Breaking the Cycle: Why Women Self-Sabotage and How to Overcome It
June 12, 2023
Why Women Self-Sabotage and How to Overcome It

Written By Stacey Inal  MA, MBA,
Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Women’s Life Coach

Breaking the Cycle: Why Women Self-Sabotage and How to Overcome It

Oh, the dreaded words, “self-sabotage”. Like many of you, I have lived the cycle of self-sabotage at various moments throughout my life. When I was younger, many times my goals seemed so close and then I would doubt myself, often procrastinate, or give up all together. Then the vicious cycle of negative self-talk and doubt set in.  During the process, I would chastise myself not fully grasping what was happening to me and why I felt stuck.  Worse yet, my confidence in my abilities took a nose dive and it would be hard to recover from that.

What Exactly Is Self-Sabotage?

Self-sabotage is a phenomenon in which individuals knowingly or unknowingly act against their own best interests. From procrastinating on work assignments, sabotaging relationships, and engaging in unhealthy habits, it is estimated that around 70% of the population has experienced self-defeating tendencies at one point in their lives.

Women, especially, have been found to be more susceptible to self-sabotage both professionally and personally. That certainly has been my experience both for me as well as many of my friends and clients. More often, women tend to self-sabotage. We experience the negative effects of this phenomenon. It is imperative that we learn healthy ways to break the cycle and empower ourselves to reach our full potential. Too often we compare ourselves to other and so rarely allow others see the vulnerable parts of ourselves.

Why Do We Self-Sabotage?

Self-sabotage can manifest in various ways, but the underlying causes are often tied to deep-rooted psychological issues such as low self-esteem, fear of failure, and lack of self-confidence. Women face unique societal pressures that can contribute to self-sabotage. The tendency to prioritize others’ needs over our own, societal expectations of women to be perfect and likable all the time, and the fear of being judged harshly can all create the perfect breeding ground for self-defeating behavior.

  1. Fear of failure: One of the most common reasons for self-sabotage is the fear of failure. We fear how others will view us and judge us. This fear can prevent us from taking risks or trying new things because we assume that we’ll fail anyway. We may procrastinate, avoid challenges, or self-sabotage to avoid the discomfort of failing. However, it’s important to realize that failure is a part of learning and growing, and it’s better to try and fail than to regret not trying at all. To overcome this fear, focus on your strengths, set achievable goals, and remind yourself that your worth is not defined by your achievements.
  2. Fear of success: On the other hand, some women may self-sabotage because they’re afraid of success. They may feel unworthy of success, fear that it will change them or their relationships, or feel guilty for achieving more than others. This fear can manifest as procrastination, self-doubt, or self-destructive behaviors. To overcome this fear, it’s important to recognize the value of your goals and the positive impact they can have on your life and others. Surround yourself with supportive people who encourage and celebrate your achievements.
  3. Negative self-talk: Another common reason for self-sabotage is negative self-talk, which can damage our confidence, self-esteem, and sense of worthiness. We may have internalized negative beliefs from past experiences, criticism from others, or societal expectations that tell us we’re not good enough or don’t belong. This negative self-talk can affect our behavior and decisions, leading us to self-sabotage our goals and relationships. To overcome this, practice self-compassion and challenge those negative beliefs by focusing on your strengths and achievements.
  1. Perfectionism: Being a perfectionist can also lead to self-sabotage by setting unrealistic expectations and standards for ourselves. We may become overly critical of ourselves and our work, leading us to procrastinate, avoid challenges, or give up on our goals. This can also lead to burnout and stress, negatively impacting our mental and physical health. To overcome perfectionism, focus on progress, not perfection, and set realistic goals and standards. Learn to accept mistakes as part of the learning process and be kind to yourself.
  2. Lack of Boundaries: Lastly, a lack of boundaries can contribute to self-sabotage by allowing others to take advantage of our time and energy. Often women really struggle with boundaries both in the workplace and within the family system. We may overwork ourselves, neglect self-care, or avoid confrontations to avoid conflict or displeasing others. This can lead to resentment, burnout, and feelings of helplessness. To overcome this, I have found it is important to set healthy boundaries and prioritize your needs and well-being. Seek support and communicate your boundaries assertively and respectfully.

The Effects of Self-Sabotage

The effects of self-sabotage can be far-reaching, with both personal and professional consequences. At work, self-sabotage can prevent women from advancing in their careers, lead to missed opportunities, and damage professional relationships. In their personal lives, self-sabotage can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety, and can even damage intimate relationships. If left unchecked, self-sabotage can become a vicious cycle, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that perpetuates feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy.

Overcoming Self-Sabotage

The first step in overcoming self-sabotage is to identify the patterns and triggers that lead to this behavior. This begins with honest self-reflection and a willingness to acknowledge and challenge the negative beliefs and assumptions that contribute to self-defeating behavior. Women can truly benefit from seeking out support from therapists or coaches, building self-confidence by setting achievable goals, and developing a strong support network of friends and mentors who can provide encouragement and accountability.

  1. Increase self-awareness: The first step in overcoming self-sabotage is to become aware of the patterns and behaviors that are holding you back. Pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, and actions in various situations to identify self-sabotaging patterns.
  2. Identify triggers and underlying beliefs: Explore the triggers that lead to self-sabotage. These triggers could be certain situations, people, or even your own thoughts and feelings. Additionally, try to uncover the underlying beliefs that fuel your self-sabotaging behavior. For example, you may have deep-rooted beliefs of unworthiness or fear of failure.
  3. Challenge negative self-talk: Replace negative self-talk with more positive and empowering statements. Counteract self-limiting beliefs with affirmations and reminders of your strengths and abilities. Practice self-compassion and treat yourself with kindness and understanding.
  4. Set realistic goals: Set achievable goals that align with your values and aspirations. Break down larger goals into smaller, manageable steps. By setting realistic goals, you can build confidence and maintain motivation throughout the process.
  5. Develop a support system: Surround yourself with supportive individuals who believe in your capabilities. Share your goals and aspirations with trusted friends, family members, or mentors who can provide encouragement, accountability, and constructive feedback. Having a strong support system can help you stay motivated and overcome self-doubt.
  6. Seek professional help if needed: If self-sabotage persists and significantly impacts your well-being and success, consider seeking support from a therapist, counselor, or coach. They can provide guidance, tools, and techniques tailored to your specific situation to help you overcome self-sabotaging behaviors.

Remember, overcoming self-sabotage is a process that requires patience, self-reflection, and consistent effort. It is important to lean in on others for support. Be kind to yourself along the way and celebrate each step forward, no matter how small. With perseverance and self-belief, you can break free from self-sabotaging habits and create a life filled with success, happiness, and personal growth.

The Benefits of Stopping Self-Sabotage

For me, one of the best realizations in tackling my self-sabotage behaviors was that my self-esteem improved. Once I understood why I was doing it, I could work on my behaviors and emotions that weren’t serving me. Overcoming self-sabotage can lead to a range of positive outcomes for women. Professionally, it can mean greater job satisfaction, improved performance, and increased opportunities for advancement. On a personal level, it can lead to healthier relationships, greater confidence, and overall well-being. When we learn to break the cycle of self-sabotage, we create space for growth, self-improvement, and greater success in all areas of our lives.

Self-sabotage is a complex and often unconscious phenomenon that can keep women from reaching their full potential both personally and professionally. However, with awareness and a commitment to identifying and challenging negative beliefs, women can learn to break the cycle and create healthier, more fulfilling lives.

By prioritizing self-care, seeking support from trusted sources, and committing to personal growth, women can empower themselves to overcome self-sabotage and unlock their true potential. Don’t be afraid to speak about your own behaviors that are preventing you to get to your goals. Know that you are not alone and there is hope. I can say this having walked the walk as a former “self-saboteur” and presently as a career coach helping women dealing with this issue.

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