Blog by Deborah Black Lamble

How To Stop Self-Sabotaging

No one starts the day planning to sabotage him or herself by procrastinating, inhaling food, or becoming uncontrollably angry. It is generally not a conscious decision, which makes it a problem. Less common forms of self-sabotage are self-injury/cutting to escape painful emotions or overspending on shopping sprees. Procrastination may be the most common form of self-sabotage. Many times a teen procrastinates because they care too much, not too little, about succeeding. If a person procrastinates and does not succeed, then they can say that they could have started earlier, thereby never having to confront the fact that they tried as hard as they could to succeed, yet failed. Procrastination is the gap between intention and action. Self-sabotaging lies in not closing the gap. When we know something is bad for us, but fail to take steps or action to remedy the issue, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Here are some reasons why a teen may (typically unconsciously) self-sabotage:

  • Perfectionistic tendencies: Some teens are perfectionists who are high achievers and will self-sabotage before they fail. Because they are so afraid of failing, they procrastinate to put it off. They are more comfortable ruining their own chances because then they can hold onto a sense of having control.
  • Control: Some teens enjoy feeling they have control of a situation whether the outcome is good or bad. If a person chooses to fail and they do, then they have still won! They may engineer a failure so as to maintain a sense of having control. 
  • Low self-esteem: Feeling unworthy may cause a person to feel that they don’t deserve to be happy or have success. A person may have self-doubt in their ability to succeed.
  • Self-identity: Surprisingly, many teens are protective of their identity, even if it is negative. A teen does not know what it would look like to be different and they do not know who they would be without these familiar labels or perceptions. Success may impact a teen’s label of being “lazy” or “a loser,” so they may self-sabotage in order to not cause any disruption in this part of their identify. Many teens want to stay in their own comfort zone. A teen changing his or her identity may impact the teen’s friend group, or others’ opinions of the teen, which can be scary.

Tips for parents of teenagers:

  • Focus on the positive and build your teen’s self-esteem. Ask your teen how he/she prefers to be acknowledged when doing a great job (in private, with a note, etc.).
  • Remember that your teen is unique and don’t compare your teen to other teens or siblings.
  • Let your teen know that failure is part of life and that is how change and growth occur. Share your own experiences of failure with your teen.
  • Model healthy behaviors that don’t include self-sabotage.
  • Show your teen evidence of where he/she does not self-sabotage and the positive outcome.
  • Help your teen develop healthy ways to handle stress, such as journaling or mind-body coping strategies like exercise, mindfulness, or meditation apps.
  • Help your teen see that control is an illusion. A person can only strive to have healthy behaviors or destructive behaviors.

Tips for teens who self-sabotage:

  • Awareness: Learn to recognize your signs of self-sabotage and become aware of your self-defeating thoughts. Mindfulness can be very helpful.
  • Acknowledge it: Determine if your behavior is an excuse or a reason. Be honest with yourself in differentiating between the two. It is normal to have an excuse deep down prepared, just in case you fail, but you want to be honest with yourself in identifying it.
  • Visualize success: Imagine what true success would look like to you – not black-and-white success and not fantasy. Visualize road bumps, so when the challenges come, you can consciously stop your negative thoughts and prevent self-sabotaging behavior. Remember that success and perfection are not the same.
  • Think beyond yourself: Step out of your bubble and see the bigger picture. One way you can learn how to see beyond yourself is by volunteering and helping others.

Self-sabotage, whether it is over-drinking or hitting the snooze-button, is all controlled by the person. The good news is that your teen has the power to stop self-sabotaging behaviors. With your support, you can empower your teen to choose healthy, productive behavior.

Preparing Your Teen For A Well-Balanced Summer

We all want our teens to develop a healthy sense of responsibility! We can help to encourage this in our teens by giving them the opportunity to be responsible and make healthy choices. One way to do this is by letting your teens brainstorm and decide upon the priorities/values they would like to have this summer. Many times during the school year teens are over-planned and exhausted by constantly focusing on the next thing. The summer allows for the opportunity to re-balance, focus on passions, and build on your teens’ strengths outside of academics.
For many teens they welcome an unstructured summer, but for some, a regimented routine can prove to be beneficial. To keep parents and teens on the same page, it is helpful to have a discussion as summer commences and talk about the intentions each has for the summer.
Here are some things you can do to help prepare your teen for a well-balanced summer:
Balance structured routine and free time: Talk with your teen about what your teen would like to get out of his/her summer. Discuss ideas to get your teen outdoors, to have a consistent sleep schedule, to be physically active, and to minimize time in front of electronics. Possible options for physical activity could include: yoga, long walks, biking, or running. Discuss with your teen the idea of creating a summer bucket list and planning adventures together. Allow your teen to plan a trip, either with friends or with the family, to go somewhere he/she hasn’t been before; this helps broaden your teen’s mind by experiencing a new place. Summer can provide the opportunity for your teen to catch up on sleep and create a healthy sleep routine. Many teens are interested in making money; discuss possible entrepreneur ideas to help foster your teen’s own business. Whether it is mowing lawns, babysitting, crafting, or selling creative products online, teens can learn valuable life skills running their own enterprises. Your teen can take a creative art class, an interesting class at a junior college, or a cooking class over summer. Your teen may choose to start a garden or read a book of their choice that you can discuss together. Many teens choose to be with friends during their free time; perhaps your teen can create a fun outdoor hangout at your home – maybe by building a fire pit, putting together an outdoor theater, or setting up hammocks in the shade. This will give your teen a safe place to meet and you will get plenty of opportunities to get to know your teen’s friends.
Build on assets outside of achievement: Talk with your teen about the things your teen loves to do and find time to integrate these things into the summer. Studies show that things such as play, having new experiences, doing things that are meaningful, spending time with friends and family, and appreciating the things we have are what make us truly happy. Take time to count your blessings and to be grateful for all you have on a regular basis as a family, or do an act of kindness such as putting money in a parking meter for a stranger, paying for someone behind you on the bridge toll, or complimenting strangers. Carve out time so your teen can think of things bigger than him/herself such as spiritual reflection or going on a hike in nature. Practice compassion by volunteering at a nursing home or helping at an animal or homeless shelter.
Household contributions: The importance of doing chores is that, through regular unpaid household services that teens can provide, they help support the maintenance and upkeep of the family system that sustains them, just like parents do. It also provides the opportunity for structure. Second, chores send teens the message that being part of a family means pitching in and doing things for the greater good. Adolescents learn that in a working family everyone gets to participate and invest in other people’s well-being, not just be preoccupied with their own. When it comes to the timing of a chore, it can often help to give a choice within a choice. The chore itself is non-negotiable, but you can offer some flexibility about what it is or when it is performed. For example, “Would you like to take out the trash before dinner or after dinner?” Research tells us that teens actually feel happier when they make a meaningful contribution to the family. Tips that can help: Do chores together, establish routines for chores, keep chores manageable, and make chores fun.
As you plan for summer, ponder the priorities, balance, and building blocks you desire for your teen as you prepare them for healthy adulthood.