The psychology world sometimes turns to self-sabotage as an explanation for why people do not achieve their personal goals for relationships, career advancement, finances, etc. It seems like a plausible explanation to some degree, but it’s still hard to believe that people would purposely sabotage personal relationships. After all, aren’t relationships the most important thing in life?

There are exceptions to every rule. But by and large, people value their relationship. Purposely sabotaging them doesn’t make sense. Yet people do it. The therapists at Relationships & More see it more often than they care to. People will visit their Westchester County, NY clinic for relationship therapy, only to sabotage therapy sessions week after week.

Self-Sabotage Takes Many Forms

It should be noted that the self-sabotage principle is not limited to relationships. It is a common principle applied throughout psychotherapy. Also note that it takes many forms. In the relationship arena, people sabotage themselves both purposely and ignorantly. They do it through their thoughts, behaviors, expectations, and assumptions.

Here are just a few examples of relationship self-sabotage:

  • Leveling Criticism – A constant barrage of criticism can motivate just about anyone to abandon a relationship. Narcissists will do this and then claim justification for ending counseling sessions.
  • Picking Fights – Fighting is normal in personal relationships. Regularly picking fights is a different matter. Some people sabotage relationships by constantly looking to fight.
  • Withdrawal – Withdrawing from a relationship is a self-sabotage mechanism that is often engaged in with full intent. A person afraid to officially end a relationship might just gradually withdraw until it implodes on its own.

There are many other forms of self-sabotage not mentioned here. Again, sometimes people sabotage their relationships on purpose. Other times they do so without consciously knowing it. The eventual results are still the same.

Why People Sabotage Relationships

How people engage in self-sabotage is easier to figure out than why they do it. The ‘why’ is the tricky part. Therapists need to probe deeply and carefully to try to determine the cause. Even the best relationship therapists do not always get it right. Nonetheless, here are few possible explanations:

  • Emotional Fear – Some people self-sabotage their relationships because they are afraid of being hurt. Self-sabotage is a defense mechanism that allows them to emotionally protect themselves by making the move to end the relationship before it comes back to bite them.
  • Commitment Avoidance – People who want to be in relationships without offering a long-term commitment sometimes resort to sabotage when a relationship looks to be getting too serious. Self-sabotage is a way to end things without being direct about it.
  • Low Self Esteem – Self-sabotage is often practiced by people with low self-esteem. They do not feel worthy to be loved or appreciated, thereby leading to behaviors that reflect such thinking. Those behaviors ultimately drive the other person away.

Some psychologists believe that the roots of self-sabotage go back to something in childhood. Others say that’s not necessarily the case. The one thing most can agree on is that there is a lot about self-sabotage we just don’t know. The self-sabotage mindset is foreign to the way most people think. It doesn’t follow the normal rules of social engagement, so it is often hard to peg.

Do people really sabotage their personal relationships? Psychologists and therapists say yes. They should know. They spend an awful lot of time providing relationship therapy to people who never ultimately figure things out. In some cases, this could be because they don’t want to figure things out. They would rather be free of the relationship than find a way to make it work.