Understanding Self-Sabotaging Behaviors as Trauma
One way to identify self-sabotaging behaviors is that they are misaligned with your values, characters, and beliefs. For example, after fights with my partner, I often wondered, “Where did all that anger come from?” I am not generally an angry person nor do I want to be one. These behaviors can leave you filled with regrets because of the shame and guilt for acting in ways that do not reflect the best of you. Remember that this self-sabotaging pattern is not the whole of who you are.
You might be using self-sabotaging behaviors to help avoid more pain and protect you from future disappointments. This gripping, suffocating, and intangible fear of failure, pain, abandonment, inadequacy makes so much sense when we see it through the lens of trauma. Self-sabotaging relationships can be an effective coping strategy. If you never get too close in a relationship, you will never get hurt. Yet, the outcome of self-sabotaging behaviors is often more painful when you use these behaviors to keep yourself away from the very person that you want to be close to.
Examples of Self-Sabotaging Behaviors in Relationships
- Blaming and criticizing your partner for his shortcomings
- Setting unrealistic high standards for the relationship Picking fights
- Committing time and energy to other people, work, or projects instead of spending time with your partner
- Being emotionally or physically unavailable
- Pushing your partner away to “test” her commitment
- Giving mixed signals
- Holding grudges
- Not allowing your partner to see your “messy” side
- Not asking for help Not providing help and support
- Not showing true vulnerability
- Being “too needy” or “too distant”
- Having emotional or physical affairs with other people
- Abusing substances
- Dating partners who are unavailable and/or don’t treat you well
- Not fully committing to the relationship
- Not taking responsibility for your part in the dynamic
- Not apologizing readily for causing pain in your partner
- Comparing your current relationship to an ex
- Avoiding conversations about the relationship
- Trying to control your partner
- Giving the silent treatment/stonewalling/withholding affection
- Chronic lying
- Avoiding conflict
- Focusing on being right all the time
Am I Self-Sabotaging Relationships?
Assess Your Behaviors in Proportion to the Situation
- Make decisions
- Think logically
Assess the Outcome of Your Behaviors
Then, ask yourself, “Is my behavior bringing my closer to my partner or pushing them away in the long term?” When we become triggered or reactive in our relationship, we can feel, act, and think ways that push our partner further away. When we become triggered, it is easier to express emotions like anger and frustration. It becomes much harder to express vulnerable and tender emotions such as fear, sadness, and loneliness.
For example, my partner came home later than expected one evening from having dinner with a friend who was visiting town. I was seething with anger and gave him the silent treatment. Instead of expressing vulnerable fears of abandonment or sadness, I went straight to the protective emotion of anger. The anger only pushed him further away, which was the opposite of what I wanted. Sometimes self-sabotaging behaviors can bring our partner closer in the short term. Yet, it is still harmful to the relationship in the long term. Similarly, avoiding conflict may create harmony in the relationship in the short term. However, unresolved issues might resurface later and create more damage to the relationship.
Assess Your Values
Finally, ask yourself, “Does my behavior align with my values?” Often, our self-sabotaging behaviors become misaligned with our values, characters, and beliefs. For example, after fights with my partner, I often wondered, “Where did all that anger come from?” I am not generally an angry person nor do I want to be one. These behaviors can leave us with regret because of the shame and guilt for acting in ways that aren’t ourselves. The shame and guilt may be a good sign that you might be self-sabotaging relationships. Yet, try not to get stuck in the muck of shame and guilt. Remember that this self-sabotaging part of you is only that, a part of you. It is not the whole of who you are.
We all have our reasons for why we engage in self-sabotaging relationships. It may be helpful in the healing process to understand your “why.” To do so, you can read some great books on family dynamics and trauma. You can check our Recommended Reading page for some suggestions, talk to your partner, friends, and family to get feedback on your behaviors, and eek help from a therapist to uncover past wounds that may be driving the behaviors.