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    Overcoming self-sabotage

    self-sabotage total balance

    Over the years I’ve worked with many clients who have reached a point where they feel they can go no further in their careers or in life in general. They feel completely stuck. It’s only when they look more closely that they come to realise that what stands in their way is their own inclination to sabotage success.

    Most of the ways that we self sabotage are unconscious. The characteristics that come into play are often those that Carl Jung referred to when he spoke of our ‘shadow’. All of us have degrees of every personality trait possible – some we are comfortable to own, others we’re not. Our shadow includes both the parts of ourselves that we disown (and generally dislike in others) as well as those that we admire in others (but are too modest to claim for ourselves). Simply put, Jung’s philosophy is that in order to grow we must confront our shadow and begin to embrace and make peace with all of our character traits.

    This process requires courage and commitment and is often best accompanied by working with a professional but you can start it on your own. Begin by paying attention to the styles of self sabotage you favour. Once you become aware of these otherwise unconscious thoughts, you have the opportunity to challenge them with your inner dialogue.


    This method of self sabotage is pretty self explanatory. You believe that your circumstances are not your fault. Whilst it’s possible that there is some degree of truth in this, blaming leaves you feeling powerless. Blaming often goes hand in hand with a ‘victim’ mentality which is equally disempowering. Ultimately, you are the only person who has the ability to change your situation. When you begin to take responsibility, you feel better about yourself and more in control of your life.

    Likely self talk: ‘I can’t help it’; ‘It’s their fault’; ‘Things are just really hard for me’.


    How many times do you repeatedly put off an unpleasant task? The most common are doing your tax, tidying your desk/wardrobe/garage, getting your finances in order, starting an exercise program or a healthy eating regime. Procrastination is a very popular method of self sabotage.

    Likely self talk: ‘I don’t have the time’; ‘I’m too tired’; ‘The time isn’t right’.

    Over Committing/Overwhelm

    Many people over commit themselves. They say yes to everything and then find themselves feeling completely overwhelmed (and quite often resentful). This method of self sabotage often helps you to avoid your ‘real’ goals (the ones that would bring you the most fulfilment if you were brave enough to pursue them) by distracting you with a range of incidental activities.

    Likely self talk: ‘They need me – I can’t say no’; ‘I’m the only one who will do the job well’; ‘I just like to stay busy’.

    Lack of Self Belief

    This is quite possibly the most popular method of all. Like all others, it is also a self fulfilling prophecy. The less you believe in yourself, the less likely you are to take on new challenges and the more likely you are to believe you are unworthy of great things.

    Likely self talk: ‘I’m not good enough’; ‘No one will want me’; ‘I’m too tall; too short; too heavy; too unattractive; not interesting or not smart enough’.

    Unclear Goals/Lack of Direction

    This is a difficult area to tackle as it generally presents as an overall sense of confusion. Not being clear about what you want in life is often connected to not wanting to make the wrong choices.

    Likely self talk: ‘I don’t know what I want’; ‘Nothing interests me’; ‘What if I get it wrong?’.

    With all of the above methods of self sabotage, the first step is to notice your dominant style (or styles). Most of us use more than one so begin by just becoming aware of your self talk. If you feel ready to challenge that thinking, find a way to reframe your original thought, for example ‘I’m not good enough’ could become ‘I’m as good as I need to be to give this a go’.

    Then the next step is simple. Do something different, something that challenges one of your methods of sabotage. That’s when you’ll start to feel that you’re growing.

    Posted in: Self-belief
    Kate James

    About the author

    Kate James is an author, coach and mindfulness teacher. She works with female leaders and business owners to help them clarify their values and strengths and discover a mindset that allows them to live confident, purposeful lives.