Do you find yourself in auto-destruct mode, wondering why we self-sabotage ourselves, our goals, and our relationships? This post explains everything you need to know about self-sabotaging behavior. 

In this post, I’ll discuss:

  • What is self-sabotage
  • Unpacking the stress-disease connection 
  • Understanding and aligning with ‘peak experiences’
  • Strategies explaining how to stop self-sabotaging

What is Self-Sabotaging Behaviour?

I’m confident you know someone who claims to want a happy, fulfilling, healthy lifestyle, yet engages in behaviors that sabotage this aim in one or more areas of their lives. I would even bet that this has happened to you.

Why am I so confident? Because we all do it from time to time in one way or another. 

Why? What would compel intelligent, conscious humans to move in any direction other than to fulfill their happiness and health?

The behavior is complex and often convoluted. Yet, the answer is simple. Everything we do as humans has a secondary gain—a payoff—including self-sabotage. At some level, we convince ourselves that our behaviors—even those that are dysfunctional or self-destructive—lead us toward our desired goals.

For instance, you may want to find a romantic relationship to settle down and start a family. You work out and watch what you eat. You know what to do to make yourself more attractive. Still, you find yourself sneaking a sweet more often than you’re willing to admit (even to yourself). And with the stress in your life, it’s easy to find a reason why you deserve those sugary coffee drinks each morning. 

None of it is evil or immoral, but it points to self-sabotaging behaviors.

Sometimes, the secondary gain of negative behavior is not as noticeable as all that. I’ve worked with many individuals who do all the right things to lose weight and get in shape. And still, they can’t lose the bulk around the belly. The secondary gain is so deeply buried in their subconscious mind that their body retains the extra layers to protect them. 

What? Yes. Protect them. Often the real issue is fear of being in a relationship, lack of trust, permeable boundaries, a history of poor choices in partners, or the avoidance of rejection.

Even while committing to the hard work of losing girth, a person’s subconscious mind may be busy protecting them from other perceived dangers.

Self-sabotaging behavior can take on more sinister aspects when it escalates to address a crucial underlying need.

Take the example of a child who acts out by hitting or biting in her desire to receive love and attention. Later, the behavior may become promiscuity, jealous rage, or addiction and play out as self-sabotage in relationships. If her underlying issues are left unaddressed, she may manifest physical symptoms like diabetes, auto-immune disorders, or cancer.

The Stress-Disease Connection

While there may be environmental causes of disease, compelling evidence discloses underlying psychological and emotional connections. A 30–year study by Psychologists Suzanne C. Segerstrom, Ph.D., and Gregory E. Miller, Ph.D., revealed, “Stressful events reliably associate with changes in the immune system, and…characteristics of those events are important in determining the kind of change that occurs.”

In other words, the nature of the stress incurred will determine the nature of the resulting condition. Years of clinical observations indicate that the root of most tension is a misalignment between a person’s actual core values and their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. It is the sabotage of our own rules and aims! 

This misalignment is the difference between the bright, expansive being we believe and can sense that we are (“deep self”) and our everyday experience of being bound to tradition, expectations, duty, obligation, or misconceptions about reality. Minor misalignment might appear as trivial bad habits. Significant chronic misalignment often presents as a disease.

Aligning with Peak Experiences

Abraham Maslow, the noted psychologist who pioneered studies of the human personality, gave a classic description of the experience of the deep self. He stated, “These moments were of pure, positive happiness, when all doubts, all fears, all inhibitions, all tensions, all weaknesses, were left behind. Now, self-consciousness was lost. All separateness and distance from the world disappeared….”

Maslow labeled these as ‘peak experiences’ because of their rarity and described their curative power as going far beyond their brief duration.

However, achieving these states of consciousness and connectedness is possible. Many of us can achieve such “peak moments,” enhancing self-discovery, positive personal growth, and health through a series of techniques and strategies that encourage alignment.

A Case Study on Self-Sabotage

One of my clients, Lena, was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a condition that puzzles the medical community and creates pain and sensitivity in its victims. 

Through techniques and strategies combining hypnotherapy, NLP, psychology, and philosophy, Lena discovered that her symptoms were directly related to her dissatisfaction with her career. Further exploration led to the understanding that her attitudes about her work had much deeper roots in her basic philosophy concerning life, expectations, and self-worth.

To unearth the secondary gains of Lena’s disease and begin the process of realignment, we started with four questions:

  1. In what way does having Fibromyalgia benefit my life? Though it may seem outrageous that such a painful syndrome could have “benefits,” remember that all behaviors, attitudes, and even diseases have underlying secondary benefits, or we wouldn’t maintain them.
  2. In what way is having Fibromyalgia a detriment to my life?
  3. How would not having Fibromyalgia be a benefit to my life?
  4. How would not having Fibromyalgia be a detriment to my life?

Lena discovered that Fibromyalgia was an insidious type of sabotage. It allowed her to say “no” without guilt, avoid social events she was not interested in, and take time off work that she could not obtain in any other way. 

Her answers revealed more profound problems in her philosophical perspectives. She realized her self-worth depended on her ability to perform and please those around her. 

As she began to restructure that perspective and experience a sense of self-worth beyond performance (her ‘deep self’), she could release the symptoms of her disease.

Exploring secondary gains is a recommended first step in recognizing self-sabotaging behavior and reorienting yourself toward your desired lifestyle. It is a productive exercise if you find yourself asking, “Why do I self-sabotage?” This protocol reveals the underlying motivation of behaviors that keep us from getting what we want out of life.

Apply This Strategy to Stop Self-Sabotaging

Choose an area of your life where you are blocked, in contradiction, or have symptoms of stress. Ask yourself the four questions listed above in a relaxed, meditative state. 

You’ll likely uncover hidden factors operating in your life. You’ll find it empowering to reveal these hidden motivators so you can address them or satisfy their needs in ways that benefit you in achieving your personal goals.

Ending Thoughts

We all have areas of our lives where we experience self-sabotaging behavior. They can be subtle behaviors or genuinely destructive. It may show up as rage, overdrinking, smoking, relationship issues, giving too much of yourself, not speaking up, or lack of boundaries. The list goes on.   

This exercise is a preliminary step that may be all you need to get out of your way and live your best life. In most cases, there is more work to do. 

Consider working with a professional who can help you move past blocks, gain clarity of your purpose and path, and create the joy, abundance, and wellness you seek.

As a trained hypnotherapist, I offer 1:1 hypnotherapy and coaching for my clients. If you’re ready to stop your self-sabotaging behaviors for good, book a Discovery Call with me, and let’s unpack this together!

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