Breaking the cycle of self-sabotage in recovery

by Health

Are you standing in your own way? Is the greatest obstacle to your recovery goals you? If so, you’re not alone.

What is self-sabotage?

Self-sabotage simply refers to any action you take which is getting in the way of your goals or progress. It can be as small as procrastinating seeking help, or denying you need support in the first place, or it could look like repeatedly reverting to old, damaging patterns and behaviours on your recovery journey.

Self-sabotage essentially undoes all the hard work you’ve done to progress on your journey to recovery… But it does not mean you’re back at square one. You don’t need to punish or berate yourself for self sabotaging, it’s something we see all the time. But you do need to understand why you’re doing it, and how to stop, in order to commit to full recovery.

Why do we self-sabotage?

There are so many different reasons we self-sabotage. A lot of the time, it comes down to the following reasons:

  • We are afraid to change our routine. Change creates discomfort, and as humans we’re programmed to actively avoid or run away from any discomfort – even if it has a positive outcome! So, naturally, when recovery threatens your status quo, this can be a major reason for self-sabotaging behaviour, since a part of you wants to stick to your existing habits and lifestyle patterns.
  • Inability to release control. In recovery, you have to give up some of the strict control, rigidity and rules you’ve created over such a long period of time. This is difficult to do, especially for the perfectionists among us, and can lead to self-sabotage.
  • Failure to go “all in”. Sometimes you may say you’re committed to recovery, yet when push comes to shove, part of you doesn’t want to leave the eating disorder behind. Whether it’s down to the fact you define your identity in terms of your eating disorder, you’re afraid, or you’re unwilling to change, if you don’t fully commit to recovery, this often results in a cycle of self-sabotaging behaviour.
  • Not believing in yourself. If you don’t believe you can recover, then chances are you won’t… Most often because you’ll resort to self-sabotaging behaviours and prove yourself right!

Of course, there are endless other reasons you could be self sabotaging, but let’s dive into ways to stop self-sabotaging, and finally commit to full recovery.

How can you break the cycle?

1. Develop new habits and routines.

So much of disordered eating behaviour revolves around strict, regimented routines and rules. But it’s time to throw these out the window, and work to establish new, healthy and productive habits to replace the old ones that no longer serve you.

In taking the time to create new habits, you’re able to move beyond the behaviours which have kept you “stuck”, and feel positive and productive about the work you’re doing to establish a life in alignment with your recovery goals.

The more you practice new habits, the easier they become. Soon, they’ll be second nature and, for example, instead of restricting certain foods or food groups, you’ll feel more in control around food knowing you’re able to enjoy all foods when you like – allowing you to find pleasure and joy in food once more!

Rewrite negative patterns, and establish more positive ones in their place.

2. Believe you can do it.

You have to really trust in yourself and your ability in order to recover. Ever heard the saying “If you think you can, you can”? Well, that applies to recovery.

Your recovery journey is at the mercy of your own confirmation bias. If you believe you don’t have the strength or the will to achieve full recovery, then it’s inevitable you’ll create a self-fulfilling prophecy by sabotaging yourself over and over again.

Until you believe you can recover… Take the time to really work on your self belief, and to come to terms with the idea that everything you need for full recovery is within you. If you’re prepared to do the hard work, and reach out for support when you need it, then you absolutely have what it takes to recover. Believe that with all your being, and watch the self-sabotaging behaviours fall away. You’ll no longer want to get in your own way, if you believe you’re capable of achieving your goals.

3. Let go of expectations and control around how you think your recovery “should” look.

So much of the time in recovery, you can become preoccupied with ideas of how you think your journey “should” look and feel. But guess what: recovery is never linear, and no two people’s journeys look the same.

Expecting your journey to look a certain way leads to a cycle of self-sabotage, whereby whenever you feel challenged or overwhelmed, or you slip up in your recovery goals, you feel like a failure. As a result, you continue to get in your own way almost as a “punishment” for yourself. The self-sabotage continues on and on…

By releasing your own expectations of yourself and your journey to recovery, you give yourself permission to simply “be”. This helps you be more conscious and aware of your patterns and habits, making them easier to challenge or rewrite.

Once you surrender to the process, and commit to showing up each day and simply doing your best, you can let go of the need to punish yourself for supposedly “slipping up”. Instead, you can learn to celebrate your wins and view any slip ups simply as lessons or opportunities for growth.

4. Be conscious – identify patterns and triggers.

Figure out areas or triggers which tend to lead to self-sabotaging behaviours for you. Do you tend to put up walls with your loved ones so you can stay isolated with your eating disorder? Maybe you find diet culture talk triggers you, and makes you act against your recovery goals. Are there certain people in your life who make you feel really stressed or anxious around food?

Being conscious and aware of what’s going on internally for you is so helpful when it comes to preventing self-sabotage. Once you identify what is repeatedly challenging you and pushing you off track, you can develop useful strategies to mitigate or avoid your individual triggers. When you’re more prepared, and you have a greater understanding of yourself and your patterns, it becomes a whole lot easier to stop sabotaging yourself and your hard work.

5. Progress over perfection.

If you have a perfectionist mentality, you’re definitely not alone! The problem with perfectionism is, often it can encourage us to procrastinate or avoid working towards your goals “just in case” you can’t quite achieve them, or you aren’t able to do so “perfectly”. 

Especially when it comes to something like recovery, which is far from linear, this mentality can create a real barrier to your progress.

Instead of aiming to be perfect 100% of the time in your recovery, allow yourself room to make mistakes. They will happen! And when they do, show yourself some compassion, and forgive yourself. Reflect on what you can learn and take from the experience, and how you plan to do better next time.

Focus on progress over perfection, always. Even when you do slip up, it doesn’t mean you have to completely throw in the towel and sabotage all your hard work! Just learn from it, do better next time, and appreciate all the little progress you’re making along the way.

There you have it – time to break the cycle of self-sabotage today! Don’t condemn yourself to staying “stuck” in this damaging cycle, but instead aim for small and steady progress along the roller coaster ride that is recovery. Yes, it will be challenging at times. But it’s so worth the commitment and perseverance in the end.

Need some support overcoming your self-sabotaging behaviours and achieving your recovery goals? Join us in Recovery Club today for all the support, tools and strategies you need!

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Sarah King

Sarah King

Hi future friends, I’m Sarah King, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and health coach.

Science, not trends is the foundation of my approach. By nourishing the body and mind with scientific facts we can build foundations for a life of realness, not just wellness.