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The Awful Truth

Self-sabotaging behaviors hinder our progress and interfere with our overall functioning. The terms self-sabotage and self-defeating behaviors mean the same thing in this post. Whether we plan to or not, we sometimes self-sabotage. These behaviors are generally hard to recognize because they are a part of our routine. Consequently, the sabotaging effect of the behaviors is not immediately known.

Self-defeating behaviors can seem mundane:

  • Not taking your medications as prescribed (missing doses)

  • Taking more of your pain medications than is prescribed

  • Porous boundaries with others

  • Overindulgence in certain types of food

  • Maintaining unhealthy relationships for the sake of having friends

  • Acting passively, making unnecessary sacrifices to please others

  • Lack of punctuality

  • Financial illiteracy

  • Procrastinating

  • Being your ex's emotional hostage because of guilt

  • Consumption of alcohol to cope with life stressors, showing up to work drunk, or hangover

Interestingly, some of our self-defeating behaviors are also our safety behaviors. We use safety behaviors to protect us from the things we may find unpleasant. For example, we enjoy our quiet space, we attend a professional development and networking seminar, yet we make every effort to avoid conversation while at the event.

Should we peel back the layers of our behaviors and examine our daily lives, we will find examples of self-sabotage. Not because we perform self-sabotaging behaviors means we are flawed and cannot change.

The way we view and think of ourselves may strengthen our self-defeating behaviors. "I'm not good enough," and other doubt labels may handicap our progress. "If I had my life to live again" is another pessimistic way of thinking that is self-sabotaging. What do you mean by "If I had my life to live again"? Are you aware you are still alive? Whatever the perceived shortcomings can be addressed and resolved reasonably given you are aware, you could have done things differently.

Also, self-sabotage may manifest in groupthink. In an effort not to "upset the applecart," we suppress our ideas out of fear of being ridiculed by other group members. So, we conform with things or ideas we do not agree with all in the name of keeping the peace. Thus sacrificing our individuality and the right to freely express our thoughts. We may even give socially desirable answers or say what we think people want to hear. Yes, there are times when groupthink is necessary. Still, one needs to be self-aware of when groupthink becomes destructive.

Confirmation bias is another way we may self-sabotage. When we make decisions, we are encouraged to consider all the facts in evidence. However, when confirmation bias is applied in the decision-making process, there is a tendency to be selective in what is decided on as having evidentiary value. Thus ignoring the "big picture" and selecting the evidence that confirms our previously held perspective. This type of bias becomes problematic because of the tendency to overlook some of the facts, making it challenging to hold ourselves accountable.

The aptly named reality therapy uses the WDEP System that challenges us to examine our behaviors to make changes:

W (Wants) – D (Doing) – E (Evaluate) – P (Planning)

Wants = What do you want?

Doing = What are you doing to get what you want?

Evaluate = Is what you are doing helping you to get what you want?

Plan = What are you prepared to do differently to point you in the direction you want to go?

The WDEP System is applicable when we are motivated and seeking change.

It is ok if the answers to the WDEP System and similar questions are not readily available to you. A pragmatic approach will help you make the necessary changes. As you begin to answer these questions with a willingness to change course. Look at what is not working as you intend them to. Rather than defaulting to self-sabotaging behaviors that hamper progress, you evaluate your actions.

N. B. The contents of this blog post are not prescriptive.

Stay Naturally Curious


Wade, C. & Tavis, C. (2008). Psychology. (9th ed.). Pearson.

Corey, G. (1996). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (5th ed). Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

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