5 Steps for how to stop self-sabotaging and learn to cope with healthy strategies

How to stop self-sabotaging

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Do you often find yourself engaging in activities that stop you from achieving your goals?

Do you feel as if you’re your own worst enemy when it comes to succeeding?

Do you engage in behaviors that work against your forward progress?

If these questions sound like something you experience, you may be experiencing self-sabotage.

how to stop self sabotaging

Self-sabotage is a behavior where we act in ways that work against our own best interest and potential. It can take on many forms, like procrastinating, doing something to harm yourself or your goals, and engaging in negative self-talk.

This type of behavior, often used as a coping mechanism for stress, is common for people to engage in and ultimately works against their own best interests. It’s also a behavior that can be difficult to recognize and, thus, difficult to stop.

In this post, we discuss  common self-sabotaging behaviors and the signs of self-sabotage that you should look out for, how these behaviors negatively affect your life, and how to stop self-sabotaging so you can get things done and achieve your goals.

Signs of self-sabotage

According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, up to 63% of patients have used at least one medically self-sabotaging behavior. This study shows that over half the people you know may be struggling with this  type of behavior.

One of the most challenging parts about recognizing self-sabotage is that we often don’t see it in ourselves. It can be easy to brush off our negative behaviors and excuses as just being ‘normal’ or something everyone does.

However, some signs you can look out for indicate self-sabotage include:

  • Procrastination: Not starting tasks or projects even when you know they must be done.
  • Making excuses: Not taking responsibility for your actions or blaming others for your mistakes.
  • Overthinking: Worrying excessively about things that may never happen and getting stuck in a cycle of rumination.
  • Perfectionism: Being overly critical of yourself and setting impossibly high standards you can never meet.

How self-sabotage affects your life

Self-sabotage can prevent you from achieving your goals and living your desired life. This is because self-sabotaging erodes your self-confidence and increases feelings of anxiety, depression, or stress.

If left unchecked, your negative behaviors can spiral out of control and become difficult to manage. This might result in further problems such as substance misuse, low self-esteem, or difficulty maintaining relationships.

signs of self sabotaging
Overthinking is a self-sabotaging behavior

Some examples of self-destructive behavior include:

  • Not sleeping enough
  • Overworking or overcommitting to tasks and projects
  • Engaging in risky behaviors such as substance abuse or reckless driving
  • Avoiding social situations and withdrawing from relationships
  • Skin-picking or hair-plucking
  • Purposely overeating or skipping meals
  • Not drinking enough water even when you are thirsty

Although occasionally indulging in self-destructive behaviors can, at the moment, be beneficial, regularly partaking in these activities can result in severe consequences like:

  • Physical and mental exhaustion
  • Weakened immune system
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Increased stress levels
  • Significant dehydration or malnutrition
  • Impaired decision making
  • Negative self-image or worldview
  • Losing connection with friends and family

Remember: Some of these examples of self-destructive behavior could indicate a more serious mental health condition, such as an eating disorder, which requires a licensed counselor to diagnose and create a treatment plan.

How to stop self-sabotaging

Even though you may know your self-sabotage and self-destructive habits are unhelpful, they can feel necessary to get through stressful times. The need to cope with tense or uncomfortable situations doesn’t disappear when learning to cope without these harmful habits. You still need something to get you through!

Stop self-sabotaging
Talking to a mental health professional can help you to stop self-sabotaging

Replacing unhealthy coping behaviors with healthy and reinforcing strategies is critical to learning to stop self-sabotaging yourself. Below is a step-by-step process for identifying your behaviors, understanding why you need those behaviors, and learning how to find better ways to cope with life’s challenges.

1. Acknowledge the behavior

The first step in overcoming self-sabotaging behaviors is to become aware of them. Think of it as taking off the blinders that kept you from seeing your self-destructive habits this whole time.

Identifying behaviors can happen in 2 different ways:

  1. In the act of sabotaging behavior
  2. By the triggering event itself

When you catch yourself engaging in activities that are detrimental to your overall health, please take a moment to pause and reflect on what it is that you’re doing and why. What are you reacting to? What about that triggering event makes you need to cope this way, and what does it do for you at the moment?

Understanding your behaviors during anxiety or uncertainty is crucial for creating a healthier stress response and ending the self-sabotage cycle.

2. Identify the root cause

Once you’ve acknowledged the behavior, the next step is to ask yourself why you are engaging in it. Is it because of something that happened earlier today? Or maybe it’s a strategy you use to cope with your stress or anxiety that has been bothering you for a long time.

The longer we go without identifying the root cause of our actions, the more difficult it will be to satisfy that need by redirecting that behavior to another activity. Remember: Using behaviors or activities to cope with negative emotions is part of the human experience. The issue is that, as we become more self-aware, we see that those behaviors do not serve us and do more harm than good. This is normal. Once you become aware of these behaviors and identify the root cause and need for that behavior, you can then choose healthier alternatives to bring about a more positive outcome to reduce the effects of your triggers.

3. Find healthier alternatives

After you’ve identified the root cause for your self-destructive behavior, it’s essential to find healthier alternatives that you can use in place of the negative behavior.

Examples of positive coping strategies for stress include:

  • Journaling or creative writing
  • Taking a warm bath
  • Talking to supportive friends and family
  • Going for a walk outside
  • Spending time with your pets or plants
  • Connecting with nature through activities such as gardening, birdwatching, or stargazing

All of these activities help to clear your mind, reduce stress, and calm your nervous system enough to help ease the tendency to engage in unhealthy coping strategies.

Here are three examples of changing an unhealthy coping habit to a healthier version :

Example 1:

  • Unhealthy coping habit: Staying up late watching TV after a stressful day, but you miss out on the sleep you need
  • Healthier alternative: Journal your stresses, then put music on while you craft and go to bed at your standard time.

Example 2

  • Unhealthy coping habit: Spending time with negative people who make you feel bad about yourself
  • Healthier alternative: Reach out to supportive friends and family members who will encourage you and lift your spirits

Example 3

  • Unhealthy coping habit: Binge eating when feeling overwhelmed
  • Healthier alternative: Take a walk outside to clear your head and release tension, then have a small snack for energy.

By gradually replacing your self-sabotaging behaviors with healthier coping habits, you can move away from negative patterns and create lasting change. Taking small steps each day towards progress is vital to rising above the urge to engage in unhealthy behavior. Remember, you can be the supportive friend you need for yourself!

4. Practice self-care

Self-care is essential when managing your stress levels and overall positive mental health. The great thing about self-care is that it can be anything you find restorative. Here are some examples of self-care activities you can add to your routine:

  • Go for a walk in nature
  • Read a book or watch your favorite movie
  • Do some arts and crafts
  • Make time for friends and family
  • Practice mindful breathing exercises

Your self-care routine can look very different than this list of activities, so feel free to think outside the box for whatever brings you joy and rejuvenates you. Also, remember that whatever activity you add to your routine can count as y. If used often enough, it may lead to less stress or self-sabotage.

Check out our post here for more ideas on creating a self-care routine.

5. Seek professional help

Online therapy to address self-sabotaging behaviors

The reason seeking professional help is recommended so often is because counselors:

  1. Counselors can better understand what you are going through than those who have never gone through what you are experiencing.
  2. Counselors have many evidence-based strategies and techniques to help you identify root issues and learn to heal from what is causing you distress.

Your Makin Wellness counselor can also identify other mental health concerns aside from self-sabotage (which can often coincide with other conditions like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.). Together, you can create a treatment plan that works for you.

By becoming aware of our destructive behavior, setting healthy boundaries, and seeking help, we can start the journey toward reclaiming our lives from self-sabotage.

Above all, remember to be kind to yourself along the way. You’re on a journey of self-discovery and growth; every step matters. With patience and determination, you can overcome your self-sabotaging patterns and learn habits that build you up instead of holding you back from life.


Self-sabotaging behavior can be incredibly damaging, but it’s possible to manage and overcome it with the right strategies. To help stop self-sabotage, acknowledge the behavior, identify the root cause, create healthier alternatives to negative coping behaviors, practice self-care to reduce stress, and seek help from a specialized counselor to support you with a personalized treatment plan.

If you partake in negative strategies to cope with life often, it may be a sign that you need significant support from a professional who understands your struggles. They can help identify if there are underlying causes beyond your behaviors or root causes contributing to your need to cope.

It’s important to remember that you can overcome self-sabotage with self-awareness and action to change your automatic responses to your triggers. If you would like support on your journey to overcome self-sabotage, call us or schedule an appointment here to be paired with a licensed counselor who can help.

Have you found any positive coping strategies that work for you? Let us know down below!

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Picture of Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

All articles are written in conjunction with the Makin Wellness research team. The content on this page is not a replacement for professional diagnosis, treatment, or informed advice. It is important to consult with a qualified mental health professional before making any decisions or taking action. Please refer to our terms of use for further details.

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