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Self-Sabotage | Everything You Need to Know

Self-sabotage and addiction is an interesting subject. You’d think all of us would be our own greatest advocate, only taking action to better ourselves and achieve things in our lives.

However, more often than not, we are our own worst enemies and engage in self-sabotaging behavior.

We get in our own way, and many times, we aren’t even aware of it. The first step is to identify the problem.

Sound familiar?

Addicts (like myself) know that first they must identify and admit the problem; that’s step 1 of the 12 steps of recovery.

Addicts are masters of self-sabotage, often leading to serious depression. Low self-esteem coupled with shame leads to a self-defeating mindset. This mindset influences actions. When actions are repeated over and over again, they become behaviors.

At a subconscious level, addicts don’t believe they are worthy of positive things happening to them. So even if an addict is trying to better themselves, this faulty belief will keep them from reaching their goals.

Challenging a subconscious enemy known as the sabotager is no easy task if we don’t know what to look for. 

In this article, you will learn about the different types of self-sabotaging behavior that people engage in. You will also learn about what you can do about them and how to overcome them.

So, without further adieu, here’s everything you need to know about self-sabotage.

Sabotaging Your Ability to Make a Positive Change

Addicts are, by their very nature, extremists. Delusions of grandeur and the setting of unrealistic goals are all too familiar for those of us who struggle with substance abuse/addiction. Wanting to make a positive change is both good and admirable.

However, addicts want instant gratification since that’s what their drugs gave them. We want the results without taking action or putting in the work.

It’s like new years resolutions, right? You get all hyped up about the beginning of the new year and you get a gym membership. You also decide to go on a diet so you can lose 40 lbs in a month!

Sounds a bit overzealous, but isn’t that what we do? After a week in the gym and eating an all-salad diet, you don’t see any progress, so guess what usually happens… you give up!

“If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail!” That’s what the wise people are saying at least. Goals and dreams require planning and making a road map.

Self-Sabotage and Codependency

Being codependent is also another self-sabotaging mindset that prevents someone from making a positive change. You think that the behavior of another person or certain people dictates whether or not you’ll make a positive change in your life.

In accordance with the example above, let’s say you are trying to go to the gym 5 days a week. You are your significant other and have made a commitment to go with one another.

However, after a week, your significant other stops going. You whine and complain and say, “He said he would do this with me! I just can’t do this on my own. I need them to do it with me or I’ll never get in shape like I want to. I can’t believe this!”

So how does this pertain to an addict? An addict may be in treatment getting off their drug of  “no choice” as I like to say.

Their wife has left, their children won’t talk to him, and he’s been fired from his job. There’s a saying that addicts have back problems… they want their wives back, they want their car back, they want their job back etc.

Many addicts say that the only way they can stay sober is contingent on external circumstances. This mindset is actually a reservation to use again in the future.

If the wife doesn’t come back, he will say, “I have nothing to live for. I need her by my side to stay sober. I might as well just go back to using since my life is never going to get better.”

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous talks about the actor running the whole show. Well, this is a prime example of just that. 

“Too busy” syndrome is another way we sabotage the possibility of making positive changes in our lives. We’re so scared of success (because it’s so foreign to us) that subconsciously we won’t allow ourselves to plan out how to achieve small goals because we are too busy.

Sound familiar?

If you’re an addict reading this, I’m sure it rings a bell. (Not the type of bell ringing from taking a hit of crack… OK, OK, bad joke.)

Sabotaging Your Relationships

As far as relationships are concerned, when there is a problem, addicts tend to focus on the problem as a way for it to get better. What we don’t consider is that we must focus our thoughts on the positive in order to make our relationships with people better.

We want to decrease the number of bad interactions by focusing on them when it’s more effective to try and create good interactions and focus on that.

Addicts tend to victimize themselves. We blame everybody and everything for our troubles. In relationships, we complain about the other person’s behavior and insist that they change.

We should actually be looking at ourselves and how we can change our perception about what’s going on with our relationships.

We have to be the change we wish to see. It’s imperative that addicts learn to have an attitude of helpfulness in any situation they find themselves in if they want to defeat self-sabotage.

Don’t “should” yourself and your relationships to death. Thinking about what should have happened in a situation is not a winning game.

For instance, you may think that your significant other “should” have remembered to take out the trash. This happens more than once, and you get increasingly resentful about it. Writing a reminder where your significant other can see it is an easy solution.

Keep it simple!

One thing that is typical of an addict in early recovery is that they expect everyone in their family to just automatically trust them again.

“Yay! I’m in recovery! Forget all the lies! Forget all the stealing! It’s the new me!”

Yeaaaaaahhhh NO! Don’t “Should” on other people.

A lifetime of lies, stealing, and deceit makes our family skeptical. We may never gain their trust back. We have to learn to accept this reality.

Sabotaging Your Work

Many addicts are addicted to stress and chaos. Many of us make things more difficult than they have to be.

I know for me, my drug addiction put me and the others around me in full panic mode day after day after day.

Now that I’m sober, things are a bit calmer. Calm can seem boring, so in order to spice it up a little bit, I manufacture my own stress when it comes to work. It’s so easy for me to become a workaholic if I’m not careful.

I am constantly starting projects and pursuing things, but I have trouble pushing them across the finish line. I take on more than I can handle, and I want to get it all done at once.

Addicts have trouble prioritizing things, and this can make for a real mess. We work and work and work without any real direction or schedule.

This usually leads to concentrating on tasks that are more low priority since we don’t have any order when it comes to what tasks we should finish first.

I know among the many things that led to my last relapse was the fact that I wouldn’t take any breaks while working. My friend and I were working on music nonstop. I actually thought the music would be better if I never took any breaks. This conclusion was erroneous.

Slowly my program unraveled. I stopped talking to other addicts in recovery, and my meeting attendance dwindled. Worse than that, I had no real authentic prayer and meditation practice. 

When addicts don’t take breaks, we’re unable to step back and look at the big picture.  

Being overly critical is another form of self-sabotage when it comes to work.

If you hold yourself to unrealistically high standards, then anything that doesn’t measure up becomes a complete failure.

Ahh yes, there it is… that black and white thinking. Instead of being overcritical of yourself, you could try to be more compassionate. Don’t take things so seriously, and you might see that the work starts to take care of itself.

Self Sabotage and Recreation / Self-Care

Recreation / self-care sabotage is somewhat like sabotaging yourself with the way you work. Once again, addicts often have very black-and-white thinking. We are extremists, so we go from one extreme to the other and don’t know how to live a balanced life.

Binging is a thing all addicts are familiar with, and as I’ve pointed out earlier, it can occur while an addict is in recovery/sobriety as well. One of the main ways you can self-sabotage is by engaging in what is called the denial-binge cycle. 

You go to work all week, go to 2 AA meetings a day, work overtime, and then you get to Saturday.

With Saturday comes your slippers and your bathrobe. You eat ice cream all day. You don’t move from your couch, and you watch Netflix all day. You may ask yourself, “what’s wrong with that?”

Well, this denial-binge cycle is a red flag for addicts in recovery. When I get wound up so tight by overworking all week and not taking any breaks, I start to feel crazy.

By binging on Netflix all day on Saturday after a crazy week, I set myself up for a situation down the road. Eventually, I’m going to get so stressed during the week that Netflix and ice cream just aren’t going to do it for me anymore.

Then my mind says, “I know how you can relax. Let’s call up our old friend Heroin and his crazy sister crystal meth.”

Many times I’ve skipped over the whole “ice cream-Netflix” (not necessarily ice cream and Netflix, but you get the picture) and gone right to the dope. So, overworking is dangerous for addicts especially in early recovery.

Another way an addict engages in self-sabotage is that they think the words “I can’t” (for some reason) do this thing for fun.

“I can’t go to movie night with those people until I’ve been in the gym for 6 months and gotten in really good shape.”

For me, it’s been, “I can’t go out and play music for fun with my friends because I haven’t practiced enough and am not perfect at the piano yet.”

This type of thinking will completely ruin an addict’s chance at a social/recreational life. If sobriety isn’t fun, then most of us will go back to using.

Arrogance: The King of Self-Sabotage

“Yes, your majesty! I shall do your bidding!”

That’s what your ego begs to hear every day, but here’s the deal — your ego is not your amigo!

Being adored and showered with praise as a young child is a recipe for disaster and will almost always lead to arrogance.

You may be very talented at something as a young person, but this can often stifle your growth. You begin to think you can just rely on your innate ability to do something without trying to hone your talent. 

Arrogance leads to delusion. As addicts, we must constantly uncover the truth about ourselves by continuing to take personal inventory.

If we can’t be honest with ourselves, then we can’t grow in our recovery from addiction. If we aren’t going forward, then we are going backward. That’s just how it is.

Prayer, meditation, and personal inventory are essential in our efforts to become humble. 

What Can We Do About Self Sabotaging Behaviors?

First, we have to educate ourselves about self-sabotage and what it looks like. Read and re-read this article. Look for the behaviors stated above in your own life.

Once the behavior has been identified, ask first why it’s there. Almost always, these behaviors are rooted in low self-esteem, with the core belief that we don’t deserve to be happy.

We are subconsciously sabotaging ourselves in different areas. Challenge your thoughts and ask yourself, “is there a different way I can think about this?” Addicts in recovery can rely on a higher power to give them the “right” perception about a situation.

“Change the things I can” refers to the fact that we can change our perception. By taking responsibility, we can take little steps to move out of self-sabotage behaviors. 

Don’t beat yourself up for being a self-sabotager. You can change! Amazing people throughout history had to overcome challenges and ultimately realize that they were responsible for their perception and their behavior. 

Participating in cognitive-behavioral and dialectical-behavioral therapy with a therapist can give you professional clinical advice and techniques to help you overcome self-sabotage behaviors.

Are You Engaging in Self-Sabotage?

Are you or someone you know struggling with self-sabotage behaviors? 

If so, I hope that reading this will help you on your journey, and as always, we would love to hear from you!

Leave us a message in the comments about your experience with self-sabotage.

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9 months ago

Thankyou for this, it explains so much of what has happened to the addict in my life whom I care about….their sabotaging behaviours I fear will cost them their life before too long, as relapse after relapse takes its toll… It’s like they don’t have any solid foundation whatsoever, a complete lack of self belief or self worth… I tried for two years to help them heal their pain, and I know I did help, for a certain time… until they relapsed… and after the 3rd relapse my strength failed me and I became almost as unwell as them. This is a family disease, it is heartbreaking. I pray for our souls.♥


Michael Palma

Michael Palma is a drug addict in recovery who is passionate about recovery and recently has taken to writing about his own experience, strength, and hope and hopes to share this with as many people in recovery as he can. He has been a professional jazz pianist for over 20 years. He has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Jimmy Cobb (drummer for Miles Davis), Daniel Platzman (drummer for Imagine Dragons), Robert “Sput” Seawright (drummer for Snoop Dogg and Snarky Puppy), Greg Osby, and Terri Lynn Carrington to name a few.

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