What is Self-Sabotage Behavior as an Adolescent?
As adolescents, we learn how to socialize.
In the no-mans-land of fellow insecure children, we learn how to survive by observing the way our peers project their insecurities onto others.
- We hide a bad haircut under a hat.
- We don’t sign up for the school talent show because we’re worried about being laughed at.
And the rewards for these self-sabotage behaviors are immediate:
We aren’t humiliated.
No one laughs.
What often goes overlooked are the consequences of these decisions.
A self-sabotage behavior we’re taught is to be ashamed of ourselves if we can’t conform. We miss out on a chance to do something we love for the talent show.
In the moment, it seems like an even trade.
Fear overrides pleasure.
What is Self-Sabotage Over a Lifetime?
But over a lifetime, these consequences become greater and harder to overlook.
- We experience anxiety before giving a big presentation.
- We’re uncertain about our appearance.
- We neglect our wants and needs because we’re trying to navigate the world without experiencing fear and anxiety.
The result, ironically, are the self-sabotage behaviors of going into fear and anxiety.
Fear about making a wrong step. Anxiety about how we’re perceived.
It becomes impossible to discern whether our survival instinct or our self-sabotage behavior is taking the wheel.
What’s more, we are so fixated on the result—the dread, the fear—that we don’t consider the origin.
We don’t know how we’ve come to this place. We don’t think of all the little ways we’ve protected ourselves by avoiding what we love. We only know that there’s a barrier now, and we’ve no idea how to shatter it.
Over time, our fears and self-sabotaging behavior becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We paint such a vivid scenario of failure that we can no longer visualize success.
We panic during our presentations, or we avoid tasks that challenge us.
We hold ourselves back, which streamlines us right into the very end results we feared.
Avoidance is a self-sabotage behavior that never leads to happiness. At best, avoidance is a feeble umbrella that shields us from a little bit of rain, but also keeps us in the shadows. It confines us into a tiny, “safe” place with no room to grow.
In extreme cases, self-sabotage manifests into addictions—food, gambling, drugs, alcohol—or even suicidal tendencies. It could be argued that these are false coping mechanisms when we’ve lost our ability to have what we need.
Hard as it is to believe, we’ve learned these self-sabotage behaviors by trying to survive.
In the moment, we don’t see avoidance as self-neglect. We see it as survival. If we don’t put ourselves on a stage, if we don’t proudly showcase ourselves, we can’t be mocked. We can’t fail. But we also can’t succeed.
How to Stop Self-Sabotage Behaviors?
Fortunately, self-sabotage can be confronted. By truly analyzing ourselves, and by being honest with our motivations, we can start to unlearn this toxic behavior.
For starters, we need to eliminate the stigma around failure.
Yes, it is very possible that someone won’t like your haircut.
Yes, you may be teased when you get on stage.
But the benefits can still outweigh the consequences. You learn to love your appearance more fiercely, and solidify your sense of self. You perform your heart out, until the audience disappears.
You stop seeing failure as a punishment and you begin to see it as a minor nuisance to overcome.
Think about that umbrella of avoidance that we create. Weigh the benefits and risks of closing it up. Yes, you’ll experience some rain. But there’s a whole world out there filled with rewards and benefits too.
By exposing ourselves to the things we fear, bit by bit, we build up a tolerance.
We become less afraid.
After a lifetime of self-sabotage behaviors, this is by no means a small task.
It may require years of exposure therapy, or possibly a qualified therapist.
It may require journaling or daily affirmations.
The journey is different for everyone.
The important takeaway is that it is possible to stare down the self-sabotage behaviors that holds us back from living and loving each day.