Here’s Why You Keep Self-Sabotaging (And How You Can Stop)


If you’ve read books or articles on why you give up easily, you’re likely to hear some version of “you’re weak, you lack discipline, and you need to believe in yourself more.” If you’re like me, you’ve found it hard to relate to those success books that tell you all you need to do is think differently or adopt certain habits. It’s like these authors are from another planet. You desperately want to believe success is that easy. You’ve even tried it. And behavior modification works for a while—until it doesn’t.

While we want to take responsibility for our part, there’s a reason why it’s not all your fault you’ve yet to achieve everything you want in life. What’s more likely is that you’re stronger than most. It’s just that all your resources have gone into survival and there’s little left over for less life-threatening challenges. Do you find yourself quitting before you get the breakthrough or ruining relationships that have the potential to be good? The biggest reason we self-sabotage this way has to do with how we were raised.

For people from a supportive background and loving family, challenges feel good, like a normal part of the “pain” you have to go through to get the gain you want. They’re not looking out for threats or wondering whether their needs will be met. They’re relaxed and in a primed state to learn and take on challenges. But for those of us who had a less than ideal journey to today, that same challenge feels like the rock of Sisyphus. The weight is so heavy we’re sure it will crush us. And that’s why we give up more easily. In other words, it’s not your fault.

Even if your home was safe, your parents may have never encouraged you to persevere in the face of challenges. They let you quit whenever you wanted, so you learned if you don’t like something, you can stop doing it. You’ve been conditioned to give up too easily. While it’s sometimes wise to drop things we don’t enjoy, it’s also important to fulfill commitments and push through the unpleasant middle to obtain the end reward.

Then there are parents who neglect to help their children develop daily disciplines, the habits which are essential to success. As a result, the child grows up without realizing the importance of mundane tasks to overall life satisfaction. So, they never take steps to cultivate them. If you grew up in a chaotic family, where you weren’t taught to establish routines, developing them becomes an effective way to nurture yourself. They comfort us by providing a rhythm we can count on.

This is one of the ways we reparent ourselves. It’s not the same as being mean to yourself. It’s a way of taking care of yourself to ensure long-term success and growth. If our parents were unreliable, abusive, neglectful, or worse, we won’t learn some basic life skills. Things like setting boundaries, healthy habits, emotional regulation, and relationship building will be foreign to us.

When parents fail to give children what they need, the child grows up feeling unheard and unseen, like they don’t matter. We develop a feeling of lack and deprivation, like we don’t deserve love or the things other people enjoy. Any time I wanted something, a voice inside me would say, “That’s not for you”. So, I only received what others were willing to give to me. You can imagine how this impacted my relationships and quality of life. I would settle for less and sabotage relationships with good men, for example, due to feeling unworthy of them.

Lack of parenting in childhood negatively impacts our relationships, creates self-loathing and an intense inner critic, and leaves us feeling unsupported and isolated. Those of us who suffered this way are more likely to turn to substance abuse and experience depression and suicidal thoughts. In some cases, we will depersonalize or feel unreal, lacking a concrete sense of self upon which to build a life.

Parenting yourself means letting the hurt child feel heard and seen. Otherwise, she’ll try to get that attention in unhealthy ways that feel beyond your control and which sabotage you. Until we learn to parent ourselves, we’ll keep repeating the same patterns that hold us back. We’ll fail to establish routines necessary for success. We’ll continue giving up in the face of challenges because we haven’t learned the skill of long-term goal orientation. We’ll keep underachieving despite our immense potential or overachieving for the sole purpose of trying to win someone’s love or validation. We’ll keep settling for less because that feels familiar to us.

When we start to care for ourselves, our tolerance for pain and abuse will lower. We’ll no longer feel comfortable in relationships where our needs are not met. We won’t feel so desperate to hold onto someone who treats us like we don’t matter. When we reparent ourselves, we begin to live lives that align with our values and make us feel more like ourselves. We discover who that “self” really is.