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Why Do People With Mental Illness Self-Sabotage?

There is a lot of talk about why people with mental illness self-sabotage. The other day, while reading online, I saw this quote: “I am afraid of two things equally – success and failure.” I took notice when I read it because it sums up my entire life and the topic of self-sabotage comes up a lot in support groups I have facilitated.

22 thoughts on “Why Do People With Mental Illness Self-Sabotage?

  • July 9, 2015 at 10:52 am

    Great post. I have handed the football to the other team right before scoring the winning touchdown countless times. Luckily I am still in the game…

    • July 9, 2015 at 12:00 pm

      Thank you, Darick! 🙂 ~Gabe

  • July 9, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Please remove the associated image –presumably meant to invoke the question of shooting ourselves in the feet as a form of self-sabotage. This image as part of a mental health posting is truly inappropriate. There’s enough stigma and miseducation around re: mental health, violence, and self-harm. Let’s not perpetuate backwards ideas through not-thought-through images!

    • July 9, 2015 at 5:49 pm

      Hello Meg –

      I understand what you are saying and I would be lying if I said I don’t understand where you are coming from — because I do.

      Stigma (and misinformation in general) is a multi-headed beast and saying that a picture might lead someone to draw an incorrect conclusion and therefore I should remove it isn’t very empowering at all. My choices are being limited because of stigma. I live with mental illness and I chose the picture and I don’t believe it leads people to conclude anything stigmatizing about people living with mental illness. . .

      . . . Or, it might lead people to draw the wrong conclusion. I’d like to think they would educate themselves, but if they are determined to be uneducated I can’t fix that — although I will certainly try.

      The “shot myself in the foot” adage/phrase is a very common one and I sincerely hope the average person will understand that rather than assume it means I’m promoting stigma, violence, and self harm about people with mental illness.

      I sincerely and honestly understand your premise and I respect it. In this case, I just don’t agree.

      I really appreciate you reading and commenting. Thank you very much for reading and commenting.

      ~Gabe 🙂

  • July 10, 2015 at 7:47 am

    If someone wants success, is capable, but not getting it, the question is why is failure more compelling than success? Ask enough questions and you’ll find a parent who was threatened by the patient’s success, and the patient is being a “good kid” by remaining a failure.

  • July 11, 2015 at 10:50 am

    I agree with Meg, please replace the image. Unfortunately, people are not likely to read the post and just associate the image with Psych Central, mental illness, violence, suicide and self-harm.

  • July 12, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    First and foremost, it’s not just people with mental illness, who self-sabotage. It can be a coping mechanism for anyone. Secondly, you allude to theassumption that somehow effective treatment cures mental illness or makes it go away. Thirdly, I can be successful and still have a diagnosis of depression.

    • July 12, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      Thank you for reading and commenting. First, I live with bipolar disorder so I know a person can have mental illness and be successful — because I am successful, as are many of my friends and associates.

      I also know treatment helps — but does not cure. I am sorry if I left that impression in my article.

      Finally, you are darn right about people with without mental illness self-sabotaging . . . I agree with that 100% !! Thank you for raising that very valid point!!!


  • July 12, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    I know exactly why I fear success—because it is always transient. Success means a fall is imminent.

    • July 13, 2015 at 9:59 am

      Hello Alison –

      I know how you feel. I sometimes feel like I have two general states of being: succeeding and failing. But here is the weird thing, at least for me:

      When I am succeeding I spend a lot of time waiting on failure. My mom says I am “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

      However, when I am failing, I spend no time thinking that success is right around the corner. I don’t think my failure is temporary — I think that is deserved.

      I spend a lot of time thinking about that. . .

      Hugs, Gabe

  • July 13, 2015 at 1:21 am

    Please note that the author of this blog is not a licensed clinician. Sadly, many may read this article and “assume” that the author is speaking from the perspective of fact rather then his personal opinion and experience.

    Personally, I find the author’s insistence to support this image/photograph to be irresponsible. He has selected this image; he has the freedom to change this image. More than a few of his readers have expressed their distress surrounding this image. His stance is the exact opposite of what I would expect from a mental health advocate.

    One might grant the author notoriety of “Bipolar Illness Advocate”, yet honoring him with advocacy toward all other mental health conditions, especially those sensitive to violent images, is sincerely not deserved.

    • July 13, 2015 at 9:56 am

      Dear Concerned – Thank you for reading and commenting. I do appreciate your opinion. It is true I am not a licensed clinician. Would the image somehow be less troublesome to you if I were? (Just an FYI: The site is monitored by a licensed clinician.)

      I also feel the need to address the statement that I should change the image because “More than a few of his readers have expressed their distress surrounding this image.” If I used that logic I would have to write that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is a gift and nothing to be worried about. I further would have to stop calling bipolar disorder an illness or disorder — more than a few of my readers have expressed outrage that I would write anything negative about the condition at all.

      Also, this blog has been read, shared, and liked by well over 1000 people (and the number continues to climb) and I can count three concerns (although I am sure there are more).

      I understand your concern, I honestly do. Please, take a moment to consider the other point of view.

      Again, thank you for sharing, for being honest, and for reading.


  • July 13, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Self-Sabotage is self harm. It is the mental version of shooting yourself in the foot and sometimes just as painful. I and others around me have mental illness of varying degrees, some crippling and others livable.

    The image the writer has chosen is honest. Pure truth of mental illness in a visualized form. Try to understand why he is so adamant to keep the picture. The reason why I like it is because it so strongly reflects the truth of the subject Self-Sabotage.

    People who are against the picture probably have never experienced the true pains of living with mental illnesses, are in denial, or simply haven’t let his message sink in. Nothing about mental illness is going to agree with people because it is not a pleasant thing, but using empathing in attempting to understand is the first step in making all of this bearable.

    Thank you so much for your insightful post.

  • July 13, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    I have always respected PsychCentral as a whole and consider this entity to be ethical and responsible with what they publish.

    Why is it that PsychCentral has chosen to feature this particular blog post on their Facebook page accompanied by, NOT the image the author continues to defend without merit, but rather an image of a self-sabatoge button alongside the words “Do Not Press”?

    Perhaps because that is a responsible image and is sensitive to the mental health community at large? It certainly gets the meaning across without the need to display an image that is triggering to many – especially those who may suffer from PTSD, suicidal ideation, domestic violence and sexual assault, to name a few…

    Perhaps because PsychCentral is demonstrating “empathy in attempting to understand” everyone’s experience per the previous comment?

    Despite the content of this blog, which I respectfully do not agree with but do accept that everyone’s experience is unique and valuable, my point has very little to do with that.

    I am troubled when I observe multiple comments on PsychCentral’s website directly, plus multiple comments on Facebook that illustrate obvious distress and yet continue to be simply dismissed by this author.

    • July 13, 2015 at 4:26 pm

      I, the author, posted it on facebook using the other image in an attempt at compromise.

      I am sorry that didn’t help the situation. I have not “simply dismissed” any comment — I have replied to all I have seen.

      I’ve noticed comments who agree with my point of view as well.

      Again, I am sorry you feel this way.

  • July 13, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Point taken, Mr. Howard.

    I applaud you for coming to that decision.

    Thank you for your responsible compromise. Honestly, that was a wise choice.

    In light of the discord, a compromise is certainly well-received by me and hopefully others.

    • July 13, 2015 at 4:40 pm

      Please, call me Gabe. 🙂 Thank you for your honesty. Discussion has so much value — even when we disagree.


  • July 13, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Agreed, Gabe!

    Thank you for your service.

  • July 15, 2015 at 2:50 am

    Do you know what is glorious about self sabotage? There’s no risk of failure. There’s no risk of getting hurt.

    • July 16, 2015 at 2:45 pm

      That is true, Acidpop5, but there is no chance of success, either. ((hugs)) Thank you for reading and commenting. ~Gabe 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • July 16, 2015 at 11:41 am


    This is a great article. Thank you so much for writing it, and I love the image you chose as well, it speaks volumes and is well suited to the article. Thank you for doing what you do.


    • July 16, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Thank you Nicole! I appreciate your comments and reading! 🙂 ~Gabe


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