Self-Sabotage: Significance and Strategies


“Self-Sabotage is when we say we want something and then we go about making sure it doesn’t happen.” Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby

You may find yourself after the fact, stating you don’t know why you did it.  Why you ended the relationship when nothing was wrong. Why you walked out of the job after only a month. Why you picked a fight and got kicked off the team. These are just a few examples of when someone may have engaged in self-sabotage. And the question is, why?


Under the Iceberg

Identified as the founder of Psychology, Sigmund Freud once described the mind as an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg above water was our conscious or thoughts or feelings we are aware of, and accounts for roughly 20% of our mind. The other 80% under the surface represents unconscious, and represents things we are not yet aware of to better understand our behaviors.

Mark Tyrell, Self Help author of “Self-Sabotage Behaviour can come in many forms,” identifies four common reasons one may engage in self-sabotage.


#1 Anticipatory Grief

For some of us, the familiarity of failure is a painful, somewhat predictable experience. We may go through our world anticipating loss, or anticipating when something good, something we enjoy, is going to switch, fall, end, or fail. Perhaps you can relate to the following thoughts of anticipatory loss or end:

  • I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

  • This is too good to be true.

  • What’s the catch?

  • Nothing good lasts for me, when will this go south?

Because these thoughts have a lot of power, you may find yourself engaging in a belief that you don’t deserve good things. Or that you are doomed to suffer and that failing is inevitable. Similar to self-fulfilling prophecy, you may find yourself predicting the outcome, and in this case, it’s negative. With these thoughts in mind, you may find yourself also subscribing in the second reason one can engage in self-sabotage.


#2 Control Freak

If we truly believe something good is going to end badly, we may want to be in control of the outcome. Have you ever found yourself thinking:

  • I’ll just end this relationship now, it’s less painful in this moment than when it ends months or years from now.

  • Better to leave this job before I get fired.

  • I already know they are going to say our friendship is over, so I’ll just stop talking to them and get it over with.

We may convince ourselves that feeling in control of the failure in this moment can hurt less than something that comes on suddenly, out of the blue, or later when our guard is down.


#3 Boredom

The experience of our guard being down and everything feeling predictable can lead to discomfort as well. Predictability can lead to boredom, which can also be a reason to self-sabotage. If we go from feelings of chaos and excitement to monotony and boredom, Mark Tyrell states, as one example, we may find ourselves picking a fight with someone for no reason at all. Perhaps just for the alive feeling we get from adrenaline and excitement. Do you find yourself engaging in any of the following:

  • Picking a fight when you aren’t upset

  • Looking for trouble in new environments

  • Engaging in substance use

  • Relapsing when no trigger is present


#4 Feeling Unworthy

Relapsing when not triggered can also be due to feelings of low self-worth. Maybe you feel you don’t deserve success or happiness and instead, engage by punishing yourself and setting yourself up to fail. This can represent the cornerstone of self-sabotage in wanting something and doing everything in your power to not achieve it, basically going the other direction from success. When explored further, many truly believe they “aren’t worth it” and engage in behaviors that prevent progress due to those negative beliefs.


#5 I’m Unprepared

One final example of self-sabotage to consider is the feeling of being unprepared. Perhaps you don’t feel ready to end a support program and so you relapse to remain involved with probation or the treatment community. An observation of those in the legal system is that they don’t feel they have resources on the outside, so they find themselves committing a petty crime to be reintroduced into the environment that feels most familiar. You don’t yet feel prepared to do this on your own and so you create a reason to not be on your own.

So where do you go from here? For many, just the awareness of why one engages in self-sabotaging behaviors can be a powerful process in exploring needs and change to more positive behaviors. Being aware that you are not alone in the reasons for self-sabotage and talking about the challenges can be a healing journey towards self-love, acceptance, and success.

For additional ideas of how to manage self-sabotage, you can check out Mark Tyrell’s “Self-Sabotage Behaviour can come in many forms,” at  

“In order to succeed, we must first believe that we can.” Nikos Kazantzakis

Tuning into Your Body for Information as a Therapist


When you are sitting with a client, do you ever notice yourself leaning in or tensing up?

I’m sure you have heard the term mirror neurons and how our body (especially our facial expressions) are hard wired to mirror others’ body language to increase our non-verbal sense of connection. But did you know that you are also constantly analyzing and responding to nonverbal expressions of emotion and belief patterns in your clients?

Our bodies hold a wealth of information that we are often in denial of, bypassing emotionally, or defended against. Our bodies are truth tellers. Somatic indicators of repressed emotions and fears can be seen in people’s body language and patterns of tension/holding in their bodies.

I often notice when sitting with a client what my body is doing. Of course, being trained in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, a somatic psychotherapy, has taught me to do so. I notice when I am leaning in or pulling away, crossing my limbs, lowering my volume, increasing my energy, and when i am holding patterns of tension in my body. These are important indicators of what is happening in the client’s body. Often I will mirror my clients’ nonverbal cues in this way.

And what does it mean, you may ask. Well, if you are holding tension in your heart space, you may feel that the client is struggling with a matter of the heart and soul path. If you notice forward movement in their body, the client may have a pattern of hustling to keep busy in order to avoid difficult emotions. If you notice yourself tangled up in your limbs, your client may feel small and a need to protect their body from others. While there is not manual on what each body cue means, simply checking in with your client can be an incredible intervention.

When you check in with a client about a body cue you are noticing, you bring awareness to information the body holds in the less conscious part of their brain. Often our bodies give away how someone is truly feeling, bypassing their intellectual defenses.

Additionally, you can even hold space for clients to find a reparative experience by slowly shifting your body language to a more relaxed and open state. The client will likely mirror your calm body state and shift to a more calm state in themselves.

So next time you are sitting with a client, check it out! Notice what is happening in your body and check in with your client. You may be able to provide valuable insight through simply noticing and bringing awareness to what their body is trying to tell them.

Guest post written by Kimberly Massale, MA, LPC, ATR-BC

Guest post written by Kimberly Massale, MA, LPC, ATR-BC

Kimberly Massale, MA, LPC, ATR-BC is the owner and founder of Brave Embodiment Counseling LLC in Capitol Hill Denver. Brave Embodiment is a team of holistic healers specializing in guiding women to heal from trauma and self-defeating behaviors. Our therapists are specially trained in cutting edge scientifically proven trauma and attachment based methods to get you "unstuck" from old patterns that hold you back from your full potential. We use alternative methods that ease and accelerate the healing process including Trauma Sensitive Yoga Therapy, Art Therapy, EMDR, Psychospirituality, Somatic (Sensorimotor) Psychotherapy, Acupuncture, and energy healing and can guide you in your journey of complete transformation from the inside out.

Safety Planning with At-Risk Families: Exploring the Benefits

Safety Planning

Warning signs, safety measures, plan of action, and supports. These are all vital components of crisis response and safety planning in the field of mental health. Safety planning can be considered a helpful resource to assess safety needs for each family member and develop awareness of individual needs by loved ones when participating in discussion. It can also serve as an empowerment tool to allow advocacy and engagement in positive coping skills when the family is experiencing conflict. Due to family systems becoming more diverse to meet the needs of support and connection, the term family can be defined in non-traditional ways. Not only does it capture the nuclear or biological family, it may also comprise of blended families, extended family, step-parents, foster siblings, or “chosen family.” Chosen family can include but is not limited to, close friends, mentors, and godparents.

Bringing individuals together in their roles in the family system, it has become increasingly important to include all members in safety planning when addressing mental health and safety in order to unify the family and achieve meaningful results. In serving at-risk youth and families in the Denver Metro Area, safety planning has proven to be invaluable in exploring awareness of triggers for disruption and conflict, safety needs; thus engaging the family in exploration to foster empowerment and change. Safety planning allows the whole family to explore their needs rather than isolating one individual as the “identified problem.”


The Benefits

The benefits of safety planning can be demonstrated for one family of seven suffering from neglect, domestic violence, and substance use that lead to Department of Human Services involvement due to ongoing safety concerns. The family system consisted of mom Jenna* (36), boyfriend David (27), daughters Fiona (16), Margot (14), Patricia (6), and sons Julian (9) and Bobbie (2). Jenna and her family were referred to in-home family therapy due to safety concerns with Jenna’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) resulting in substance use, domestic violence with her boyfriend David, and neglectful parenting that was negatively impacting each child.

It was the hope of the Department of Human Services to support the family in reuniting and repairing their relationship now that Jenna was sober from substances and ready to actively parent in the household.

Observing and engaging the family in rapport building, it was quickly apparent which role each member played in the family system. Jenna was able to identify her challenges in parenting her children in that they were each struggling with her absence in different ways. Fiona identified her anger that lead to running away from home and engaging in fights at school. Margot reported being a strong student and keeping to herself in her room when not parenting her younger siblings in Jenna’s absence. Patricia was observed to be childlike with attention-seeking behaviors younger than her biological age, whereas her older brother Julian escaped into video games to remain unseen. The youngest, Bobbie, was observed to struggle with meeting developmental milestones and resorted to screaming and hitting himself and others when emotionally dysregulated.

Through engaging Jenna, David, and the kids in a safety planning therapeutic activity, they were able to begin to recognize each of their individual differences regarding warning signs, as well as the coping skills needed to support connection and emotion regulation.  Jenna began to learn more about her children and their needs through identifying warning signs such as isolation, anger, and behavioral changes signifying distress for each child at their developmental level.

Jenna also identified her own triggers and reactions to her children as they related to her trauma and urge to escape.



When Jenna couldn’t escape her PTSD symptoms through work or substances, she was able to recognize the increased risk of conflict and aggression leading to fights with her boyfriend David. The safety planning served as a tool of discovery for family members and empowered each of them to advocate for their needs through healthy communication. For Jenna and her family, the safety plan served as a means of taking action to support the family in times of conflict and crisis.

Through this process, the children felt heard, Jenna identified goals for ongoing individual therapy work to maintain sobriety, and David and Jenna were able to identify new ways of communicating as a couple in order to bring the entire family closer together. Safety planning can be introduced and implemented early in the therapeutic process to explore family patterns, coping skill needs, and foster trust and safety while empowering families to remain together, connected and aware. A safety plan template is available for professional use along with a suicide risk assessment called the Community Assessment and Coordination of Safety (CACS) at

*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality