Depressed person
When a person ruins chances and opportunities for themselves owing to their fractured self-esteem, it is known as self-sabotage. Image Credit:

What if your worst enemy is you?

That’s the cruelty of self-sabotage; a rather relentless, invisible force that holds us back from achieving what we want. It’s when you build barriers to prevent a desired outcome that could benefit you,” explains Diana Matthews, a Dubai-based psychiatrist. Such a person is sure that they don’t deserve to succeed, and so they engage in a series of toxic habits that undermine their growth and progress. Soon, that becomes the grammar of their personality.

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What are the signs of self-sabotage? Well, UAE residents have a wide range of answers and explanations for this thorny question. It can be in terms of relationships, as in the case of Milena Keyes, a British Dubai-based marketing professional. “I have ruined so many of my relationships, platonic or otherwise, by just walking away because I was sure that they would walk away first. It took me a long time to realise that I was the toxic one, not them,” she admits. Or, it could just be getting up late for an important job interview, because somewhere you didn’t believe that you were good enough. “I’ve done that too many times,” says Michael Smith, an Abu Dhabi-based public relations and professional.

These are just some of the tell-tale signs of this harmful psychological habit. Sometimes, it is entirely ‘subconscious’ according to Matthews. This is far more complex, as the person doesn’t see the signs in themselves. This includes fractured workplace behaviour, such as missing deadlines, procrastinating, making excuses, or setting goals that are too high or too low. And then, they find comfort in the self-fulfilling prophecy.

When they are unable to reach their goal, their belief that they could never attain it, is confirmed. “They have a fear of failure, and a feeling of self-worth,” explains Priyanka Sainani, a Dubai-based holistic physician. This feeling is encouraged by an unsupportive environment, be it home or work, which encourages the cycle of self-sabotage. Slowly, they have a lack of self-awareness, and this can lead to several mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety disorders.

Here are the tell-tale signs, as explained by psychologists.

The desperation for perfectionism

The drive for perfectionism is usually misconstrued as a glowing and positive characteristic. However, it chips away at a person, eventually burning them out, explains Matthews. People set such high, unattainable standards for themselves. “They’ll get trapped in a cycle of dissatisfaction, resentment and anxiety. They don’t allow themselves room for mistakes, which ironically pushes them into making more mistakes,” she adds.

Kathleen O’Myer, an American Dubai-based media professional recalls the days that she was so ‘obsessed’ with writing flawless features that she would keep rewriting till the deadline. “It was just my anxiety,” she explains. “The final product would just be sketchy and messy, and I wished that I had gone with what I had written in the beginning,” she says.


Man talking
People tend to resort to procrastination out of anxiety, as they are already convinced that their actions will not achieve desired results. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Well, we’re all guilty of this one.

It’s a common coping method, explains Sainani. People will delay their tasks and assignments, for several reasons. Either, they’re afraid that their impossible standards of perfection won’t be met, or they are just convinced that they won’t do justice to it. So they engage in temporary distractions that provide them brief solace. The anxiety hits a peak by the deadline, and it’s too late for them to salvage the situation. As a result, their negative perceptions about themselves are further cemented and reinforced, adds Celine Keane, a Dubai-based psychologist.

The rabbit warren of excuses

There will always be a reason why you couldn’t do something. The lights went off. You were too busy with household chores. “We get so trapped in the rut of making excuses, that we’ll seize anything to actually avoid doing our work,” explains Matthews. Excuse-making goes hand-in-hand with procrastination: The more you procrastinate, the more you craft excuses to not do something. Finally, your neural pathways are conditioned to avoid taking action, and you descend into a mindset of victimisation and disempowerment, she says.


Upset person
In their anxiety, people are unable to think clearly and decide to plunge into reckless decisions. Image Credit: Shutterstock

When people are determined to sabotage themselves, their lifestyle reflects their choices, says Keane. This could be in the form of excessive bingeing and causing damage to their health, or choosing to be with people who could lure them into more dangerous habits. “They could also start looking for romantic relationships with people who will use their vulnerability against them,” she says. Reckless could be anything, from splurging at shops, to just heedlessly booking an accommodation without doing basic research, she says.

As Sainani explains, people get into the trap of impulsivity and making reckless choices.

Blaming ourselves, blaming others

Blame is a dangerous game.

“There can be elements of truth in self-blame, but what matters is, how much do you keep dwelling on it,” asks Keane. “People tend to just get lost in the rut of ‘I messed up; I’m not meant for happiness’. Instead, identify factors in yourself that you would like to change. Otherwise, constant self-blame ends up in excessive and exaggerated self-pity, where you invariably start pushing others away from you,” she says.

If not self-blame, people tend to blame others too, for their own mistakes, she adds.

Owing to these numerous signs, individuals tend to isolate themselves, which is another sign of self-sabotage, explains Sainani.

How does one escape the cycle of self-sabotage?

For starters, become aware about your self-sabotaging behaviours, says Matthews. Look inwards at your thoughts, actions and emotions to identify the patterns. Accept your flaws and mistakes, but with a sense of kindness. Imagine you are doing this for your friend, she says. “Identify the specific triggers or situations that result in your self-sabotage. Break down these triggers into smaller, manageable steps to make them less overwhelming,” she says.

Try reframing your harmful and negative thoughts, adds Sainani. You need to accept that perfection isn’t attainable; set realistic goals for yourself at the workplace. Look towards setting realistic goals at the workplace, and see how you can handle time management and reprioritisation.