Why Am I Trying to Self Sabotaging My Relationship

Dear Krystal, I am self sabotaging my relationship – why am I trying to do this? I have a big problem pushing away the people…

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Dear Krystal,

I am self sabotaging my relationship – why am I trying to do this? I have a big problem pushing away the people I love. It seems I’m doing this because of things that happened in the past. Now my relationship is with someone I really love but it’s not going well at all because of my self sabotaging.

I really don’t want this to be another failed relationship because of me. What’s your advice?

– Need to Stop Self-Sabotaging

Why Am I Trying to Do This – Self Sabotaging My Relationship

Thank you for reaching out for advice. I know how painful – and confusing – this pattern of self sabotaging your relationship can be. But it does make sense. Lets unpack exactly why you may be blocking your connection (even though you don’t want to).

Related: Self Sabotage Behavior in Relationships: What it Is and How to Stop

This insight will help give us clear steps on how to heal. You can learn how to stop self-sabotaging once and for all!

Self Sabotage Makes Sense

All human beings need close, safe relationships. Therefore, it can be extremely confusing – and frustrating – when you block the very love you want and need. Yet if we take a step back, this completely makes sense.

As you mentioned, your self sabotaging behavior in your relationship and why you’re trying to do this makes sense when you look at your past. You already have this insight. It seems somewhere in your past you had experiences which made you believe you cannot trust others and/or yourself.

Therefore, pushing away partners (or potential partners) feels safer.

Safety and Self Sabotaging

Your past experiences wounded your ability to safely connect with other people. These wounds are considered trauma.

Related: Dating with Trauma: What You Need to Know

The concept of trauma may often sound scary, intimidating, or overwhelming. However, it helps to know that the word “trauma,” comes from the Greek word for “wound.” Most simply, trauma means a wound you carry with you.

This wound or trauma leads to self-sabotage. This is because trauma fundamentally impacts our sense of safety.

Safety, Belonging, and Connection

When you have learned you cannot fully trust or be safe around others, this impacts your ability to connect with others. It also impacts your attachment style.

Related: Understanding the Theory of Attachment for Better Relationships

When a child can rely on their caregivers to be attentive, nurturing and consistent in their care, they develop a secure attachment style. Here, a person trusts both that others can be safe and they also feel they are inherently worthy. They see the value they bring to others. And they trust others can truly care for them in a safe, consistent way.

Insecure Attachment and Self-Sabotage

Trauma interrupts the development of secure attachment. Here a person may develop anxious, avoidant, or anxious-avoidant attachment instead. Despite the names, all these forms of insecure attachment are rooted in fear (rather than trust).

From: Love Me, Don’t Leave Me: Overcoming Fear of Abandonment and Building Lasting, Loving Relationships

When a person has anxious attachment, their primary fear is of abandonment (and rejection). A person with avoidant attachment, primarily fears intimacy and closeness.

A person with anxious-avoidant attachment carries both of these profound yet conflicting fears around connection with others. This attachment style can be extremely confusing not only for those in relationship with this person but for the person themselves.

Anxious-Avoidant Attachment

A person with an anxious avoidant attachment style still craves human connection yet they are both afraid of rejection and the loss of their independence.  This inner conflict and how it impacts both the person, and their partner understandably frequently leads to toxic relationship cycles.

This includes a pattern of self-sabotage.

The Inner Conflict which Leads to Self Sabotage

The anxiously attached part of them is afraid of rejection. This part questions their worth and value. This part makes them cling to relationships that may not be healthy for them at times. Or can lead to sometimes being a people pleaser who won’t set boundaries. This can make the relationships an anxiously attached person chooses hurt.

From: 5 Ways Low Self-Esteem Impacts Your Dating Life

A person with anxious-avoidant attachment may actually seem to prefer though being with emotionally unavailable people.

This is because an available person is more likely to trigger their avoidantly attached part which is afraid of intimacy. Here they may frequently swing to extremes in relationships and run hot and cold.

One moment, they may be affectionate and talking about future plans with someone. But the next, they may suddenly tell them “it’s not the right time for a relationship” or ghost this person.

Related: Avoidant Attachment and Ghosting: What You Need to Know From a Therapist

You are Not Bad

If you have anxious avoidant attachment, you’re likely confused by your behavior. Additionally, given the internal conflict and how you treat others due to this at times, you may feel you are “bad” for someone.

In fact, when you self-sabotage a part of you may think you’re doing the other person a favor by pushing them away.

If this sounds familiar, the most important thing to do right now is to give yourself some grace. When you practice self-compassion, you are kind with yourself about this process. After all, attacking yourself never improves self-sabotaging behaviors. Instead, hurting yourself just reinforces your internal conflict.

Stopping Self-Sabotage

Once you practice being compassionate with yourself that your self-sabotage makes sense given your trauma and attachment style, you can begin to make new choices.

A good first step towards ending self-sabotage is to build more awareness as to what your blocks to love may be. After all, self-sabotage is giving into these blocks and pushing others away out of fear.

You may want to journal about these following prompts regarding how your past experiences may impact your beliefs:

Learning to Feel Safer

You can develop a secure attachment style and learn how to feel safe connecting with others. This eliminates the need to self-sabotage.

When you date from this place of safety, you are able to take appropriate risks in being vulnerable with others. You can do this because you trust there are safe people. And you can be vulnerable because you trust you can take care of yourself even if someone disappoints you.

To begin to feel safer, you can heal your past trauma. To start this healing journey, please read Can You Heal Trauma on Your Own? 4 Clear Steps to Heal.

Being in the Present Moment

Part of healing from trauma involves mindfulness.

Mindfulness is when you pay full attention to the present moment without judging it. Rather than fixating on past events where others disappointed it, for example, you notice what is happening right now. For instance, you may take a moment to listen to the birds or count how many red things you see around you.

We want to become mindful because sometimes we are self-sabotaging out of unconscious past hurts (trauma). Also sometimes self-sabotaging is such an unconscious process that we act on this urge before we even think about. For instance, you may find yourself texting an ex before you even consciously stop to think if you really want to cheat on your partner.

Making Wiser Choices

When you want to stop self-sabotaging, please know it’s ok if the urge still exists to do this. This is not a problem. You can make new choices even in the face of old urges.

This is exactly what Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – a type of therapy – is all about. You can learn how to move from the emotionally reactive choice of self-sabotage to being more relational. For instance, if you want to avoid the person you’re dating because you’re feeling overwhelmed and instead answer the phone and be honest that you’d like some space tonight. (You can be intimate and still honor a need for space by communicating about this.)

This new way of being is called Wise Mind in DBT.

Healing Your Attachment Style

Finally, it’s completely possible to heal your attachment style.

The above article outlines how to do this. Also, you may want to seek therapy to encourage in attachment-based therapy if this is an option for you.

Be Open with Your Partner

Finally, the antidote to self sabotage is to be open, vulnerable and communicative with your partner.

It would be wise to take some time to communicate with the person you’re dating that you know you try to push them away for this. Be genuinely accountable without making excuses. You can honestly share that past experiences lead you to self sabotage while honoring it’s your responsibility to heal.

Moving forward, if you’re partner is receptive you may want to “name it to tame it” if you’re feeling like you want to self sabotage. Talk to your partner about this before you act on this urge.

And all the meanwhile, keep working to heal past trauma and your attachment style with various steps including practicing mindfulness and Wise Mind actions.

You can heal and stop self-sabotaging. Just take it step by step!

About The Author

Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist and author with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to find their voice, deepen their ability to self-love, and improve their relationships.

Her newest book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach), gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.

Her other books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many overcome people pleasing, self-neglect, and resentment to have a healthier relationship with themselves and others.

If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to krystal@confidentlyauthentic.com or DM her on Instagram. We will always keep your name and other identifying information confidential.

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