General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Why would someone knowingly sabotage their own best interests?

Asked by wundayatta (58638points) March 10th, 2011

Sometimes, people seem to deliberately do things that make a situation worse, thus increasing the pain they are in. They might know what they are doing and still find themselves doing stuff to make it worse. Almost as if it was an instinct, except it’s a conscious choice, a choice that the person doesn’t like, even if they chose it.

Could they be punishing themselves? If so, why? Are they simply unable to control themselves—like a cutter? What other reasons might explain this?

Have you ever done anything like this or do you know anyone who has? What was the situation, and did you or they ever stop making this kind of error?

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26 Answers

SpatzieLover's avatar

They haven’t learned from their mistakes yet. Even if they know what they are doing will lead them to a place they don’t want to be, they haven’t yet encompassed the idea that change is possible.

Judi's avatar

You mean the poor working folks who vote republican?

blueiiznh's avatar

Many reasons:
1) They really don’t want to be doing it in the first place.
2) Attention seeking. Self sabotage puts it out in front of everyone to see and have to deal with.
3) They are in or approaching a depressive state. This type of action is part of the downward spiral.
4) They are seeking to find out who cares about them. They are testing to see who will respond and measure this as who may care about them.

I have seen this with people who suffer from BiPolar Disorder. Like a question that was posted the other day, they sometimes thrive on the turmoil.

nir17's avatar

I do this in relationships it seems. I feel like I undercut my own happiness by finding things to be unhappy about. I start fights where there doesn’t need to be one.

right now, I know that it’s absolutely necessary to stop talking to my ex in order to be happy with the amazing guy I’m with now. For some reason, up to this point, I’ve refused to do that. I know the completely rational thing to do, and I know why…. yet, I don’t seem to do it.

If anyone figures out how to stop this emotionally, self-destructive behavior—let me know.

picante's avatar

This is a vast mystery to me, as well. I’m not a psychologist, but my own view is that this tendency is akin to addiction in the sense that sheer intelligence can’t overcome the ‘flaw.”

@blueiiznh has hit on many of the psychological conditions under which the self-sabotaging behavior manifests itself.

I have known people in all stations of life, from all types of backgrounds, educational experience, world experience, professional standing who simply sabotage themselves at every turn. You’ll hear their afterthoughts sometimes expressed as “if only I could go back and . . . ” or “I’ll never make that mistake again!”—that’s a sure bet they’re already headed down the wrong path.

It is an intrinsic flaw of humankind, I fear. It is demonstrated by governments, regimes, leaders and just plain people. Often a couple share the same pattern of self-destruction. And it’s really, really sad.

markferg's avatar

No. Not possible. There is always an alternative, and more sensible, solution.

Soubresaut's avatar

I think it can also be for a level of control—they feel like whatever they want isn’t possible for them to attain or get to, for whatever reason, so they actively go away from it. Then, they did the sabotage, rather than having something taken from them.
Whether their perception of the situation is “correct” or not, they think it is.

Fyrius's avatar

An article I read a while ago argued that people sometimes sabotage their own efforts when they believe they’re already going to fail, because if they make their circumstances worse for themselves – thus reducing their chances to succeed – they can fail without hurting their self-confidence, because, well, the circumstances were obviously against them, anyone would fail in that situation. That way you can still plausibly deny that the reason why you failed is because you suck.
To counter this effect, it should suffice to teach yourself the habit of reacting to (seemingly) hopeless situations by trying your best to get as close to succeeding as you can get. Failing gracefully should feel better than failing utterly, even if the results are the same.

markferg's avatar

Alas, all these arguments point to people acting in their own best interests. “Failing gracefully” is better than “failing utterly”, so the best interest is to fail gracefully etc. “they did it” rather than “taken from them” is also an attempt to appear in control. I suggest that you cannot give an example where someone sabotages their ‘in their own mind’ best interest. People are, within their own rules, always acting in their own best interests.

Soubresaut's avatar

I suggest that you cannot give an example where someone sabotages their ‘in their own mind’ best interest:
It wasn’t in my own best interest, and I knew that, and I hated it, and I wanted to fight it, and I succumbed to it anyway.

People are, within their own rules, always acting in their own best interests.:
…people are more complicated than we as a society try to make them. It’s our simplifying ourselves down and negating everything but our selfiness that brings so much selfishness out, because what else do we have when we deny all else?
People aren’t predictable.
Anyone that truly only thinks for themselves and what they can personally have better, scares me.

stratman37's avatar

Drama Queens like that usually require an audience. I don’t give ‘em one.

stardust's avatar

This is an interesting questionb @wundayatta
I think there’s a myriad of reasons as to why people self sabotage. For me, I was going through a difficult period. It was over a number of years. I was in a lot of pain, trying to figure things out, but not fully addressing the root issues in my life. I did things to please others. I might experience negative feelings about said others and stick it to the man so to speak. That instability gave rise to that cyclical behaviour. Obviously, I was just hurting myself more and more, but I was so full of anger, frustration, etc that it didn’t matter at the time.
Having spent many years cutting, I would say that became a habitual thing. The line between self punishment and habit became blurred over time.
I think the only way to stop doing this is to get to know yourself, address your issues and so on. Even then, I think it’s a continual process.

podwarp's avatar

The semester before I decided to take some time off, instead of going to class or hanging out with friends I would just drive somewhere by myself, go to the movies or a park/beach—anywhere that I could just walk or sit alone and distract myself. I’d go back home and lie like everything was normal. In my experience, self sabotage is quiet and secret (until everything explodes, of course).

@stardust Really hit the nail on the head. When you’re doing stuff like that of course you know that it’s not “normal” or right at all, but it doesn’t matter. There was something inside me that just couldn’t… that just needed to run and hide even if that meant disaster. (Perhaps it was selfishness)

I don’t know if I can say I’m in the clear just yet, but I have taken time off to sort out the issues that were keeping me in that mindset. I don’t think it’s possible to charge through this problem yourself (I did try).

raven860's avatar

Maybe sometimes a person will do it out of guilt. Because they feel they deserve the punishment instead of running away.

Cruiser's avatar

It varies but the ones I have seen first hand, they seem to prefer the attention they get from being in a certain place their sabotaged efforts put them.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
MilkyWay's avatar

I sometimes feel like just giving up and not caring what’s happening to me at times, even though I know it will make the situation worse for me. I want to do something, but I find myself unable to….
It doesn’t happen all the time though.

wundayatta's avatar

You guys have a lot of interesting ideas. Thanks!

@stratman37 Yup. I’m a drama queen. Sayonara!

@stardust I’ve never cut, but since I’ve experienced that incredible pain of depression, cutting has made sense to me. I would rather feel any other pain besides depression, and a physical pain fits the bill. I haven’t cut, but I have scratched myself until I was bleeding just to find a focus that isn’t pain.

@blueiiznh I think the bipolar connection makes a lot of sense, too. In my support group, a lot of people resonate to this idea.

It could play out in a number of ways, I think. One, for me, is that I feel like happiness will always end, and that it is better to end it of my own choice rather than to wait for to end when I’m not expecting it. So, the first excuse that comes along, I’m on it like a fly on shit. I’ll drive myself down, and then, since I know I’m entirely responsible for this pain, I have to punish myself for choosing the pain. It’s like cutting. This is so bad that maybe making it worse will make it not as intolerable. I’m sure that sounds crazy. What can I say?

The other thing is that it seems that, even when well, there seems to be a need for drama/intensity among bipolar folk. We can’t let things go along evenly for any particularly long period of time. We need intensity, I think. A good way to create intensity is to get in trouble—maybe doing something hedonistic. Then you get caught doing this thing and since you know you did it deliberately, any punishment meted out can’t be good enough, and so you sabotage things further in an effort to punish yourself.

Of course, knowing what you are doing, and knowing you are choosing it even if you don’t want to choose it (meaning you must want it), is an incredibly elegant way to tie yourself up into psychological Gordian knots. This responsibility for your own pain excuses anyone from helping you, so if they try, you have ample reason to try to drive them away—for their own good. I guess not everyone can be a @stratman37.

Letting someone care for or about you is forbidden. After all, if you’ve done it to yourself, no one owes you anything. Eventually, you’ve destroyed every relationship and possibility, and so, alone, you can give yourself the satisfaction of think about suicide. And it weird because you can do it over and over because you can agree with everyone that you are a waste of carbon, and punish yourself and refuse help over and over and over. Maybe one day you’ll dance too close to the sun, and get in too deep, and finally succeed at relieving the world from your company.

Exciting stuff! Makes it almost feel like you matter.

Austinlad's avatar

“Knowingly” doesn’t necessarily mean being able to help one from saying or doing something he/she shouldn’t.

YARNLADY's avatar

Sometime an irrational act is exactly that, irrational. There is no rational explanation for it.
Wikipedia suggests “inadequate reasoning, emotional distress, or cognitive deficiency”

spykenij's avatar

Most people who self-sabotage, in my experience, have some kind of serious borderline or severe personality disorders. Cognitive-Behavioral therapy can help. A lot of hospitals have partial hospitalization programs for people who need a break before or even after they’ve snapped. OSU in Columbus has a decent program. Anyway, Cognitive-Behavioral therapy is making sure you are using the right language. For example, you cannot FEEL like a loser because loser isn’t a feeling. You THINK you are a loser and then you look at why you think that way and gauge yourself against Hitler if you have to, to realize you really aren’t that bad. It’s also training on how and why to control yourself. For example, road rage. You can either fuel the flames higher by reacting and swearing…or you can choose to respond by putting a CD in to take your mind off of it, instead of react. I had some SERIOUS road rage and now I have a middle finger air freshener hanging from my rearview mirror. I refer to it as “The hand of God” and when someone pisses me off driving, I “leave it in the hands of God”. Mentally train yourself how to deal with different issues. Respond, don’t react. Analyze your language and thoughts to make sure they are rational and in the correct syntax.

markferg's avatar

@DancingMind too small to read, why do it?

markferg's avatar

I still argue that everyone is acting in their, current, best interest. I note that respondents use a lot of hindsight in their analysis of previous actions. However I would suggest that the action at the time is considered to be the best option available AT THAT TIME. Its not a question of what the world thinks post-operatively but what the person thinks at the time the action occurs.

Alas, people don’t like to be considered as an automaton, yet that is how they act. Me included, at least I can accept it.

Obviously, I didn’t mean YOU. You are unique and individual and God lurves you specifically and uniquely, unlike everyone else. We all just got an instruction manual and were left to figure it out. You are just God’s uninformed idiot. I was asked not to point this out, but I can’t resist, everyone else just laughs at you.

No, not YOU specifically! The other person that I call you. I’m sure YOU’ll understand, I’m not being personal.

Scooby's avatar

There are also those that believe themselves to be invulnerable to how they act or treat others, they put themselves on a higher plane above everybody else, they’re usually the one’s that are unavoidably deluded about their own worth or self importance as they have their head stuck so far up their own arse………. :-/
I think that’s right……..

Avray's avatar

Why would someone sabotage their own best interests? There is a simple answer that is as good a place as any to start and that is that the person wants to be in control of the situation as opposed to the situation controlling them….

There is often this huge urge in any situation to just do something, anything! rather than sit and wait for a result that we are uncertain of. It can take a huge amount of self control to live in a situation where there is doubt though the possibility of a positive outcome still exists.

Closing the door on doubts and fears usually means closing the door on possibilities too. That’s the easiest way to sabotage ourselves.

blueiiznh's avatar

@Avray I agree with you completely.
I see that difference also between an optimist and a pessimist approach to the same thing.
Can you be patient and trust things to go well, or do you need to control them in an effort to always prepare for the worst.

Self piteous actions can also derail solid foundations.

Whether your sunglasses are off or on
You only see the world you make
~bonnie raitt

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