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Self-Defeating Behaviors (SDB)

by Jill Thomas, DHt, HHp

What exactly are self-defeating behaviors and do you have any?  Do you recognize or perhaps own any of these?

  • Inability to keep agreements, compulsive tardiness
  • Lying
  • The victim
  • Being unaccountable
  • People pleaser, approval addict
  • Aggressive, abusive, and controlling
  • Addictions
  • Make assumptions.


Now that I have listed a few, do you have any?  A Self-Defeating Behavior is a thought, feeling, and/or action that our low self-esteem, our ego and our fear use consciously and sub-consciously to sabotage us.  We use them to avoid engaging in life, to validate our feelings of inadequacy, and to control and manipulate others.  Everyone has self-defeating behaviors and the consequences of each vary, depending on the gravity.  The risk of not recognizing, not acknowledging, and continuing the use of our self-defeating behaviors can be as severe as death.  You will risk remaining in a dysfunctional life pattern of self-sabotage, relationship-sabotage, and lack.  You may also never experience personal victories depending on your SDB.

You were not born with your self-defeating behaviors on board.  You created your SDBs as a reaction to or solution to a negative experience.  Some were learned behaviors from our parents, siblings or other people of influence around us.  Some we could have developed through religious authority or personal tragedy such as being physically or emotionally violated.  When you adopted your self-defeating behaviors you did not know any better.  You convinced yourself that it would make your world more bearable.

Self-defeating behaviors can lay dormant for a very long time but can be activated by certain life events.  The holiday season is often very hard on a lot of people.  It can be a trigger for a self-defeating pattern, as can birthdays, random family gatherings, etc.  They can be activated when we are doing something solely for ourselves and feel guilty for doing so.

We use and repeat SDB patterns sometimes for years and we use some, more than others.  They can make your life unmanageable and empty.  They will keep you stuck in dead end relationships, dead end careers, financial turmoil, negativity, substance abuse, and even physical and emotional illness i.e. depression.  The SDB is always a reaction to, symptom of, temporary solution for, and cover up for what is really going on inside of you.   If you refuse to acknowledge them, they will continue to control you, and in some cases ruin your life.

When you are actively participating in self-sabotage and self-defeating actions there is always a cost to you and those close to you.  This cost can be physical, emotional, professional, sexual, financial, spiritual, intellectual, educational or social.  What is the cost of your SDB to you and to what extent is it making a negative impact on your life?  Who else in your life is affected by this and how are they affected by this?

If you are not sure what your self-defeating behaviors are, take a look at your negative life patterns.  Look at the negative life experiences that seem to repeat themselves over and over whether it is in relationships, jobs, finances or another area.  Next, find within the problem where you are personally accountable. What did you do to sabotage yourself or the situation?  What did you do to sabotage someone else?

In order to heal the things in our lives that are not working, we first have to acknowledge what is broken.  We have to be willing to be completely honest with ourselves, be willing to look deep within ourselves, and be willing to go the distance into healing. We did not create our SDB’s because we were bad people, we created them and use them because we really believe and believed they helped us survive and in some cases stay alive.

Following is a list of some SDB’s I thought of; along with a small worksheet/questionnaire I have created to assist you in analysis and identification of your own Self-Defeating Behaviors.

Keeping agreements, compulsive tardiness

Participating in gossip is very self-defeating

People Pleasers, Approval Addicts

Making Assumptions


Additional List of Self Defeating Behaviors…