Do you feel like every time you take a step forward you take a few steps back? Do find yourself engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors? Do you have negative thoughts about yourself or your ability to reach your goals? Do you continue to engage in unhealthy habits even though you KNOW they are keeping you from growing?


Self-defeating behaviors are behaviors that move you away from the goals that you have set for yourself. These behaviors are distracting and self-sabotaging and cause us to feel exhausted and bad about ourselves. 

Theories suggest that self-defeating behaviors are a kind of defense mechanism, fooling people into thinking that they are coping with stress, pressure, social demands, etc., while others suggest that self-defeating behaviors help a person to stay within their comfort zone (e.g., if someone feels a lack of self-confidence, they may sabotage a job opportunity to remain at a certain career level). 

Some people feel as though these behaviors are impossible to resist. 

Common types of self-defeating behaviors include:

  • Physical/mental neglect

  • Self-criticism

  • Perfectionism

  • Self-pity

  • Procrastination

  • Comparing yourself to others

  • Social withdrawal/alienation

  • Risky sexual behaviors

  • Refusing help

  • Over-spending

  • Relationship sabotage

  • Over/Under eating

  • Self-injurious behaviors

  • Drug and alcohol abuse

What can you do if you feel as though you are engaging in self-destructive behaviors?

  • Start by identifying the behaviors in your life that you feel are getting in the way of reaching your goals. Insight is an integral part of changing your behavior. 

  • Get real. Find ways to stop minimizing these unhealthy behaviors and rationalizing their presence. Examine how a behavior really impacts your life.

  • Don’t get down on yourself. Being overly critical of yourself or thinking that you are “weak” creates a worse self-concept, often leading lower self-esteem and confidence. 

  • Make it harder to act impulsively. Do you find that you over eat when you are stressed? Keep foods that you tend to binge on out of the house. Do you overspend when you are sad? Only withdraw enough cash for your weekly expenses and make access to your debit/credit cards more difficult. 

  • Practice mindfulness. Focusing on the present can help you to more readily identify your emotions and the behaviors that are getting in the way of your goals. 

  • Start to self-reflect. Journaling or keeping a daily log of healthy habits can be a great way to build positive patterns of behavior.

  • Seek professional help. Meeting with acounselor or psychologistcan be an important part of reducing unhealthy behaviors. A psychologist can help you to identify triggers that lead to your self-defeating behaviors and provide tools to help you replace them with healthier options. 

Therapists at Metta Psychology Group create a safe space for you to explore the self-defeating behaviors that may be getting in your way. A therapist can help you to build awareness of your thoughts and urges, as well as ways to listen to how your body feels when you are experiencing impulsivity. Understanding what precipitates your impulsivity and self-sabotage can lead to behavior change.