“I sabotaged my relationship and regret it.” “Why do I self-sabotage my relationships?” These thoughts often run through the minds of people who struggle with relationships or have a tendency to push people away. There can be several reasons why you self-sabotage your relationships but before we get to that, let’s try to understand what self-sabotage exactly means.
Self-sabotage is a behavior or thought pattern that makes you feel trapped or holds you back from doing what you want to do, whether it’s committing to a relationship or achieving your goals. You tend to doubt your abilities or, maybe, you’re scared of criticism or ruining the relationship yourself, which is why you choose to walk away before things get worse or don’t go as per your convenience.
We spoke to psychologist Nandita Rambhia (MSc, Psychology), who specializes in CBT, REBT and couples counseling, to help you understand and deal with your “why do I self-sabotage my relationships” dilemma. She spoke to us about why people develop a pattern of sabotaging a relationship subconsciously, the connection between anxiety and self-sabotaging relationships, and ways to end the cycle.
Expert Answers – Why Do You Self-Sabotage Your Relationships
“Self-sabotaging is a behavior where a person does something or performs an action that is not conducive to them. If either partner is self-sabotaging, it indicates that they aren’t positive about the relationship. Therefore, they say or do things that negatively impact the relationship. They tend to behave in ways that do not have a fundamental base to it like avoiding or criticizing their partners or denial of sex,” explains Nandita.
Why do I keep self-sabotaging relationships? If you’re constantly asking yourself this question, know that you aren’t alone, my friend. Many struggle with sabotaging behaviors and there can be several reasons behind such a pattern. A study published in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy stated five reasons why people sabotage their romantic relationships – low self-esteem, fear, trust issues, unrealistic expectations and lack of relationship skills caused due to inexperience and immaturity.
Imagine this. You’ve been dating someone for a while and everything is going great. But just when the relationship starts getting serious, all the happiness suddenly goes away. You stop replying to your partner’s messages, find faults in them, avoid sex, cancel dates, don’t return calls, and pick unnecessary fights with them. Eventually, you grow apart and the relationship comes to an end.
If you find yourself being able to relate to this, know that you are sabotaging a relationship subconsciously. Alternatively, if you notice such behavior patterns in your partner, know that these are signs she is sabotaging the relationship or he struggles with self-sabotaging tendencies. Read through the below points to understand why you tend to self-sabotage your relationship (or your partner does).
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1. Why do I self-sabotage my relationship? Childhood trauma
People form the earliest relationships in their childhood with their parents and caregivers. These relationships tend to have an impact on all the other relationships they form throughout life. If these primary, formative relationships aren’t wholesome and nurturing, a person may develop toxic behavior patterns to cope with their unmet emotional needs, and these patterns are hard to break. Such people develop an insecure attachment style where they feel compelled to repeat negative behaviors because it’s familiar territory.
For example, if you had a parent who would get angry or abuse you whenever you tried to have a conversation with them or put your point across, you probably never got a chance to speak for yourself for fear of how they might react. Eventually, you begin to remain silent to defend yourself against that anger and abuse. This manifests into a behavior pattern later in life where you might find it difficult or next to impossible to stand up for yourself because you fear how the other side might react.
Says Nandita, “Self-sabotaging behaviors manifest from individual personalities that are shaped in the early years. A person could be carrying a lot of unattended emotional trauma from their childhood, which makes them self-sabotage their future relationships.” Childhood trauma or an insecure or anxious attachment style often leads to fear of rejection and intimacy, which eventually makes you self-sabotage your relationship.
You might also fear commitment because you feel it will snatch away your freedom and independence. You might have fear of intimacy because you feel the people you are close to might hurt you one day. In short, the attachment style you develop in your childhood dictates the way you deal with your relationships in life.
2. Hurt from past relationship experiences
“Why am I self-sabotaging a good relationship?” “I sabotaged my relationship and regret it.” If your mind is plagued by such thoughts, it’s possible that you are sabotaging a relationship out of fear of getting hurt again. Your negative experiences with romantic relationships in the past might be one of the reasons you are sabotaging your current one, according to Nandita.
If you were cheated on, lied to or abused by previous partners, you might have difficulty trusting, getting intimate or communicating effectively in your current relationship. If your previous partner didn’t care about your feelings or opinions, tried to manipulate you or abused you emotionally or physically, you might find yourself unable to advocate for your needs before your current partner, leading to you sabotaging a relationship subconsciously.
3. Fear of failure or abandonment
“Why do I self-sabotage my relationship?” Well, you might also be sabotaging a relationship out of fear of failure or abandonment. Sometimes, wanting to avoid failure or being scared of failing at a certain task can make you stop trying or self-sabotage your efforts. Or maybe you are too scared that the happiness won’t last, which is why you begin to push love away so you don’t get hurt or face the consequences.
You might be sabotaging a relationship subconsciously because the pressure of not wanting to fail is so great that it makes you want to quit rather than find out how things pan out – the logic being you can’t fail if you don’t try. Therefore, your mind automatically comes up with excuses to self-sabotage your relationship. Another reason could be not wanting to show your vulnerable side to your partner because you fear they will leave you at your worst.
Consider this for instance. Your current relationship is going perfectly well. Your partner is amazing and you’re happier than you’ve ever been before. Suddenly, this fear of “this is too good to be true” or “it’s only a matter of time before something bad happens” engulfs you and you start to distance yourself from your partner leading to arguments and, eventually, a breakup. You don’t want to face the consequences so you close yourself off emotionally.
Nandita explains, “Sometimes, a person is afraid of how or what the relationship might turn out to be in the future. This apprehension about the future leads to relationship anxiety, which eventually causes them to behave in self-sabotaging ways.” You fear that the people who you love the most will leave you when you’re most vulnerable. You fear abandonment. You might also fear a loss of identity or the ability to decide what’s best for you if you get too involved emotionally. Therefore, you self-sabotage your relationship.
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4. Self-esteem issues
Another answer to your “why do I keep self-sabotaging relationships” or “I sabotaged my relationship and regret it” quandary could be low self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence issues, according to Nandita. “You probably underestimate yourself a lot or believe that you aren’t worthy of someone’s love and affection. You probably feel your partner is in a relationship with you out of pity. This could be due to past failed relationships, trust issues, past emotional or psychological trauma or being betrayed by earlier partners,” she says.
Statements like “Why do you love me? I’m not even as good-looking as you”, “Why are you with me? I’m not as smart or successful as you” or “You’re in a relationship with me out of pity” indicate low self-esteem. If you find your girlfriend or boyfriend making such statements, know that these are signs she is sabotaging the relationship due to self-worth issues or his self-sabotaging tendencies are a manifestation of him being a man with low self-esteem.
No partner likes to hear that they’re dating someone who considers himself or herself worthless or not good enough. They will constantly reassure you that they love you for who you are, that you’re enough for them and that you don’t need to change yourself. But, if their constant reassurance also doesn’t work and you continue to talk about yourself in self-deprecating sentences, they might give up and eventually end the relationship.
5. “Why do I self-sabotage my relationship?” Unrealistic expectations
“Why am I self-sabotaging a good relationship?” you may ask. Well, expecting way too much from your partner could be a reason. While it is normal to have a certain set of expectations from your partner, setting the bar unrealistically high or expecting grand romantic gestures at every step of the way will negatively impact the relationship.
If you’re constantly upset with your partner for not meeting your expectations, then there’s a problem. If you’re not communicating your issues with them, then that’s a sign of the problem getting worse. Learning to manage expectations in a relationship is important. If you aren’t talking to your partner about your problems with them and the relationship, it’s a sign that you don’t consider them worthy enough to be with them.
Self-sabotage usually has its roots in childhood trauma and negative experiences. It’s the consequence of being brought up by caregivers who were abusive, negligent, indifferent or unresponsive. The child, then, grows up with a negative perception of self, thereby triggering a deep-rooted sense of not being worthy enough.
Nandita says, “Sometimes, there might not be a specific reason behind self-sabotaging behaviors. A person may derive some kind of satisfaction by sabotaging the relationship simply because they are commitment-phobic. Another reason could be that they want to end the relationship but are not able to face their partner directly and tell them that it’s not working.”
Over time, they develop toxic traits that could do a lot of damage to themselves and their partners. They tend to be uncomfortable or fearful of vulnerability and intimacy. They might also not be comfortable with or reject any kind of appreciation or praise they get from their partners or colleagues. However, know that it is possible to deal with or change self-sabotaging behaviors.
How Do I Stop Self Sabotaging My Relationship?
It is in their childhood that people form a certain attachment style depending on how they were treated and brought up by their parents or caregivers. If trust is broken at this stage, a certain fear of intimacy sets in where the person grows up with the belief that the people who love them are the ones who will eventually or inevitably hurt them the most. If your emotions have been hurt in the past, they will take a toll on how you view and deal with current relationships.
In such a situation, sabotaging a relationship comes naturally to them because it is what they know as it aligns with their belief system. No matter how toxic such behaviors are, this is the only way they know to act. But, the good news is that such patterns can be broken. It is possible to end the cycle. Here are 5 ways to deal with your tendency to self-sabotage your relationship:
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1. Practice introspection and identify your triggers
Awareness is the first step to moving toward healthy behaviors and relationships. Try to observe what thoughts cross your mind when your relationship starts to get problematic or rocky. Are you consciously creating barriers to avoid commitment, failure or being vulnerable in front of your partner? Understand if these thoughts are linked to past experiences or childhood trauma. There is often a close link between anxiety and self-sabotaging relationships. Ask yourself if you fear vulnerability or rejection from your partner.
Nandita says, “The first step is to be aware that you are self-sabotaging your relationship. Most people fail to realize that. If you are aware of it, the next step is to figure out why you do so. It requires intensive counseling to understand what part of their personality is causing this and what are the reasons behind this trait. It’s a good idea to self-reflect to figure out why this behavior is manifested in them.”
Self-sabotaging behaviors can be hard to recognize since they are deeply ingrained into a person’s system. But recognizing these patterns is the first step to changing them. Try to identify what triggers such behavior in you. Ask yourself if you’re sabotaging a relationship subconsciously or consciously. Understand and acknowledge the habits that make you self-sabotage your relationship.
2. Talk through it with your partner
The importance of communication in a relationship cannot be stressed enough. Communication is key to solving conflict in a relationship. Once you’ve realized your triggers and examined your self-sabotaging habits, talk to your partner about them. Be honest about your fears and struggles and the steps you’re taking to work on them.
You and your partner need to work as a team to end this vicious cycle of self-sabotaging behavior. Talk to each other about the strategies you wish to implement to move toward a healthier behavior pattern. If you have a partner who tends to self-sabotage, show them some understanding and affection so that they know you’re with them in this difficult journey. If you notice signs of self-sabotaging behavior, point it out to them and together figure out a way to change the pattern.
3. Seek therapy
Nandita recommends that seeking therapy is the best approach to solve the mystery of “why do I self-sabotage my relationships?”. A therapist can help process your feelings. Therapists use different techniques and therapy exercises that will help you connect the dots between your past and present behaviors and offer guidance on how you can manage your triggers and end the self-sabotaging cycle.
You could also try couple’s therapy because, at the end of the day, it’s the responsibility of both partners to work on the relationship. If you are stuck in a similar situation and looking for help, you can always reach out to Bonobology’s panel of licensed and experienced therapists here.
4. Understand your attachment style
To figure out why you self-sabotage your relationship, you will have to introspect and understand your attachment style. People form an attachment style in their childhood and it is this style that lays the ground for how they act and deal with their future relationships. The behavior or response of parents or caregivers plays a major role in the growth and development of a child, especially in the way they see themselves and others.
If you’re asking yourself, “Why am I self-sabotaging a good relationship?” or “Am I sabotaging a relationship out of fear?”, it’s a sign that you need to look back at your attachment style. Those who faced abandonment, indifference, rejection, trauma or child abuse by their parents or caregivers tend to develop an insecure or avoidant attachment style. They have trouble trusting people or being vulnerable in front of them.
Nandita explains, “Childhood trauma and strained relationships between parents play a major role. It depends on the personality of the child and how that particular trauma has affected them. If they’ve grown up seeing a strained relationship between their parents, they tend to avoid getting into a committed relationship because they’ve seen too much negativity around them. They refuse to believe that romantic relationships can have a positive outcome.”
Attachment styles have a major impact on all the relationships you form in life. It can bring out the worst in you in the form of jealousy, anger, constant reassurance, commitment issues, paranoia, stonewalling, and more – all of which cause you to self-sabotage your relationship. But know that these behaviors are not permanent. You can work on your attachment style and build a healthy relationship with your partner.
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5. Practice self-care
Once you’ve found the answer to your “why do I keep self-sabotaging relationships” dilemma, try to not beat yourself up over it. Be kind to yourself. Practice compassion and self-care. You will not be able to change your toxic behavior pattern or build a healthy relationship with your partner if you do not practice self-love.
Being compassionate toward yourself is essential in a situation where you might be blaming yourself for having hurt your partner. The realization might make you feel guilty but know that it comes from a place of deep-rooted fear. It is obvious that you wanted to protect yourself but the fact that you realize that your way of doing it isn’t healthy is a step forward in the right direction.
Self-sabotaging behaviors can take a massive toll on your mental health if not treated at the right time. It can negatively impact your daily life and your goals. Some of the most common effects include procrastination, substance abuse, alcohol addiction and self-harm. You might not be aware that you are sabotaging yourself and your relationship but behavioral therapy can help in understanding and disengaging from ingrained thought patterns.
Behaviors like cheating, lying, paranoia, gaslighting, jealousy, and anger can cause damage to you as well as your partner, which is why it is important to identify your triggers and attachment style and seek help if you need the same. Practicing self-care and compassion, figuring out how to love yourself, and improve toxic behaviors can help end the cycle. Good luck!
Self-sabotage usually stems from childhood trauma and the relationship you share with your primary caregivers. Other causes include low self-esteem, self-deprecating talk and a general negative perception of oneself.
Self-sabotaging behaviors have been linked to Borderline Personality Disorder in those who tend to develop such toxic patterns. It is considered to be a trauma response and can have a massive impact on your mental health.
Self-sabotaging behaviors are possible to fix with the help of some introspection and therapy. You will really have to take a look at yourself and your behavior patterns, understand the triggers and consciously work toward changing them. Seek the help of a professional for better guidance.
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