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Many of us engage in counterproductive self-sabotaging behaviours. We may self-sabotage our relationships or careers for example, in a misguided attempt to protect ourselves from being hurt or experiencing negative emotions. Such behaviour is driven by subconscious impulses for punishment and deprivation.

Self-sabotaging behaviour is a result of self-neglecting and self-defeating tendencies which are unhelpful or harmful. These types of tendencies are present within most individuals. 

Self neglect is characterised by an individual’s habit to ignore their own needs, wants and feelings, which results in a painful way of living a life of a person who ‘doesn’t matter’. 

Self-defeat is a negative habit of dealing with things that person is not happy about in ways that result in things not improving or even getting worse, such as: taking unreasonable risks, acting impulsively, putting self through humiliating experiences, and so on.   

People may either knowingly or unknowingly, willing or unwillingly engage in the self-defeating and self-neglecting behaviours. Because these behaviours are motivated by internal reasons, which are feared and avoided, self-defeat and self-neglect can be much harder to control and change without addressing the underlying issues.

Most self-neglecting and self-defeating behaviours are a result of subconsciously driven impulses for punishment and deprivation, which work together with anxiety and internal sense of “badness” and shame. Anxiety and self-defeating mechanisms create some sort of internal prison, in which the individual is deprived or punished for feeling good about themselves and/or lives in fear of such punishment.

In our clinic we see clients who are scared of success and happiness and who avoid living their lives to their full potential. Such individuals are living their lives sitting on the fence – they avoid making ‘important for them’ decisions or commitments, they do not take steps towards what really matters to them, and ultimately waste their lives waiting for the reality to change by itself, without taking any action. This type of problems frequently activates ‘compensatory’ behaviours, such as over- or under- eating, seeking to please others, sexual activity which is later regretted, hiding within addictions, and other behaviours which may contradict personal values and well-being.

The extent of the self-sabotage behaviours and suffering depends on how deeply rooted the self-defeating tendencies are within the individual’s psychology, how aware of the problem the individual is, individual’s internal capacity to work through internal problems, and their willingness to give themselves a chance for a happy life

It is important to note here that we do not work with forensic clients and any activities which include criminal and illegal activities, activities that cause harm to other people or animals, substantial drug use, or severe alcohol abuse. These types of problems require treatment that can only be provided within specific facilities with multidisciplinary team arrangements and our service is not suitable for that.

Self-neglecting and self-defeating tendencies are frequently accompanied by anxiety problems, depression and low mood, sleep problems and nightmares, and chronic pain. In addition, self-defeat usually negatively impacts close relationships, resulting in feeling of isolation and despair.

Let us know if you have any further questions and we will do our best to answer them.

Valeria Zoteyeva, Health Psychologist
This post is an intellectual property of the Melbourne Health Psychology Centre (c) 2020


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