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Breaking the Link Between Low Self-Esteem and Self-Sabotage

Low self-esteem can turn our lives into a series of self-fulfilling prophecies. Lack of belief in ourselves — the feeling that we are unworthy, or destined to fail — often goes hand in hand with self-sabotage, and this link can be hard to break.

Whether it’s thinking that we’re bound to be bad at something and not trying our best, believing that no one could truly love us so pushing our partners away, or accepting bad treatment simply because a small part of ourselves thinks that we deserve it; low self-esteem can color our whole lives. And in a vicious cycle, the reality which is the result of these actions can confirm our own worst fears about ourselves.

It can also create a strange sense of satisfaction, one that those with low self-esteem cling on to. It might be the twisted vindication of “There! I knew they never really loved me!” when a partner finally leaves, or the sense of inevitability that comes with not getting recognition at work — even though we never have the confidence to assert ourselves.

Our ideas are never challenged, and our self-perception doesn’t need to go through the often painful process of change. Instead, we can sit inside a “comfort zone” (although, of course, it’s actually pretty unpleasant) of never trying because we believe it would all go wrong anyway.

Low self-esteem is often a big issue for the people looking for help at my meditation center, and is often the source of other problems in their lives. So how do we break the link between low self-esteem and self-sabotage?

Recognize Self-Sabotage in Inaction

This is something so many people do. Instead of actively engaging in life, low self-esteem pushes people to stand slightly apart from it, letting events go by without effort or intervention.

This behavior doesn’t involve anything obviously self-sabotaging, such as going out drinking the night before a big interview, or constantly picking fights with their partner.

It might be a dream job coming up. Without even realizing it, people with low confidence can find themselves creating reasons to delay applying, waiting and waiting until the opportunity passes them by. Or perhaps it’s a disagreement with a good friend. Rather than taking the initiative and sorting this disagreement out, it’s ignored and allowed to fester, ultimately leading to distance in the relationship.

Self-sabotage doesn’t have to be active, and it’s important to recognize the behaviors which are holding us back, whatever form they may take.

Keep a Diary in Order to Become More Aware

Keeping track of how we fill our time, the way we feel and our motivations behind our behavior can really increase our self-awareness. The problem with low self-worth is that it can feel like such an unshakable certainty in our lives that we don’t even realize how it’s affecting us, and how our decisions reflect our belief in ourselves.

Low self-esteem could be driving behavior we don’t even recognize as negative. For example, we might constantly defer to an overbearing person in our lives, even if it makes us less happy than we would otherwise be. What we see as keeping the peace, or being more laid-back, might actually be us habitually acting against our own self-interest.

It can take close introspection to realize things like this, which is why keeping a diary — whether it takes the form of a stream of consciousness or dry documentation of what we’ve done that day and why — can be so helpful.

Take Up Habits that Boost Your Confidence

I would recommend meditation in order to increase present-moment awareness (which helps people become aware of their emotional triggers), lessen stress and build confidence. But other actions can help too, and the most important thing is taking the (admittedly difficult) first step of proving ourselves wrong.

Sometimes, when we have a sincere belief in our own lack of skill or likability, making a concerted effort to put ourselves out there is the best thing we can do — no matter how initially uncomfortable it is. Remind yourself that everything, from talking to strangers to knitting a jumper, takes practice, and that no one is truly good at anything on their very first go.

The myth of the power of innate talent holds many of us back. Even the most naturally gifted person has to spend hours honing their craft, which is why people who might be hilarious to their friends can often bomb when they first try stand up comedy. It’s perseverance that eventually has them reducing a whole crowd to giggles.

Overcoming initial self-doubt allows us to put in the time necessary to build confidence-boosting habits. It’s a vital part of moving away from sabotaging behavior, and will help us go into the future filled with a self-belief that could change our lives.

Breaking the Link Between Low Self-Esteem and Self-Sabotage


Will Williams

Will Williams is a highly-trained meditation teacher, who is particularly interested in what effect the unique pressures of the modern world have on people’s stress levels and mental health. He founded Beeja meditation and his first book, The Effortless Mind, collates scientific research and experiences of his students to explore the benefits of meditation in the modern world.


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APA Reference
Williams, W. (2018). Breaking the Link Between Low Self-Esteem and Self-Sabotage. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/breaking-the-link-between-low-self-esteem-and-self-sabotage/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.