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3 Ways People Weaponize the Term ‘Self-Sabotage’

Self-sabotage was a term I heard frequently at the beginning of my mental health journey. I heard it from health care professionals, family and anyone who felt the need to weigh in on my struggles.

I learned early on that the term “self-sabotage” was being used by some as an insult, a judgment. It was used to describe a deliberate act. An act that was completely under your control. An act that you chose to inflict upon yourself. It was used to describe a character flaw, a defect, but still intentional. I don’t agree with this definition of self-sabotage. I believe that self-sabotage is generally unintentional and a subconscious act. However, this is the definition that was being used in my experience.

I have heard the term “self-sabotage” used incorrectly so many times I still cringe when I hear it. I refuse to use that phrase myself because of the negative connotations associated with it. The things that used to fall under the category of self-sabotage infuriated me. They still do. These are some of the situations that were deemed self-sabotage that aren’t.

1. Relapsing is not self-sabotage.

Every time my depression, anxiety or any other mental health condition flared up, I was accused of self-sabotage. It was my deliberate attempt to destroy all the progress I had made. It should really go without saying that this is not self-sabotage! Relapsing or having “flare-ups” is not self-sabotage. It’s to be expected in many cases. It is not shameful. It is not deliberate. It is not a character flaw. It is not, as my mother used to say, “cutting your nose off to spite your face.”

2. Quitting your job or study due to your mental or physical health is not self-sabotage.

Over the years, I’ve had to quit study and work. I didn’t want to. I loved both. I couldn’t work and survive. I couldn’t study and survive. Again, I was accused of self-sabotage. I quit work and study to prevent myself from “getting ahead in life.” My aunty told me, “if you were a horse, they would take you out and shoot you.”

Sometimes quitting work or study is an act of self-care or self-preservation. Sometimes, it is essential due to our health. Many times, it’s the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make. It’s a decision we grieve over. We’ve lost something. To many of us, work or study is part of our identity. It’s part of our future. To lose that can be one of our biggest losses in life. It is not self-sabotage. It is not a deliberate act to bring ourselves down to possibly one of our lowest points. It is not a character flaw.

3. Changing your mind is not self-sabotage.

Everyone is entitled to change their mind at any time and for any reason. However, if you have a mental or physical health condition of any kind, this rule doesn’t seem to apply.

Every time I changed my mind about something, even something as simple as whether or not I wanted to go out, I was accused of self-sabotage. I should be going out. I should be socializing with people and by not doing these things, I was self-sabotaging.

Sometimes, staying in is self-care. Maybe I decided I didn’t want to get involved with a certain group of people or a certain activity. Maybe I needed to recharge my batteries. Maybe I just felt like changing my mind.

Just because you have a mental or physical health condition doesn’t mean you are constantly on a mission to self-sabotage. Situations or circumstances will sometimes go wrong in life. You might make a bad decision. You may do something you regret. This makes you like 100% of the population. It doesn’t mean you’re on a mission to destroy your life. I generally steer clear of any phrase like “self-sabotage” because of the tendency of others to weaponize them and use them to their advantage. Regardless of health status, we are human and we will do human things, like make mistakes, change our minds or fall down. We don’t need catchphrases to describe these human experiences just because of our health conditions.

Photo by Ryan Hoffman on Unsplash