What is self-sabotage in anxiety?

In this article, we'll explore self-sabotage, a common issue with managing anxiety. So, what exactly is this self-sabotage? It refers to beliefs and behaviours that break the progress cycle and prevent you from reaching your desired goals. Everyone at some stage does this. Knowing the various types of self-sabotage will help us catch it by recognising the pattern before it causes too much damage.


How many times have you thought about the changes you need to make? The next step is to commit to taking action. Then, for a while, you feel good because you stick with your goals and new beliefs in yourself. Out of the blue and often unseen comes a challenging time, and all that effort feels like it's gone to waste. This is the self-sabotage aspect.

Self-sabotage has one goal, and that is to make you feel defeated.

You might find yourself putting stuff off; this is procrastination. After you have put something off, you have a shorter time frame to complete it. As your anxiety suffers, you might need to compensate by perfecting so you spend hours getting things as perfect as possible. In the stress, you might start negative self-talk. All of this combines to undermine your levels of self-worth. Self-sabotage becomes problematic when we introduce habitual habits to ease fears; with help, these things can be overcome. 

Often, you might not realise you are self-sabotaging. Upon closer inspection, only when you catch yourself in your avoidance habit can they begin to look more like the realities of avoidance techniques. So, let's take a look at some of them:

  • substance abuse gambling and other risky behaviour
  • comparing yourself with others 
  • staying within our comfort zone
  • attempting to win the approval of others to feel secure 
  • times of social withdrawal and isolation 
  • constantly reaching for the low-hanging fruit for ease

Have you ever felt you have screwed up your opportunities? Often, this results from limiting beliefs in yourself and harsh self-criticism of automatic thoughts running through your mind. These areas can include but are not limited to bonding with family and friends and not excelling in education attainments. Not feeling secure in seeking a romantic relationship and other opportunities.

Uncertainty and low self-tolerance show up in anxiety, and resisting change due to fear can keep you stuck. Breaking the hold of self-sabotage is not something you can safely do alone; however, in the correct hands, it can be something to look forward to and enjoy as you progress.

Self-sabotage does not have to keep you stuck in this life. There will have been events that will influence your self-image. If given a constant reinforcer message, you would not amount to anything or experience bullying as you grew up; there is still hope. Have you ever questioned the grounds of evidence for such a harsh statement or just accepted it as said? It is never too late to turn your life around.

How to turn your life around

The first step in turning life around is accepting that self-sabotaging does not have to be an inherent part of your lifelong character. It is possible to flip this self-sabotaging with self-advancement. Start slowly and add on more methods of self-advancement while creating your new self-image. As you discover the natural inner person, your inner critic will have a more challenging job to pull you down. You will develop strengths and talents you never realised you had.

To begin this journey of a lifetime, it is essential to sit with self-reflection and try writing about your day and what happened. Write about what you did, what went right, what could have been better, and what you would do next time. Record your moods, behaviour, and patterns of thoughts. Take time to pause during the day and look into your feelings. Once you build an inner relationship, your self-confidence will follow. When was the last time you asked yourself who you are? Examine your thoughts and ask yourself what these thoughts do for you. Do they harm or help to heal?

Make goals for yourself based on what you value in life. What brings you peace and provides a purpose, energising you, aim to replace one negative thought daily. The inner critic that you have been battling has one aim - to keep you down. You will soon notice a difference once you begin to replace automatic critical thoughts.

You will begin to develop character strengths that are uniquely you. These will help you thrive. Reflect on these, not just the things you do well but attitudes you value. Self-sabotage is not a character flaw; it is often fear-based and prevents you from reaching your goals. Learn to become kind to yourself. If you find yourself struggling, seek professional help with guidance to discover a life of purpose where core beliefs will heal stress and anxiety.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London E1 & E14
Written by David Pender, MBACP, Integrative Psychotherapy | Specialising in Anxiety
London E1 & E14

David Pender is a mental health advocate/ writer and qualified integrative counsellor registered as a member with the BACP. David has extensive knowledge of anxiety, depression, and trauma. As a coach, David has a range of tools to keep you engaged with promoting your best life. Unsure try a free discovery call from this site.

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