and soul choices.
Anywhere I withhold gratitude, everything that is, regardless of nature or origin, I de-story and clear it across all time, space, dimensions, realities and soul choices.
What would it take for me to forgive myself and others?
What would it take to appreciate and be grateful for my life just the way it is?
What would it take for me to stand in the forgiveness of self and others, appreciation and gratitude of self and others, and grant permission to myself and the others for my love intention?
Don’t let those limiting belief asteroids block your amazing abundance any longer! Blow them up with love, light, and amazing goodness!
7. Receive the goodness of the Universe and track it each day
At the end of each day, write down the goodness you received from the Universe. Nothing is too small.
Did you receive a coupon for $1 off your favorite sandwich? Celebrate it!
Did someone do something nice for you? Celebrate it!
What we focus on grows. By focusing on and tracking the amazing things delivered to you, you will get more of the good stuff!
By using this process, you clean the slate of stuck energy that keeps you self-sabotaging. It works on any limiting belief or pattern, so apply it to every aspect of your life to create the fantastic life you desire.
Using both the Invitation and the Open Heart Process you can help you take your life to new heights. Comment below with any abundance you receive!
Wishing awesomeness upon you,
Additional resources for understanding and working through self-sabotage: