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Alcohol and Mental Health

Self-Sabotage: End the War With Yourself

Published:
July 10, 2023
·
12 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 10, 2023
·
12 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 10, 2023
·
12 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 10, 2023
·
12 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
July 10, 2023
·
12 min read

Imagine you're just about to reach an important goal, such as landing your dream job or maintaining a healthy relationship, when suddenly — out of nowhere! — you find yourself neck-deep in behaviors that push you further away from your goals. If this sounds familiar, you've likely been the target of self-sabotage.

Self-sabotage happens when we actively or passively take steps to prevent ourselves from reaching our goals. This behavior reflects our internal, often unconscious, fear of failure or success.

False Alarm

Self-sabotage is complex and multifaceted, with many psychological and neurological elements at play. The roots of self-sabotage lie in our brain's natural "fight or flight" response.

When confronted with a physical threat — a stranger in a dark alley, a poisonous snake on a hiking trail, a potted plant falling from a balcony above — our brain activates this response to protect us.

However, when faced with abstract threats — such as the fear of failure or of discomfort — our brains can misinterpret the feelings of danger and respond by getting our bodies ready for action even when there’s nothing to “fight” or “flee.” The result is counterproductive: fleeing from a job interview won’t get you any closer to landing the job, and snapping at a coworker who annoys you certainly won’t do you any favors.

Cognitive Dissonance

According to psychologists, another factor at play is cognitive dissonance — that uncomfortable feeling when our actions don't align with our beliefs or values. For instance, if we see ourselves as introverts but our job requires networking, we may sabotage our own efforts to avoid that discomfort.

The Common Faces of Self-Sabotage

Self-sabotage often masquerades in different forms. Its favorite disguises? Procrastination, perfectionism, and the often-overlooked self-deprecation.

  • Procrastination is the sly fox of self-sabotage. It whispers sweet nothings about the allure of "later," until we find ourselves scrambling to meet deadlines.
  • Perfectionism, on the other hand, is the immaculate wolf in sheep's clothing. It persuades us that unless everything is perfect, it's not worth doing, ultimately leading to avoidance or half-hearted attempts.
  • Lastly, self-deprecation is the sullen “sad clown” mask. By belittling ourselves, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which our low expectations for ourselves turn into reality.

Friends in Disguise

Before we track down self-sabotage, let's pause for a moment. While it's true that self-sabotage can hinder our progress, it also provides valuable insights into our hidden fears and insecurities.

Our self-sabotaging behaviors may be our brain's clumsy way of trying to protect us from perceived threats. Understanding this helps us change our perspective, transforming self-sabotage from an enemy to a quirky, well-meaning friend who just needs a little guidance. In other words, not every thought or automatic reaction we have has to be taken seriously — it’s okay to be picky about what thoughts we identify with.

Self-Sabotage on the Alcohol Journey

If you're trying to drink less, first of all, hats off to you! It's a brave decision that requires courage and determination. But as you journey towards your goal, you might notice that self-sabotage creeps in to get you off track.

You might find yourself making excuses to drink, skipping your support group meetings, or neglecting to use the coping strategies you've learned. Why does this happen? Once again, there’s science behind it.

The human brain loves its comfort zone, and any change — including cutting back on alcohol — is perceived as a threat to the comfortable status quo. Your brain isn’t working against you: it's just sticking to its job of keeping things in balance and avoiding the unknown.

Additionally, neuroscientists have found that substances like alcohol can modify the brain's reward system. When you try to cut back, your brain may instigate self-sabotaging behaviors to seek the reward it's used to receiving from alcohol.

Identifying self-sabotage can be tricky: it's a master of disguise. It might come as procrastination ("I'll start cutting back tomorrow"),  denial ("I don't have a problem with alcohol"), or even justification ("I've had a hard day, I deserve a drink”).

Remember, self-sabotage isn't the real enemy. It's just a sign of deeper issues like fear, guilt, or low self-esteem. Unpacking these underlying feelings can work wonders in getting past self-sabotage and progressing on your alcohol reduction journey!

Reining in Self-Sabotage

If you're ready to make some changes, here are some practical steps to help you steer clear self-sabotage:

  • Recognize the signs. Become aware of your patterns. Do you tend to procrastinate, aim for impossible perfection, or put yourself down?
  • Understand your fears. Dive deep and try to understand what fears or insecurities might be driving your self-sabotage. Are you afraid of failure? Or perhaps, success?
  • Practice mindfulness. Regular mindfulness practices can help you stay in tune with your thoughts and behaviors. They can also help reduce stress, which is often a trigger for self-sabotage.
  • Set realistic goals. Too high, and they're daunting; too low, and they're uninspiring. Setting goals that are "just right" can help keep self-sabotage at bay.
  • Cultivate self-compassion. Being hard on ourselves fuels self-sabotage. Practicing self-compassion can help you respond to setbacks with understanding rather than criticism.
  • Reframe failures. Changing the narrative around failure can be a powerful tool. Instead of viewing it as a defeat, see it as a learning opportunity.

As for tackling self-sabotage in the context of alcohol, here are some things to try:

  • Identify your triggers. Recognize situations, emotions, or people that provoke your urge to drink. Understanding these triggers can help you develop effective coping strategies.
  • Replace old habits. Instead of focusing on eliminating drinking, try to replace it with fun and healthy activities, such as exercising, meditating, or pursuing a hobby. Also, if your social life has revolved around situations where alcohol is the main event, try exploring new social settings that don’t involve drinking. Join a club, take up a new hobby, or volunteer in your community.
  • Plan your responses. Prepare responses for when you're offered a drink. This can relieve the pressure of having to come up with a refusal on the spot and reduce the chances of giving in.
  • Try the "HALT" method. This acronym stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired — states that can often trigger the urge to drink. When you feel the urge, check in with yourself. Are you experiencing any of these states? Addressing them can help reduce the urge to drink.
  • Make your environment alcohol-free. If possible, remove alcohol from your home, at least initially. This can drastically reduce the availability and accessibility, hence reducing temptation.
  • Seek support. Joining a support group or seeking professional help can provide you with the necessary tools to combat self-sabotage and stick to your alcohol reduction plan.
  • Use visualization techniques. Visualization can be a powerful tool. Picture yourself successfully resisting a drink or waking up the next morning hangover-free and feeling great. These positive images can reinforce your motivation.
  • Reward yourself. Positive reinforcement can motivate you to stay on track. Celebrate your milestones, no matter how small they might seem.

Embracing the Journey

By understanding the science behind self-sabotage and employing practical steps to manage it, we can change our relationship with this pesky mental roommate. By integrating these steps into your journey, you can build a robust, comprehensive approach to managing self-sabotage while successfully reducing alcohol consumption. With some introspection and a dash of self-compassion, we might even come to appreciate the insight that self-sabotage can offer.

With every challenge you face, you're not just moving closer to your destination, you're also gaining strength, resilience, and a deeper understanding of yourself. So buckle up, keep an eye on the horizon, and embrace the journey with all its unique challenges and rewards.

Imagine you're just about to reach an important goal, such as landing your dream job or maintaining a healthy relationship, when suddenly — out of nowhere! — you find yourself neck-deep in behaviors that push you further away from your goals. If this sounds familiar, you've likely been the target of self-sabotage.

Self-sabotage happens when we actively or passively take steps to prevent ourselves from reaching our goals. This behavior reflects our internal, often unconscious, fear of failure or success.

False Alarm

Self-sabotage is complex and multifaceted, with many psychological and neurological elements at play. The roots of self-sabotage lie in our brain's natural "fight or flight" response.

When confronted with a physical threat — a stranger in a dark alley, a poisonous snake on a hiking trail, a potted plant falling from a balcony above — our brain activates this response to protect us.

However, when faced with abstract threats — such as the fear of failure or of discomfort — our brains can misinterpret the feelings of danger and respond by getting our bodies ready for action even when there’s nothing to “fight” or “flee.” The result is counterproductive: fleeing from a job interview won’t get you any closer to landing the job, and snapping at a coworker who annoys you certainly won’t do you any favors.

Cognitive Dissonance

According to psychologists, another factor at play is cognitive dissonance — that uncomfortable feeling when our actions don't align with our beliefs or values. For instance, if we see ourselves as introverts but our job requires networking, we may sabotage our own efforts to avoid that discomfort.

The Common Faces of Self-Sabotage

Self-sabotage often masquerades in different forms. Its favorite disguises? Procrastination, perfectionism, and the often-overlooked self-deprecation.

  • Procrastination is the sly fox of self-sabotage. It whispers sweet nothings about the allure of "later," until we find ourselves scrambling to meet deadlines.
  • Perfectionism, on the other hand, is the immaculate wolf in sheep's clothing. It persuades us that unless everything is perfect, it's not worth doing, ultimately leading to avoidance or half-hearted attempts.
  • Lastly, self-deprecation is the sullen “sad clown” mask. By belittling ourselves, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which our low expectations for ourselves turn into reality.

Friends in Disguise

Before we track down self-sabotage, let's pause for a moment. While it's true that self-sabotage can hinder our progress, it also provides valuable insights into our hidden fears and insecurities.

Our self-sabotaging behaviors may be our brain's clumsy way of trying to protect us from perceived threats. Understanding this helps us change our perspective, transforming self-sabotage from an enemy to a quirky, well-meaning friend who just needs a little guidance. In other words, not every thought or automatic reaction we have has to be taken seriously — it’s okay to be picky about what thoughts we identify with.

Self-Sabotage on the Alcohol Journey

If you're trying to drink less, first of all, hats off to you! It's a brave decision that requires courage and determination. But as you journey towards your goal, you might notice that self-sabotage creeps in to get you off track.

You might find yourself making excuses to drink, skipping your support group meetings, or neglecting to use the coping strategies you've learned. Why does this happen? Once again, there’s science behind it.

The human brain loves its comfort zone, and any change — including cutting back on alcohol — is perceived as a threat to the comfortable status quo. Your brain isn’t working against you: it's just sticking to its job of keeping things in balance and avoiding the unknown.

Additionally, neuroscientists have found that substances like alcohol can modify the brain's reward system. When you try to cut back, your brain may instigate self-sabotaging behaviors to seek the reward it's used to receiving from alcohol.

Identifying self-sabotage can be tricky: it's a master of disguise. It might come as procrastination ("I'll start cutting back tomorrow"),  denial ("I don't have a problem with alcohol"), or even justification ("I've had a hard day, I deserve a drink”).

Remember, self-sabotage isn't the real enemy. It's just a sign of deeper issues like fear, guilt, or low self-esteem. Unpacking these underlying feelings can work wonders in getting past self-sabotage and progressing on your alcohol reduction journey!

Reining in Self-Sabotage

If you're ready to make some changes, here are some practical steps to help you steer clear self-sabotage:

  • Recognize the signs. Become aware of your patterns. Do you tend to procrastinate, aim for impossible perfection, or put yourself down?
  • Understand your fears. Dive deep and try to understand what fears or insecurities might be driving your self-sabotage. Are you afraid of failure? Or perhaps, success?
  • Practice mindfulness. Regular mindfulness practices can help you stay in tune with your thoughts and behaviors. They can also help reduce stress, which is often a trigger for self-sabotage.
  • Set realistic goals. Too high, and they're daunting; too low, and they're uninspiring. Setting goals that are "just right" can help keep self-sabotage at bay.
  • Cultivate self-compassion. Being hard on ourselves fuels self-sabotage. Practicing self-compassion can help you respond to setbacks with understanding rather than criticism.
  • Reframe failures. Changing the narrative around failure can be a powerful tool. Instead of viewing it as a defeat, see it as a learning opportunity.

As for tackling self-sabotage in the context of alcohol, here are some things to try:

  • Identify your triggers. Recognize situations, emotions, or people that provoke your urge to drink. Understanding these triggers can help you develop effective coping strategies.
  • Replace old habits. Instead of focusing on eliminating drinking, try to replace it with fun and healthy activities, such as exercising, meditating, or pursuing a hobby. Also, if your social life has revolved around situations where alcohol is the main event, try exploring new social settings that don’t involve drinking. Join a club, take up a new hobby, or volunteer in your community.
  • Plan your responses. Prepare responses for when you're offered a drink. This can relieve the pressure of having to come up with a refusal on the spot and reduce the chances of giving in.
  • Try the "HALT" method. This acronym stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired — states that can often trigger the urge to drink. When you feel the urge, check in with yourself. Are you experiencing any of these states? Addressing them can help reduce the urge to drink.
  • Make your environment alcohol-free. If possible, remove alcohol from your home, at least initially. This can drastically reduce the availability and accessibility, hence reducing temptation.
  • Seek support. Joining a support group or seeking professional help can provide you with the necessary tools to combat self-sabotage and stick to your alcohol reduction plan.
  • Use visualization techniques. Visualization can be a powerful tool. Picture yourself successfully resisting a drink or waking up the next morning hangover-free and feeling great. These positive images can reinforce your motivation.
  • Reward yourself. Positive reinforcement can motivate you to stay on track. Celebrate your milestones, no matter how small they might seem.

Embracing the Journey

By understanding the science behind self-sabotage and employing practical steps to manage it, we can change our relationship with this pesky mental roommate. By integrating these steps into your journey, you can build a robust, comprehensive approach to managing self-sabotage while successfully reducing alcohol consumption. With some introspection and a dash of self-compassion, we might even come to appreciate the insight that self-sabotage can offer.

With every challenge you face, you're not just moving closer to your destination, you're also gaining strength, resilience, and a deeper understanding of yourself. So buckle up, keep an eye on the horizon, and embrace the journey with all its unique challenges and rewards.

Tackle Self-Sabotage With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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