How To Stop Self-Sabotaging

Posted on October 26th, 2017

No one starts the day planning to sabotage him/herself by procrastinating, inhaling food, or becoming uncontrollably angry. It is generally not a conscious decision, which makes it a problem. Less common forms of self-sabotage are self-injury / cutting to escape painful emotions, or overspending on shopping sprees.

Procrastination may be the most common form of self-sabotage. Many times a teen procrastinates because they care too much, not too little, about succeeding. If a person procrastinates and does not succeed, then they can say that they could have started earlier, thereby never having to confront the fact that they tried as hard as they could to succeed, yet failed. Procrastination is the gap between intention and action. Self-sabotaging lies in not closing the gap. When we know something is bad for us, but fail to take steps or action to remedy the issue, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Here are some reasons why a teen may (typically unconsciously) self-sabotage:

Perfectionistic tendencies: Some teens are perfectionists who are high achievers and will self-sabotage before they fail. Because they are so afraid of failing, they procrastinate to put it off. They are more comfortable ruining their own chances because then they can hold onto a sense of having control.

Control: Some teens enjoy feeling they have control of a situation whether the outcome is good or bad. If a person chooses to fail and they do, then they have still won! They may engineer a failure so as to maintain a sense of having control.

Low self-esteem: Feeling unworthy may cause a person to feel that they don’t deserve to be happy or have success. A person may have self-doubt in their ability to succeed.

Self-identity: Surprisingly, many teens are protective of their identity, even if it is negative. A teen does not know what it would look like to be different and they do not know who they would be without these familiar labels or perceptions. Success may impact a teen’s label of being “lazy” or “a loser,” so they may self-sabotage in order to not cause any disruption in this part of their identify. Many teens want to stay in their own comfort zone. A teen changing his or her identity may impact the teen’s friend group, or others’ opinions of the teen, which can be scary.

Tips for parents of teenagers:

  • Focus on the positive and build your teen’s self-esteem. Ask your teen how he/she prefers to be acknowledged when doing a great job (in private, with a note, etc.).
  • Remember that your teen is unique and don’t compare your teen to other teens or siblings.
  • Let your teen know that failure is part of life and that is how change and growth occur. Share your own experiences of failure with your teen.
  • Model healthy behaviors that don’t include self-sabotage.
  • Show your teen evidence of where he/she does not self-sabotage and the positive outcome.
  • Help your teen develop healthy ways to handle stress, such as journaling or mind-body coping strategies like exercise, mindfulness, or meditation apps.
  • Help your teen see that control is an illusion. A person can only strive to have healthy behaviors or destructive behaviors.

Tips for teens who self-sabotage:

  • Awareness: Learn to recognize your signs of self-sabotage and become aware of your self-defeating thoughts. Mindfulness can be very helpful.
  • Acknowledge it: Determine if your behavior is an excuse or a reason. Be honest with yourself in differentiating between the two. It is normal to have an excuse deep down prepared, just in case you fail, but you want to be honest with yourself in identifying it.
  • Visualize success: Imagine what true success would look like to you – not black-and-white success and not fantasy. Visualize road bumps, so when the challenges come, you can consciously stop your negative thoughts and prevent self-sabotaging behavior. Remember that success and perfection are not the same.
  • Think beyond yourself: Step out of your bubble and see the bigger picture. One way you can learn how to see beyond yourself is by volunteering and helping others.

Self-sabotage, whether it is over-drinking or hitting the snooze-button, is all controlled by the person. The good news is that your teen has the power to stop self-sabotaging behaviors. With your support, you can empower your teen to choose healthy, productive behavior.

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Teen Therapy Center provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.