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Do You Struggle With Self-Defeating Behavior?

I have learned a great deal about cognitive therapy techniques as a way to make changes in my own life.

Self defeating behaviors hold us back from our fullest potential.

Self defeating behaviors hold us back from our fullest potential.

I have seen many people who struggle in the areas of personal, professional, relationship and/or life desires. For many, this has been a result of negative habits that they may not be aware of and that serve to set them back more than help to move them forward. An individual with self defeating habits has a tendency to intentionally or unintentionally engage in thought processes and behaviors that work against their best interests resulting in self sabotage, defeat and negative outcomes.

Somewhere along the line, these individuals have developed negative mental scripts that have programmed them into sabotaging their personal goals in life and falling short of their true potential. Paradoxically, much of this self defeat occurs just when things seem to be going well, opportunities are available to them and success is completely within their reach.

I personally know about these self defeating behaviors because I was stuck in this mindset for a majority of my life. In this article I will explain some if the characteristics that correlate with self sabotage and in a following article explain some ways to overcome these negative behaviors of self defeat.

Overcoming negative behaviors takes hard work and patience, but it can be done. The more you release yourself from the confines of self sabotage, the more you will provide yourself the ability to more easily and frequently achieve your goals and interests in life. Gaining success with your goals will help you feel more empowered, confident, and more in control of your own outcomes.

Characteristis of Self-Defeat

Unfinished tasks and Procrastination.

The over all efforts of self sabotage is to talk yourself out of completing, or maybe even starting a task. This often comes complete with excuses for why you feel you CAN’T do the task (negative thinking and self defeating) over the reality of how you CAN succeed at the task (positive thinking and problem solving).

Leaving tasks unfinished is pretty much a statement of failure. How can you be rewarded (internally or externally) for a job well done if the job is actually never completed? Uncompleted tasks tend to make your life feel cluttered and overwhelming. This can set you up for daily self sabotage as you struggle to navigate amongst messy spaces, partially useful items or incomplete intentions. You may also feel defeated, depressed and overwhelmed by an ongoing to do list with nothing marked off as complete which can lead to feelings of failure.

Some people have masses of unfinished projects. They may leave one project unfinished then start another, only to leave that one unfinished as well.

Self defeat through procrastination may be a cognitive behavior developed from fear that completing this might lead to an overwhelming workload for you; or because you may have started out to do something that turned out to be bigger than you realized; or you may have a fear that it won’t be good enough, so why bother; maybe you don't feel you have the time to complete it; or maybe you feel unworthy of enjoying the success of a finished project. Rather than finding ways to complete the task at hand in a proficient manner and enjoying the results, you have created self-sabotage by putting off the possibility to enjoy your success.

You Tend to Feel Helpless and Overwhelmed by Tasks, Activities & Interactions.
You may set yourself up for self defeat by becoming overly excited about a project, an interaction, or an idea and then quickly find yourself feeling overwhelmed by it all, which then leads to feelings of helplessness. These feelings of helplessness then tend to lead to giving up on the task and on your chance to expand your skills and knowledge.

You negate every suggestion for a solution.
You set yourself up for self sabotage when you stubbornly deny alternative routes, advice, and help that could serve to benefit you in achieving your desired outcome. You may tend to feel that it must be done within your own current skills and knowledge and refuse to learn a new way of doing things. You may falsely feel that accepting suggestions from others makes you feel as if it is a sign of weakness, being unintelligent or incapable rather than seeing how the alternate ideas may actually empower you and expand your potential. When your current abilities fall short from your desired outcome, you may end up feeling defeated; when all along learning a new approach could have provided you with what you need to overcome obstacles and succeed at the task.

Excuses, excuses, excuses
For every opportunity, option or advice that arises you manage to find excuses for why it won’t work more often than finding reasons that it will work. Excuses often arise out of fear. Some fears may be legitimate concerns and may be backed by seeking thorough facts and information. But often, excuses are based on false or incomplete information and fears that are derived to keep you from progressing in life… to keep you stuck in a cycle of self sabotage.

You engage in negative self talk.
You set yourself up for self defeat through a negative behavior of talking yourself down, emotionally beating yourself up and holding yourself back from trying. You may use self-defeating terms like: “I’m not good enough to do that,” “people like me can’t have things like that,” “It would be too much work and I don’t want to work that hard,” and so forth.

You’re in a rut with stagnate habits.
Maybe you rely on doing the same things you've always done in the same way you've always done them as you feel some security in a set routine and predictability. Maybe you refuse to try out new things, meet new people, raise your skills or go for new jobs. Maybe you create self defeat by having continuous poor attendance, low performance levels, or lack being punctual. These habits can sabotage opportunities, a career and even your relationship with others.

Maybe you genuinely do try to be available when you should or for new opportunities, but things always seem to be getting in your way. Take a look at a subconscious level. You may fall into this kind of negative behavior because you may find comfort in settling for average or even below average expectations of yourself and you refrain in finding your true potential or to strive higher to achieve what you truly desire over a sense of predictable security. The thought of taking new risks is too scary to you as you fear that you will only fail. However, true failure really only occurs when don't try at all.

On the flip side, maybe you’re just not where you really want to be in your life and you’re sabotaging yourself in one arena because it's not where you truly desire to be.

You attempt to make others responsible for your happiness.
You try to control the outcomes in your life by attempting to control the thoughts and behaviors of others or overly stress about the outcomes of events.

Some people may attempt to control or manipulate others in a subtle manner, such as providing something to you with a hidden intent to get something in return from you; being unavailable or unresponsive until you submit to doing what they want of you; or getting you to pity them or laying guilt on you in order to get you to do things for them.

Others may use full on power tactics to attempt to get others to do what they want, such as demanding you do what they want; threatening to take something from you if you don’t do what they want; or yelling at you or demeaning you until you submit to do things their way.

Whether or not you get others to do what you want, it causes problems in the relationship which can lead to greater disasters later on. The only person responsible for your life… your feelings, your choices, your successes, your failures and your behaviors is you.

You blame your unpleasant outcomes upon others.
This goes along with trying to make others responsible for our happiness. As things don’t work out the way we had hoped rather than take stock in our own contributions to the matter you always place the blame upon someone else. Though our lives can be affected and influenced by others, we are ultimately the ones responsible for our own choices and behaviors in a situation.

Some simply feel like its’ someone else’s job to make them happy. However, happiness is an inside job and making others responsible for how you feel can be very selfish and unrealistic.

It’s always difficult to truly face ourselves and admit to our own flaws in any given situation. But we often do contribute to the situations that we end up in and the results of their outcomes. When we decide to review and understand our contributions, we can begin to learn from them in order to improve our future interactions make any amends for our past interactions.

Defeat from criticism and other negative communication techniques.

Defeat from criticism and other negative communication techniques.

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You don’t take constructive criticism well.
It’s never easy to hear about your flaws; to hear what mistake you made in a give task or situation; or to admit that you lack in information or skills to complete a task. No one likes to be told why they failed or why they didn’t succeed. No one likes to be told that there is another way… maybe even a better way to do things. We like to believe that we already have all the answers and that we know what’s best for us and what everyone else should do to accommodate our fragile egos.

Some people get really defensive when thing don’t go as smooth as they had hoped, but when they are provided with information to improve the situation, they resort to extreme emotional outbursts that prevent them from learning anything more or from improving their current skills. When someone is willing to help you to help yourself, this is not a reason for negativity; this is a reason for gratitude. You are being provided with an opportunity to learn, to grow, to improve your life and make things easier on yourself in the future.

A saying that I have learned that has helped me in receiving helpful is “Take what you need and leave the rest.” Sometimes just being open to other insight and solutions is enough to awaken more ideas within you. Sometimes the full idea of another will be beneficial; sometimes only part of it will be beneficial. But no matter what you decide to use, be grateful for the opportunity to expand your own potential.

You dish out constant criticism yourself.
Something I have learned about myself is that whenever I begin to judge others or feel the need to provide them with unsolicited advice, that I do so as a way to avoid dealing with my own issues. It’s so much easier to focus on someone else’s flaws and problems than it is to deal with our own, right? Those who spend a lot of time focusing on the lives of others are most likely busying themselves as a way to escape thinking about what they should do about their own problems. Be careful, snooping, gossiping and controlling take on their own form of addiction.

You don’t say what you mean.
Too often, people haphazardly agree with others just to keep peace and influence others to like them more. They agree to do things they don’t want to do or act like they are interested in things that they have no interest in at all. They may lack in personal boundaries, allowing others to take them for granted, all in an attempt to win over the approval of others.

The problem with this is that even if you have their approval, it’s on false conditions. So, even if they like you, do you like what you are agreeing to and who you are in this manner? You don't need to be mean spirited & pushy, but you also don't need to be fake with your words & actions in order to be genuine to your self. Not to mention, putting on these false fronts often leads to feeling exhausted, confused and overwhelmed in your attempts to be something that does not genuinely fit your authentic self. One of my favorite quotes and reminders about this topic is by Rita Mae Brown, who said: "I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself."

You hold on to a grudge as if it were a lifeboat.
Oh, grudges. What a perplexing mindset they create. We don't want others to think that treating us badly is okay. However, holding on to a grudge tends to absorb a majority of your focus and energy that could be put to better use to benefit yourself in some way. I have learned that when you hold a grudge against someone that they often are not aware of it and they certainly do not spend all of their time worried about it; their days will go on like any other day completely unaffected by your silent anger and turmoil. Other than their direct interactions with you, your grudge won't change a thing for them. Yet, keeping a grudge keeps us chained to them and their behavior. There is a saying that states "Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

Holding grudges often won't get you the amends you desire and it serves mostly to keep you from enjoying your own life. Which brings about another saying that states "Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace." You can't heal your own wounds, make peace with yourself or move forward in your own life if you choose to keep yourself chained to an event with a grudge.

You base your peace and happiness on things and others outside of yourself.
You develop a negative behavior by getting trapped into addictions and substance abuse. Substance addictions may include caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, narcotics, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, and designer drugs. Uncontrolled habits or addictions can be any activity that one relies upon to feel good or release stress for a short time but that often leads into larger problems afterwards, such as sex addiction, compulsive spending/gambling, overactive anger or anxiety, eating disorders, relationship neediness or withdrawal, overindulging in work or hobbies, etc. These are often activities & habits that people to turn in an attempt to help them feel in control of their life; to bring on temporary satisfaction and to avoid dealing with the real problems that reside in their life. However, these distractions often lead to self defeat as they create interference with finding solutions and to be empowered towards making positive progress in your life.


These are just a few self defeating habits that I can think of. Though I’m sure there may be quite an extensive list of habits that result in self sabotage. Do any of these have a familiar feel to you? Would you like to know how to overcome self defeating habits and create a more positive outcome for yourself? My next article "Overcoming Self-Defeating Behaviors" explains such.

  • Managing Self-Doubt and Defeat - Achieving Positive Cognition
    Self-doubt can be a real goal stopper. But, we don't have to remain in that negative place. We can learn skills to help us move beyond self-defeat.
  • Being Optimistic through Adversity
    People who are optimists manage to maintain a positive outlook, even during the most difficult times. Those who are optimistic are more likely than pessimists to be active problem solvers and to seek information that can help them
  • Life with Anxiety; How to Control Anxiety
    For people with anxiety, they live in a world where they are in a constant state of extreme uneasiness, apprehension and tension about the prospect of things going badly. Learning to control anxiety can be done through redirecting habitual thoughts.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Mary Roark


Mary Roark (author) from Boise area, Idaho on January 13, 2013:

Thank you very much dilipchandra12. I greatly appreciate your comment. Thanks for reading!

Dilip Chandra from India on January 12, 2013:

Good hub Mary, well written as well.

Mary Roark (author) from Boise area, Idaho on January 03, 2013:

All of these things and more used to me. Back then, I would have never thought that one day I could be writing and sharing it with others. I held myself back a lot, not to mention all of the problems I created for myself due to my thought processes and habits. It was pretty disastrous. Thanks for coming by billybuc. :)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 03, 2013:

Nope, not me, but you sure described some people close to me. :)

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