Self-Sabotage: Why Teens Hurt Themselves

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Self-Sabotage: Why Teens Hurt Themselves
Self-Sabotage: Why Teens Hurt Themselves
Nov 27, 2020

Self-Sabotage: Why Teens Hurt Themselves

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Do you ever procrastinate studying for a test? Or forget your cellphone when you know you are expecting an important phone call? When these things happen, do you afterward feel stressed? We all consciously or subconsciously, at one point, self-sabotage. Self-sabotage is behavior that disrupts your daily life and creates roadblocks to reaching your goals.

Why Do We Self- Sabotage?

Sometimes we don't know we are sabotaging ourselves. People have negative behaviors that affect their chances of achieving their goals. Teens are especially vulnerable to self-sabotaging actions because of expectations, family, friends, and school. A few self-sabotaging behaviors are:

  • Obstructing Relationships
  • Relationships are exciting and scary. The thrill of being in a relationship can cut through thoughts of unworthiness or fear. Spending time with, opening up to, and becoming attached to someone is, at times, overwhelming. Some teens choose to end the relationship before they are emotionally committed or think the other person will discover how awful or unworthy they are and leave them. Obstructing a relationship will enforce feelings of low self-esteem, being unsuitable, or unlovable.
  • Avoiding Emotions
  • Many teens don’t know how to cope with emotions healthily. Instead of talking with someone about a problem, they may act out with harmful behaviors such as smoking, drinking, using substances, or self-mutilation. Not all teens find comfort in self-harm behaviors. Some teens find ways to undermine their goals. Comfort eating is a way to destroy a diet or a plan to eat better. 
  • Procrastination
  • There’s a saying, “Never put off to tomorrow what you can do today.” Putting off responsibilities or goals until the last minute can support negative thoughts. Teens can make plans, promise themselves they will get to tasks immediately or promptly, but find excuses for why they can’t complete tasks. When deadlines approach, they will feel stressed and berate themselves for not doing the job sooner.
  • Extreme Modesty
  • Modesty is one thing. Not everyone is comfortable with taking credit for their work or accepting compliments. Extreme humility is when the inability to accept compliments affects the ability to complete tasks. Examples of extreme modesty include deflection, disbelief at being chosen for something, and generally diminishing capability.
  • Addiction is a highly visible form of self-sabotage. Teens’ impulses and thoughts often counter healthy behaviors. Acting on impulses despite knowing they make poor choices will drive some teens to pile one poor decision on top of another poor decision. Those who drink or use substances use unhealthy choices and excuses to avoid the painful decision they need to begin recovery.

Dr.  Judy Ho discovered through her research found four elements that fuel self-sabotaging behaviors. The behaviors are:

  • Low or Shaky Self-Concept
  • Internalized Beliefs
  • Fear of Change or the Unknown
  • Excessive Need for Control

Teens and Self- Sabotage

Expectations from the media and society surround teens. The pressure to act, dress, or achieve in scholastic endeavors or sports is intense. The tendency to internalize negative feelings or lack of self-confidence explains why you self-sabotage. Reasons for self-sabotage include:

  • Perfectionists. Teens who are perfectionists are high-achievers. The fear of failure leads to self-sabotaging behavior because disrupting their routine is more comfortable than facing the chance they might fail.

They also will refuse to work on little areas that can be improved, thereby impeding the chance of fixing the whole. Refusing to focus on small tasks is another way to disrupt a goal.

The internalized need for perfection creates disappointment because they focus on the negative rather than the positive. Often, teens believe they are not worthy of their accomplishments and compare themselves to others.

  • Fear of Success. Teens who fear success are afraid of any change that will happen when they succeed. Teens with low self-esteem can value their label or self-identity more than the possibility of being good at something. They would instead disrupt their progress than achieve their goal.

Acts of Self-Sabotage

At one point or another, teens can fall into behavior patterns that disrupt their chances of success. The inability to talk about or express emotions are ways teens self-sabotage. Some self-sabotaging actions are: 

  • Negative thoughts. Teens often take in everything around them. They see how celebrities act, dress, or spend their free time. The urge to look like, act like, or live a celebrity’s lifestyle can affect how they see themselves. However, celebrities’ public persona isn’t always realistic. Many celebrities also have a team of hairstylists and make-up artists that prepare them for a day spent in the public eye. 
  • Disruptive behavior. Teens can act out or pull into themselves. Either response to emotions or feelings of failure, worthlessness, or anxiety can lead to negative behavior.
  • Anorexia or bulimia. Weight is a way to have control over something. Feelings of being ugly or fat can cause delusional thinking. Girls are at a higher risk of trying to “fix” what they think is wrong with their body by either starving themselves or bingeing and purging. Food is the enemy  - monitoring the intake of calories is a way to control negative emotions.

How to Help Teens

Teens who self-sabotage their success need positive feedback from those around them. Adults can help teens learn not to fear failure, focus on the positive, not compare them to others, and focus on their strengths. A few tips are:

  • Support your teen in their search for a goal. Discuss with your teen what they want to be or achieve and help them create a goal plan.
  • Create a routine. Routine can seem tedious, but habits help keep people on track. Building daily, weekly, or monthly practices generate the structure necessary to build healthy habits.
  • Guide your teen down a path of self-discovery. You don’t need to choose or become overly involved in their self-discovery journey; encourage them to make healthy decisions as they learn about themselves.


Teens who self-sabotage are often unaware of their behavior. Forgetting their cellphone when they know they are waiting for an important phone call, eating junk food when they vowed to eat better, not trying because they fear failure are all forms of self-sabotage. Teaching teens to rethink how they see themselves is essential to decreasing or eliminating self-sabotaging behaviors. Please talk with your teen about their self-image and discuss any fears about achieving success or failing a task. Often teens hold onto their public image and are afraid of losing their identity. Teens who identify themselves by the image they portray; perfectionists, rebels, emo, or any other image can feel stress or anxiety when confronted with change. Achieve Medical Center provides individual and family therapy. We can help your teen recognize self-sabotaging behaviors and teach them to avoid the urge to sabotage. To schedule an appointment, call us at (858) 221-0344.