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  • Writer's pictureStella Tersteeg

How women sabotage their personal growth & success

Updated: Jun 14, 2022

We all self-sabotage, we do it every day, multiple times.

Self-sabotage occurs in the most subtle ways so that sometimes we don’t even notice we’re doing it at all. It keeps us from using our full potential to achieve our desired goals and successes. Self-sabotage manifests itself due to deeply rooted behavioural patterns and beliefs about ourselves and our environment. Our reality only allows us to live in a way that is in line with the image we have cultivated ourselves. But we aren’t slaves to our own minds. The fact that we were able to form patterns that sabotage us means that we can also create the ones that help us go forward and grow.

The key role of our self-image (source, source, source)

According to Maxwell Maltz, the concept of self-image is a mental construct of “the self” based on past experiences, successes, failures and humiliations. It's imprinted in our subconscious, which automatically decides for us how to feel and behave.

“I don’t do this or that, because I don’t believe I’m not ... enough”

We are constantly seeking to verify and strengthen our self-image that maintains our habits and patterns. This is called confirmation bias. Whether you have a mainly positive or negative self-image, you can easily accept whatever confirms your beliefs about yourself and doubtlessly deny whatever doesn’t.

Tony Robbins talks about “identity” instead of “self-image”. And our identity is defined by a set of beliefs about ourselves that creates boundaries and limits we live by. The foundation of our identity is laid out in early childhood. And when we stick to the conviction that we just are who we are, we make it impossible for ourselves to ever change that.

Your past is not the only thing that defines your identity, you have the power to decide whatever defines you and what doesn’t.

Self-help author Napoleon Hill, proposes one solution to change your self-image or identity which he calls “auto-suggestion”. Auto-suggestion is a way of “tricking” your brain into believing you are something else than how you see yourself now. You must actively plant seeds in your subconscious until they become new truths and beliefs, resulting in new habits and patterns.

In short: your self-image either stimulates - or keeps you from - achieving the goals you’ve set for yourself. And it can relate to all facets of life: your work, your finances, your time management, your personal relationships and/or your physical and mental health.

Regardless of how all three of these renowned self-development coaches consider self-sabotage, they agree on one thing: you do have to power to change your self-image and the patterns you live by, as long as you do the work and believe in the process.

Change requires time and effort

“We rather choose to tell ourselves that it’s just the way it is” (Robbins, Awaken The Giant Within, 1991)

What's clear is that our patterns, habits, and self-image are deeply ingrained in our brains and subconscious. They occur in a fleeting, rapid and automatic way so that we don’t even notice it at that moment. Also, we tend to accept our habits to be part of us that we can't change. Both facts make it very difficult to turn any negative habits around and change them into ones that actually help us instead of hinder us.

We overvalue what we’re used to and underestimate the unfamiliar.

Human beings are so driven by habit, that we risk spending our days in autopilot mode. But it’s not that we make that choice consciously. It's a biological advantage for the brain to save as much energy as possible so that it can use it whenever it is really necessary.

At ease, our brains are happy to only deal with what it's familiar with. In other words, it relies on existing habits, patterns and preconceived beliefs. But whenever we try to change the familiar, our brains shift into a state of stress. As a result, it does everything it can to revert us to the comfort zone as quickly as possible. It takes a great deal of energy, something the brain was trying so hard to avoid.

How we most commonly self-sabotage


Most of the time that we procrastinate and are unable to finish a task is when it bores us or makes us feel anxious. Sometimes, we even find ourselves unable to get started.

I’m sure you can think of a thousand times that you procrastinated when you were in school. And it might still be the case for your current job.

Funny enough, we even tend to procrastinate because we fear the success that comes with fulfilling a task or reaching a goal. If you don’t see yourself as a successful (success depending on how you’d define it) person, your subconscious will resist any action that might change this type of self-image.

  • Rethink your approach

Which strategy are you using to achieve your goal? If there’s nothing between zero to the finish line, the amount of work might seem to be impossible to get through. Break it down into smaller sub-goals.

How realistic is your time management? Become aware of your “golden” hours during the workday in which you have the best concentration and most energy. Plan your prioritized tasks in that time frame.

  • Reevaluate your goals

Keep checking whatever you’re working on is in line with your goals. If all of your time and energy goes out to tasks that aren’t going to gear you towards your intended goals, you’re more likely to procrastinate whenever you do something that’s not helping you any further.


When focussing only on the outcome of a project, perfectionism serves us greatly to turn a mediocre result into a fantastic one. But it could also pose a major obstacle in the process of getting there.

Perfectionists tend to be successful goal-setters but hold themselves back by obsessing over every minor decision and detail. Perfectionism doesn't allow you to move on to the next step before the previous one is perfectly finalized. Taking the first step Sometimes, you won’t even get to the first step, because you get stuck in the strategic phase, overanalyzing your approach.

Perfectionists are also known for setting incredibly high standards. They always place all the workload on their own shoulders, risking becoming a hamster in a wheel. On top of that, you are likely to express to the people in both your personal and professional environment they will never be enough (mostly unconsciously).

  • Develop a growth mindset.

Value growth and development after making mistakes.

Allow yourself to make imperfect choices. Stop at 85% good instead of 100%.

Appreciate the solutions that improve certain problems but don’t solve them right away.

  • Focus on the bigger picture

Prioritize the tasks that are going to get you where you are aiming to be.

Stick to a set time limit for minor decision-making and tasks.

Fear of intimacy -or rejection

The fear of intimacy -or rejection mostly originates from one or more childhood relationships. You’re overprotecting yourself from getting hurt in a way that you’ve been hurt before as a child, or how someone you were close to as a child got hurt. This starts with the relationship you had with your primary caretakers and the relationship they had with each other.

If you fear intimacy, you’re used to pushing everyone away that shows you their affection. One way to do so is by setting such high standards, no one could ever live up to them. It’s a safe way of reasoning he/she just isn’t the one. At the origin of this lies your low self-esteem and negative self-image. Subconsciously, you don’t believe you deserve to be loved making it very difficult to maintain a loving relationship.

As for fear of rejection, we try to hold on to relationships the best we can because we don’t want to be left alone or rejected. You could play a certain role that has helped you as a child to please the other one in the relationship so he/she would stay. If you put yourself in that position long enough, it will become a habit and a pattern you return to every time you feel rejected by your partner, your employer, or even someone you’ve just met.

Important side note: It can be very difficult and scary to let go of this fear. If you’re dealing with significant childhood trauma, I hope you find the power to seek professional help.

  • Observe your emotions throughout the day and identify your triggers.

Write them down, analyze them. And when you are ready, communicate these with your partner, friends, parents, or whoever is involved in this aspect of your personality.

  • Actively work on your self-image

Visualize the perfect version of yourself and your life. Try your hardest to start living by it. Ask yourself: how would my perfect self behave and act?

Female tendencies of self-sabotage

Most of the self-sabotage techniques aren’t sex-dependent, but some seem to target women more than men.

Women tend to obsess more over what others might think of them or worry about their reputation. We can get caught up so much in trying our best to look good to others and make them happy, that we forget about our own values and what is important to us. It can trigger self-doubt, if you feel like what you want doesn’t match with what others want from/of you. The more important the other is to us, the greater the length we go to make them happy.

We all know the extremely limiting common belief that we can either be the bitch, who doesn’t care about anyone else except for herself, or the nice girl, that complies with whatever her environment imposes on her.

  • Be kind to yourself

Check-in with yourself regularly. Are you doing something because others expect this from you?

  • Write down your 5 most important values

Are these values in line with how you're living your life at the moment? If not, what can you change - what is in your circle of influence - to live through your own values only?

  • Cut out any toxic influences

Find your inner power to say goodbye to the people connected to the situations in which you are most triggered.

Take charge!

As Maxwell Maltz put it, we all have it in us to turn our mechanisms of failure into mechanisms of success. It begins with becoming aware of those subtle events throughout the day that trigger us to fall back to old patterns and habits that sabotage us in using our full potential to do great things.

If you are serious about making the changes to self-sabotage less but you are uncertain where to begin? Let this printable guide help you get started.

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