6 Reasons Why We Self-Sabotage

“Why do I do this to myself?” If you’ve uttered that phrase, you may be an unwitting victim of your own bad habits, better known as self-sabotage. By request from listener Sari in Melbourne, Australia, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen offers 6 reasons why, instead of shooting for the stars, we aim straight for our foot.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #138


Reason #4: Familiarity. Again, people like to be consistent. Time and time again, we even choose consistency over happiness. If you’re used to being neglected, abused, ignored, or exploited, it’s oddly comforting to keep putting yourself in that position. You’ve probably been there your whole life, and while you’re not happy, the devil you know is preferable to the devil you don’t.

However your self-sabotage manifests, strike it at the root, which is this: fear of failure.

Reason #5: For a handy scapegoat. If things don’t work out (or when they don’t work out, because that’s the only option, right?) we can blame the sabotage instead of ourselves. Of course he left me—we argued all the time. Of course I failed the class—I didn’t start my term paper until the night before. These reasons, while true, are more superficial, and therefore easier to swallow than the deeper reasons we only believe to be true: Of course he left me—the real me is unlovable. Of course I failed the class—I’m incapable of understanding this stuff.

Reason #6: Sheer boredom. Once in awhile, we self-sabotage simply to push buttons. We pick a fight, incite drama, get a rush. Of course, this isn’t random--we do all things for a reason. Here, sabotage re-creates a familiar feeling of instability and chaos, plus, if we’re stuck at the bottom, we might as well wield some power while we’re there, right?

How to stop sawing off the tree limb you’re sitting on? Well, let’s look down lower, to the proverbial root. However your self-sabotage manifests, strike it at the root, which is this: fear of failure.

Now, I get a lot of raised eyebrows when I say that: most people think of self-sabotage as fear of success. But deep down, fear of success isn’t truly a fear of making it big—it’s a fear of trying one’s best and not succeeding, of being publicly humiliated as we worry, in the immortal words of Wham, that our best isn’t good enough. It’s enough to make us take refuge in spiralizer infomercials on YouTube.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.