Tackling Self-Sabotage

Written by Alexi Pyles on October 21, 2021

Guilt + Shame
Personal Growth
Self-Care / Self-Compassion

What makes you think a burn victim could succeed?

Why don’t you go back to where you came from?

I received many comments growing up as a burn survivor doing competitive sports, finding love, and simply being myself. Over time, I allowed these comments to become part of my daily self-talk. I would hear myself say:

You aren’t enough.

Now, I find myself still stuck in the destructive cycle of self-sabotage. I hadn’t realized this was a problem until I noticed myself saying “you aren’t enough” to get out of doing something that would actually benefit me.

I did some research to understand the root of what it means to self-sabotage. Articles from Psychology Today and Healthline both agree that self-sabotaging behaviors are a collection of negative and irrational beliefs. They cause people to underestimate their capabilities and hold people back from doing what they want to do. That sounded exactly like what I was doing to myself.

These articles provided a list of self-sabotaging behaviors and tips on how to tackle them. Below, I connect the examples to my own personal experiences.

Behavior #1: Misplaced blame

Me (to Partner/Friend/Loved One): “You never appreciate the things I do, and when I do something wrong, you make me feel like a failure.”

I bet many of you can understand where I am coming from when I say this. I have started many fights in this way in past relationships.

I often found myself doing a lot of work (chores, grabbing deliveries, grocery shopping, paying for dates, etc.) that my partner didn’t ask me to do. Then, when I messed up one thing, I would get distraught that they didn’t take notice of the one thousand and one other things I did do. I would completely ignore the mistake I made and push it in their face that I am not perfect.

I could have avoided the fight entirely by accepting that I did make a mistake, and that my partner didn’t ask me to do all of those other things. I had high expectations for myself, and when I felt overwhelmed, I blamed my partner even though they hadn’t put any pressure on me at all.

Behavior #2: Walking away

Supervisor: “Alexi, we need to discuss your current behaviors toward a co-worker. I would like to sit down with you both regarding these concerns.”

Me: “I would rather step down than put myself through that.”

This was an incident where a co-worker was bad-mouthing me to clients, and I confronted her about it directly. Instead of talking to me, my co-worker went to our supervisor. I walked away from this incident instead of dealing with it because I was upset. I felt attacked and unsupported.

After my research, I realize that I reacted like this because I was afraid of conflict and criticism. I wanted to stay away from all forms of these, hoping I could get by through always avoiding confrontation.

Behavior #3: Picking fights

Partner: “Babe, please stop throwing things and banging doors. I can see that you’re clearly upset.”

These are the words I heard from my partner when I reacted in this way to something that upset me. Because of my fear of confrontation, I hoped that he would pick up on what I was angry about and fix it.

I realized that my partner isn’t in my head and can’t read my mind. I know that tackling my fear of confrontation will help me to stop picking fights.

Behavior #4: Dating the wrong people

Wrong Person: “Who will accept you for your scars? You won’t find anyone else who will love you. You need me more than I need you.”

I dated two people who said these words, falling for people who convincingly told me that I couldn’t find love anywhere else. I remember feeling helpless the last time I heard this. I could sense that love wasn’t supposed to feel this way, but I didn’t know anything else. All I knew was that I needed a change.

After these two partners, I have tried to remember to be myself and try new things.

Behavior #5: Putting yourself down

Me: “You can never have a corporate job, be a model, or influence anyone. Look at yourself. You’re just a burned person with hideous scars.”

Honestly, I struggle with this one the most. I have kept these negative words at bay, but I fall back into these thoughts when I get a rejection letter or a “no” to any request.

I am aware that my scars do not change my job status. But prior experiences of being put down because of them has, at times, led to these self-sabotaging thoughts.

Tips for Tackling Self-Sabotage

I have felt limited by my scars and my past. I try to remember that it isn’t always other people who define me. I have to take full responsibility that I am hurting myself by not going for it, not taking that leap of faith.

I had to learn that it’s okay to make mistakes.

Tip #1: Identify Behaviors

Identifying self-sabotaging behavior is a great start. I try to practice “I” statements and find what causes those behaviors. However, I often catch myself procrastinating by cleaning the house rather than sitting down to address them. I also look for reasons to be upset with someone rather than accept people for who they are.

Tip #2: Learn what sets you off

We all have pet peeves. One thing that sets me off is double standards. I often find discomfort when someone behaves one way and doesn’t allow another to do the same. I also think that you can’t put higher standards on someone else while you’re not trying at all. I have learned that about myself, so I can make the connection that this sets me off.

Tip #3: Practice accepting failure

I tell my clients that practice makes perfect. I need to remind myself that the more I practice getting comfortable with failure, the less it will feel like someone else ripping a band-aid off of me.

Tip #4: Talk about it

Talking about my needs and feelings has been the best medicine to help me stop picking fights and self-sabotaging. I speak to someone I trust, and that has allowed me to practice talking about uncomfortable topics. So when it comes time to confront my partner about something, I am calm and direct. It doesn’t always have to feel like a chore.

Parting notes

Self-sabotage has impacted my functioning in the past. I found myself falling back into these habits during Covid times but reminding myself of the lessons shared above has been helpful. I hope these tips help you to tackle your own self-sabotage and continue pushing yourself to try new things. We all deserve healthy relationships, with ourselves, and others.

Further Resources

Raypole, C. (2019). “How Self Sabotage Holds You Back.” Healthline., 2019.

“Self-Sabotage.” Psychology Today., 2021.

Alexi Pyles is a child burn survivor with 2nd and 3rd degree burns on her neck and chest. Alexi was burned when she was six months old in Xiamen, China. Alexi was adopted at the age of two and brought to the United States to be treated by Dr. Peterson at the Sherman Oaks Hospital burn unit. Alexi is now finishing her last semester of graduate school to receive her Master's of Science degree in Counseling with an Option in Rehabilitation Counseling and Certificate in Clinical Counseling. Alexi currently works for a non-profit helping homeless adults become housed and sustain permanent housing. Alexi is working towards earning her licensure in clinical counseling and wants to specialize in burn trauma.