Reassessing Self-Sabotage |



The time period self-sabotage enjoys broad utilization in psychological, religious, and self-help circles. It’s typically used to clarify a wide range of behaviors corresponding to dependancy, compulsion, perfectionism, procrastination, and dangerous monetary administration. On this article I’ll contend that there are a number of issues with the notion of self-sabotage:

  1. It doesn’t precisely describe what it’s making an attempt to explain.
  2. It carries with it an aura of blame and disgrace.
  3. It supplies no rationalization for why an individual is behaving in a selected manner and is due to this fact basically ineffective as an idea.

I’ll additionally lay out what I contemplate a extra useful manner of behaviors which might be typically described as self-sabotage, utilizing the lens of Inside Household Techniques (IFS) as a information.

A Query of Intent

The primary and most evident downside with the thought of self-sabotage is that it’s not really “sabotage.”

Sabotage implies aware intent. The Oxford Dictionary, for instance, defines sabotage as follows: “to intentionally destroy, injury, or hinder” one thing. Self-sabotage, then, would contain deliberately destroying or obstructing oneself, one’s relationships, one’s profession, or what have you ever. For instance, contemplate somebody who tries to get a brand new job. They apply for it, get an interview, after which proceed to botch the interview in an express manner – maybe by behaving bizarrely or exhibiting up late. The idea of self-sabotage would say that this particular person initially thought to themselves one thing alongside the traces of “I need this job, so I’m going to use for it and hopefully get an interview”, however then earlier than the interview, they modified their thought to “I’m going to deliberately destroy the interview by behaving in a manner that the interviewer finds unacceptable.” Evidently, this isn’t how issues often occur.

Different examples could appear to be extra intentional at first look. For instance, an individual commits to a food plan after which per week later binge-eats ice cream and ruins all of his or her progress. It could be tempting right here to conclude that the particular person deliberately ruined the food plan, however this viewpoint conflates the intentionality of the motion (consuming ice cream) with the intentionality of the impact (ruining the food plan). Whereas the consuming was intentional – insofar because the bodily actions required to do it have been underneath the particular person’s aware management – ascribing intentionality to the impact assumes that the particular person ate the ice cream to be able to destroy the food plan. One can be hard-pressed to discover a state of affairs the place this situation was the case.

This matter of intent is extraordinarily essential when figuring out how you can deal with a given behavioral sample.

Blame & Disgrace

On account of the truth that it implies intentionality, the time period self-sabotage carries with it a connotation of blame, disgrace, and guilt. If individuals are deliberately participating in maladaptive behaviors, it should be their very own fault. Can’t he merely cease doing this? Can’t she management herself? What’s the matter with her or him? Whether or not or not all these questions are communicated explicitly, they’re inherent within the very title of the prognosis.

Muddying the Waters

Very similar to psychological well being diagnoses, whereas the time period self-sabotage could seem on the floor to be useful, it doesn’t really clarify something. In reality, the logic of it seems to be utterly round. For instance, contemplate an individual who’s making an attempt to get a brand new enterprise off the bottom, however retains herself perpetually distracted by spending inordinate quantities of time on social media. One would possibly say she is self-sabotaging as if this view one way or the other clarifies the difficulty, however contemplate the round logic of such a declare.

“Why does Helen spend hours a day on social media as an alternative of engaged on her new enterprise?”

“As a result of she is self-sabotaging.”

“How do we all know she is self-sabotaging?”

“As a result of she spends hours a day on social media as an alternative of engaged on her new enterprise.”

“Why does Helen spend hours a day on social media as an alternative of engaged on her new enterprise?”

What turns into clear is that the time period self-sabotage is nothing greater than a label that describes conduct (or behaviors). This label provides no perception into why the behaviors are occurring and is due to this fact unhelpful as any type of rationalization or prognosis.

Getting at Why

With any type of repetitive, maladaptive conduct, it’s crucial to get to the foundation trigger – slightly than providing a surface-level description – if therapy is to succeed. The behaviors that always fall into the realm of self-sabotage are, for my part, just about at all times the results of unconscious emotional processes. As such, a bottom-up therapeutic modality that works with the unconscious – corresponding to Inside Household Techniques (IFS) – provides a much more complete method to therapeutic relative to cognitive (top-down) strategies.

IFS acknowledges that our minds include elements, slightly than being a single entity. Every particular person’s elements work together and performance in several methods relying on his or her historical past. We’re significantly inclined to trauma (each overt and covert) early in life, and this susceptibility causes our elements to tackle two fundamental roles:

  • Burdened Elements carry ache and poisonous self-beliefs.
  • Protector Elements tackle protecting roles aimed toward stopping extra ache from being inflicted on burdened elements.

A practitioner of IFS takes a systems-level view of the elements to grasp what the elements are doing, why they’re doing it, and the way they’re interacting with one another. Solely by means of the IFS lens can we actually get an understanding of the dynamics underlying one’s behavioral patterns. We then can work with our elements slightly than in opposition to them – in a compassionate and non-confrontational manner – to impact change.

As elements largely function within the unconscious, ascribing intentionality (which suggests aware consciousness) to the results of 1’s actions is commonly inappropriate when elements are within the lead. The elements themselves are performing in intentional methods, however the particular person’s consciousness has no consciousness of this situation. One of these distinction is an efficient instance of what a parts-aware method brings to the desk: a deeper understanding of the inner dynamics at play, which results in a extra knowledgeable and holistic plan of motion in remedy.

Going again now to the instance of the one that did poorly within the job interview: If there are indications {that a} half (or elements) induced this to occur, in an IFS context we information the shopper to type relationships with these elements and discover out what their fears have been concerning the prospect of getting the brand new job. This information-gathering will seemingly result in different areas within the particular person’s life that these elements have been influencing. As soon as the related elements within the system have been recognized, the method of unloading the trauma that the burdened ones are carrying can start, at which level the protecting elements received’t want to interact in defensive behaviors anymore.

Whereas this publish is essentially a quick overview of how the IFS course of works, hopefully, it’s useful in offering a baseline understanding of how the IFS method can be utilized to dig deeper into signs which may seem as self-sabotaging.


Thus, the time period self-sabotage is inaccurate, unhelpful, and filled with unfavorable connotations. A deeper look into the behavioral patterns which usually fall underneath the self-sabotage label reveals a much more complicated and delicate image, an understanding of which is crucial to ensure that therapeutic to happen. Moreover, the Inside Household Techniques method supplies a much more complete technique for therapeutic than cognitive (top-down) strategies.


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