Doorway to doomsday: How to avoid self-sabotaging your relationships 101

A form of behavioural deregulation, self-sabotaging can damage relationships, reinforcing patterns of blame, procrastination and victimisation

Published: 26th March 2023 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th March 2023 02:21 PM   |  A+A-

While self-sabotage can affect productivity, goals and progress at work, its worst effects are seen in relationships.

While self-sabotage can affect productivity, goals and progress at work, its worst effects are seen in relationships.

Express News Service

Neha Jain, an interior designer from Delhi, had a history of choosing Mr Wrong since she first fell in love at 16. All romantic relationships that followed had the same trajectory—a period of happiness, then gaslighting and manipulation, ending in ghosting and trainwreck breakups. It wasn’t that Jain didn’t notice the red flags. She ignored them hoping ‘this one will be different’. Then one toxic relationship too many, the proverbial camel’s back broke and she decided to seek therapy.

During counselling, Jain was introduced to the concept of trauma leading to self-sabotaging behaviour. The roots of her bad relationships were formed in childhood. Her emotionally negligent and verbally abusive stepfather had ingrained in her a crippling sense of guilt and rejection in her formative years. Her perceptions of love and caring were twisted. Not realising herself, she was recreating the wounds and wants of her childhood in every relationship. “It required a tremendous amount of self-reflection to recognise my belief system. I learnt about my insecure attachment style, driven by the fear of being left out. This manifested as a desperate need to be in a relationship, even if it was a wrong one for me. Over the last eight months, I took bite-sized actions to tackle self-sabotage. I am now able to communicate my needs in a relationship better,” says Jain.

In relation to relationships
While self-sabotage can affect productivity, goals and progress at work, its worst effects are seen in relationships. “The genesis of negative thinking patterns is usually rooted in childhood trauma. These early memories have a profound impact on how one sees themselves with regards to the world,” says Nerissa Hendricks, counselling psychologist, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru.

As a risk-averting strategy, it’s easy to fall into a trap that looks like an escape from unpleasant emotions and a Band-Aid fix to loneliness and emotional neglect. On the flip side, though, it subjects you to issues like volatility, impulsiveness, anger, jealousy and criticism in relationships. “One of the typical signs of this counterproductive mentality is lack of trust between partners because of past experiences, leading to doubts, accusations, and a need for constant reassurance,” says Dr Harini Atturu, consultant, psychiatry, CARE Hospitals, Hyderabad, adding, “Not just romantic relationships, self-sabotage can wreak havoc in any association.”  

Mumbai-based businessman Rahul Chopra had experienced the syndrome first-hand being a self-sabotaging child. Born to ambitious parents, he was expected to be zealously academic. While he was no slacker, Chopra’s heart lay in photography, which his parents mocked. Having internalised their negative talk, he developed a deep sense of inadequacy and subconsciously began to undermine himself. “Before they could hurt me with their comments, I would find fault in my work and throw it into a corner of my room,” says the 39-year-old, who was rescued from this self-destructive behaviour by his fine arts teacher, also his mentor, from school. Psychologists, recommend these corrective strategies to navigate the reasons of self-sabotage and negate its effects.

Don’t wait for doom: Visualising the worst-case scenario is one of the most damaging forms of self-sabotage in relationships. “Break the cycle by using the clap technique. When thoughts of doom surface, utter the word ‘stop’ with a loud clap. You can also try mindful breathing—notice your breath when you inhale, hold and exhale,” advises Hendricks.

Take a close look at your core belief systems: The way we view ourselves forms the bedrock of our subconscious mind, and automates our choices. Ask whether you have any self-limiting assumptions or preconceived notions about life. “Choose one negative belief and view it from a distance. You can do this by saying, ‘I notice I am having the thought that’ … (fill it in the blanks), ‘but I choose to be open to other ways of thinking’. Write down all the positive evidence you have to support this new thought,” says the psychologist.

Don’t chase perfectionism: The conviction that everything must be flawless can leave one unsatisfied with their abilities. Instead, try realistic goal-setting using SMART strategy—Specific (zero in on the most important goals), Measurable (a checklist to see your progress), Achievable (set reasonable goals), Relevant (target what matters most) and Time-bound (work on them within a comfortable duration). This will lower the pressure and make the process more fun.

Abandon the all-or-nothing thinking: “Embrace shades of grey by readjusting the brain to choose a new habit. This entails firing and wiring new neural circuits triggered by a fresh set of instructions, leading to a reward, which through repetition, becomes a new way of thinking,” says Atturu. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): A psychotherapy that focuses on mindfulness and operating out of individual values, ACT is helpful with self-sabotaging behaviours by changing one’s perspective of pain and lessening the burden of anxious thoughts of future.

“One of the signs of counterproductive mentality is lack of trust between partners, 
leading to doubts and accusations.” Dr Harini Atturu

“Break the cycle by using clap technique. When thoughts of doom surface, utter the word ‘stop’ with a loud clap.” Nerissa Hendricks

India Matters


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