Failure and Self-sabotage: How Are They Related?

Failure and self-sabotage feed back on each other, emphasizing only the negative aspects of oneself. What can you do to deal with them? Learn the answer here.
Failure and Self-sabotage: How Are They Related?
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Failure and self-sabotage are closely related.

To begin with, let’s take a look at a simple example. Maria had been preparing for a 15-kilometer marathon for months. She was training and eating a healthy diet, but she didn’t think she would be able to make it through the 10 kilometers.

The day of the race came, and just as Maria had feared, it happened. After 10 kilometers, she felt a pull in her knee and had to withdraw from the race.

Was it a prediction or a coincidence? 

In reality, neither. Failure and self-sabotage are two “friends” that go hand in hand. Let’s take a look at how they work and what they’re all about.

Failure and self-sabotage are related in a circular and vicious way: one feeds the other. Thus, if you believe you’re worthless and useless, you condemn yourself to failure, and vice versa. This constant feedback is what hinders the achievement of goals.

In the same way, both function as a lens from which we look at ourselves and which points us in only one direction. It’s a lens that confirms the negative and reduced vision we have of ourselves and which prevents us from rescuing other positive attributes.

This internal dialogue is so detrimental and detractive that, in many cases, it actually leads to self-destructive behaviors. On the other hand, self-sabotage also presents itself in the form of denial and non-recognition. In other words, we cover ourselves with ideas and lies like, “I don’t need it,” “I don’t want it,” “I’m not interested,” or, “It’s not the right time.”

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The fact that failure is recurrent is no coincidence. Sometimes, it has its origin in self-sabotage.

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What are the causes of self-sabotage?

Undoubtedly, there are multiple reasons that explain this behavior. However, having low self-esteem, being over-demanding, and having low frustration tolerance are some of the main causes at the root of self-sabotage. Additional causes may include the following:

  • You’re so afraid of failure that you prefer to fail beforehand and, therefore, stop trying. This apparent defense mechanism becomes a double-edged sword that adds to your own defeatist mentality. 
  • You feel guilty about success and that you need to fail at something.
  • You have a big fear of change and fear of taking responsibility for what’s to come in the future.

How do you realize that you’re acting out of failure and self-sabotage?

These are some of the signs that may indicate that you tend to behave like your own worst enemy:

  • You leave everything to the last minute so that you can’t meet deadlines, obligations, or desires.
  • Even though people praise you for certain skills, you’re unable to believe the praise and end up thinking that they’re just telling you these things out of commitment or because they love you.
  • You have a very perfectionistic view of how things should be, so you always feel that it’s not enough and that you don’t measure up.
  • You always imagine yourself in situations in which you don’t come out victorious, but losing or being the laughing stock.
  • You procrastinate making decisions and you make excuses for not doing things.

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How to deal with failure and self-sabotage?

Overall, some of the recommendations to start putting an end to failure and self-sabotage are as follows:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others. Everyone has different abilities for different things. Rather than looking like others or comparing yourself to them, it’s best to have your own style and know what your strengths are. Embrace them and try to enhance them. Of course, you should also work on the weaknesses that make you insecure, but without focusing on them all the time.
  • Identify what labels you tell yourself about yourself and question them. “I’m shy and can’t relate to anyone,” is a good example. Well, are you sure about that? Think about the times you chatted with a neighbor in the elevator or an unfamiliar cab driver. Many times, these labels are imposed by others – you may hear them and you take them over without them being entirely true.
  • Recognize the negative thoughts that trigger the subsequent cascade of self-sabotage and learn to stop them. You can do this through an activity or by bringing to mind a positive memory.
  • Learn to imagine a better version of yourself by visualizing yourself in situations where you see yourself triumphant, happy, and achieving your goals. You can also ask someone you trust for an honest opinion about yourself acting in a certain circumstance. This way, you can get a different perspective that’s more nuanced and less pessimistic, which opens you to many different ways of seeing things.
  • Stop idealizing the goal and value the process more. If you only have a success mentality and focus on accomplishing a goal, if you don’t achieve it, you’re left with failure and frustration. However, by thinking this way, you miss out on learning from the journey and recognizing all that you gave and did.
  • Identify the excuses you often use and stop using them.
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Comparing yourself to others, having fatalistic thoughts, and low self-esteem can all lead to constant self-sabotage.

Luck finds those who are ready

Of course, although luck is a very important part of it, success is not just about thinking yourself successful. It’s also about working on your self-knowledge and identifying the aspects in which you excel and those that require extra effort because they cost you a lot.

Likewise, the things that are important to you require commitment and preparation and not that you leave them to chance. This way, you can work on security and self-confidence to reduce your chances of making mistakes in the things that really are under your control.

Success is just as likely as failure, so stop focusing on only one side of the coin.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • González, M. L. G., & Hernández, P. M. (2009). Estrés y adolescencia: estrategias de afrontamiento y autorregulación en el contexto escolar. Studium: Revista de humanidades, (15), 327-344.
  • Kelly JD 4th. Your Best Life: Perfectionism–The Bane of Happiness. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2015;473(10):3108-3111. doi:10.1007/s11999-015-4279-9

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.