Just when it seems like you are about to make significant progress in your recovery, something goes wrong, and you are back to square one. While setbacks like these might make you wonder if a sustainable recovery is even possible, it’s important to know that a deeply embedded defense mechanism known as self-sabotage may be at the root of your troubles.
You are just about to make an important step forward in life – you are getting to the root of your addiction in therapy, going further in a healthy, positive relationship, or securing the job you have always wanted – and then, everything goes sideways. You cancel your next therapy appointments and relapse, or cheat on your partner, or sleep through the final interview, and suddenly what seemed to be right at your fingertips is far away again.
Those close to you are puzzled and disappointed, and you are as well. You may be asking yourself, “Why does this always happen to me?” This is a very good question, and one that should be explored in order to understand what self-sabotage is and what is behind it.
What is Self-Sabotage?
While you may feel that you are the only person that struggles with undermining your own aspirations, self-sabotage is a common pattern of thoughts and behaviours, particularly among those in recovery. At its core, self-sabotage is a type of self-defense mechanism, a way to protect yourself from change.
For example, your excitement about your new job is also mixed with anxiety about whether you’ll be able to meet the challenges that come with it. Your love for your partner is tinged with fear that they might leave you. Your commitment to overcoming the causes of your addiction is tempered by worries that you’ll just end up relapsing anyway. As a result, we go back to what is familiar, because even if it’s worse, we feel like we already know how to deal with it.
Common Habits Associated with Self-Sabotage
- You make solutions to problems more complicated than they actually are
- You are often pessimistic
- You procrastinate, or waste time on small things rather than sticking to a routine
- You don’t maintain a healthy work/life balance
- You make yourself too busy to address your problems
- You find ways to avoid responsibilities, including “forgetting” things
- You have a negative internal narrative
- When things get difficult, you tend to quit
Self-sabotage often occurs unconsciously, so recognising habits related to it is a helpful first step in uncovering whether this defense mechanism may be getting in the way of your recovery.
What Lies Behind Self-Sabotage?
Once you realize that self-sabotage is creating obstacles to your personal progress, it is important to analyse where this reaction is coming from. Deep, unresolved emotional wounds tend to underlie self-sabotage. These can include a range of feelings like:
People carry the burden of shame differently. For some, it’s always at the surface, poisoning self-talk, destroying self-esteem, and influencing the way the world is experienced. For others, this is buried deep in the subconscious, coming out in reactions and behaviours that may seem inexplicable.
When we feel shame, we feel like something is wrong with who we are as a person, leading us to believe that we don’t deserve good things or that we will only bring frustration or harm to others. Those who self-sabotage often struggle with feelings of shame.
Need to Control
Uncertainty is difficult for most people, especially for those who are trying to find solid ground again after addiction. This can lead to a desire to control every outcome possible, even when and how failures occur. Not sure if you’re going to get that job you want so badly? Not submitting the application means that you are the one who manages the outcome – even if it’s not the one you want. The sense of control, even if it means losing something that is meaningful, can be reassuring to the part of the psyche that is afraid of having to cope with the unexpected.
Greater success, deeper relationships, and a better understanding of yourself should be seen as positive things. However, with progression comes greater responsibilities, as well as the possibility of loss. For those in recovery, moving forward means reckoning with the past, and committing to change for the future. It’s a big task that can seem frightening, and may spark self-sabotaging behaviour.
The fear of not meeting the expectations of ourself and others is also a common driver of self-sabotage. This is highly common with individuals undergoing addiction treatment at a rehab, there is an acute awareness of what is expected as a result of treatment, and often a deep sense of worry about not being able to live up to those standards.
Ending Self-Sabotaging Behaviour
A combination of awareness and therapy is key to ending self-sabotaging behaviour and allowing yourself to take risks in order to progress in your recovery. A therapist can help you identify these behaviours and learn new skills in order to cope with fear and uncertainty and overcome feelings of shame. These include practices like:
Being Gentle with Yourself
Cultivating a healthy relationship with yourself is critical in moving past shame and redefining the problematic inner narratives and patterns of thought that often fuel self-sabotaging behaviour. This means interrupting negative self-talk, accepting mistakes as important lessons to build from, and prioritising your own care and wellbeing. Certain types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, will help you recognise, analyse and transform deeply embedded but harmful thought patterns in order to reframe your perspective and create different responses to your experiences.
Sharing Your Fears
Keeping our fears and anxieties hidden away allows them to continue to be the foundation for self-sabotaging behaviour. Bringing these into the open, where they can be examined and discussed in a supportive environment gradually breaks them down, allowing you to see these for what they are – only fears and worries, not hard truths about who you are or how things will turn out. Interpersonal (group) therapy or support groups can help provide a safe and encouraging environment to share these feelings, while reminding you that you are not alone in your experiences.
Going Beyond an Emotional Response
Intense emotions tend to precede self-sabotage, as the discomfort of feelings like fear or stress pushes us into trying to protect ourselves from further inner turmoil. Learning how to cope with the emotions until the intensity wears off gives you the time you need to exercise a greater degree of logic in making important decisions. Whether you choose to take the edge off of your emotions with a massage, a jog on a treadmill, a yoga class, or a walk around the park, making the choice to temper your emotional response is a key part of ending self-sabotage.
The Right Kind of Support for Addiction Recovery at The Dawn
The Dawn Wellness Center and Rehab is a unique alcohol and drug rehab in Thailand, located in the charming north of the country that offers a modern, holistic treatment approach designed to promote a sustainable, lasting recovery from addiction and other mental health disorders. Our international team of specialists draws from a range of effective psychotherapeutic techniques, proven wellness practices, and cutting-edge medical technology to develop a highly-personalised treatment plan specific to your needs.
The Type of Treatment that’s Right for You
At The Dawn, we cap our client admissions at 35, which allows our clinical team the time to give each client personal attention, and adjust their evolving treatment needs over the course of their stay. The small number also fosters a strong sense of community amongst clients and staff. Here, everyone is on a first name basis, and clients have an all-access pass to our team for support whenever they need it.
Call us today to learn more about The Dawn can help you overcome addiction and discover the breadth of your potential.