Home » Blogs » NLP Discoveries » 8 Causes of Self-Sabotage

8 Causes of Self-Sabotage

causes of self-sabotageOften referred to as “getting in your own way” self-sabotage implies that you are doing harm to yourself even though there are better options.

Examples of Self-Sabotage

You might:

  • Have work to do but procrastinate by surfing the internet.
  • Yell at your children when you know it will make matters worse.
  • Overeat when you know you’ll regret it later.
  • Ignore a problem as it grows more and more ominous.
  • Spend money you can’t afford to spend.
  • Push people away who might help you.
  • Invite the wrong people into your life.

Why would anyone do it?

There are many theories. Here are eight for you to consider.

  • Emotional hijacking (triggers) by primitive brain

Emotional hijacking is a term coined by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence.  This refers to the primitive brain taking over our powers of making conscious decisions and forcing us to do what the primitive brain considers the safest option.  Of course, the safest option as perceived by the primitive brain isn’t necessarily the healthiest long-term choice.

  • Parts psychology

Parts psychology is a model that suggests human beings are subdivided into a multitude of psychological parts.  Parts operate on a spectrum of consciousness from fully conscious to fully unconscious.  With the parts model, you may come to understand that a part of you that has its own beliefs has the ability to take over and make decisions for you based on what it believes, which may have a self-sabotaging effect.

If you want to start a business and some part of you believes starting a business is the wrong course of action, that part of you will attempt to get you to act against the goal.

  • Limiting beliefs (I can’t, it’s impossible)

Limiting beliefs such as I can’t do it or it’s impossible can lead to self-sabotage because when we’re in that mindset, taking positive action may seem pointless. It’s easy to procrastinate or distract ourselves with other things.

  • Limited choices

Self-sabotage maybe a simple lack of choice.  We may have a limited set of choices, among which there is no viable option.  Or we may be misinformed about the choices we have.

  • Lack of personal or interpersonal skill (decision-making, self-expression)

If we lack decision-making skills, communication skills, or the ability to express ourselves, we may end up self-sabotaging.  For example, if we tend to make impulsive decisions and have never been taught to make more thoughtful decisions, then we may sabotage ourselves by making impulsive decisions  – or perhaps avoiding making a decision – because we simply don’t have the ability to process what we need in order to go forward.

  • Stuck in the past (paradigm – the world is a certain way)

We may have come to the conclusion a long time ago that the world is a certain way. Perhaps we learned certain stereotypes about men or women or groups of people.  As adults, we interact with men and women and groups of people. The way that we see them has a dramatic impact on the relationship, so if we’re seeing people in unhealthy ways because that’s what we learned a long time ago it may get in the way of what we want to accomplish in the present.

  • Emotional masochism

Emotional masochism is an interesting one because it is so simple and yet so preposterous.  Emotional masochism suggests that we sabotage ourselves because we have a twisted enjoyment of emotional pain and failure.  In other words, we secretly enjoy the misery, the taboo or the drama of it all.

We can often detect emotional masochism when people giggle in the midst of their suffering. Others may smirk a little bit when they’re telling you about their failure. The hidden pleasure behind the self-sabotage often comes out and is rarely challenged.

  • Self-fulfilling prophecy

A self-fulfilling prophecy is basically something that we expect to happen and play a part in bringing to fruition.  Self-sabotage is often the self-fulfilling prophecy. As we expect things to go badly, that may cloud our judgment and encourage decisions that make things go badly.

8 Causes of Self-Sabotage

Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

One comment: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Bundrant, M. (2019). 8 Causes of Self-Sabotage. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Apr 2019
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.