Does Your Teen Self-Sabotage?

Photo Credit: Flickr User Stacy Lynn Baum

Self-sabotage is one of the most powerfully dangerous habits for teens to get into. There are two kinds of teen self-saboteurs:
Perfectionists: Sometimes when teenagers are high-achieving, perfectionists they self-sabotage before they fail because they are so afraid of failing. For them, ruining their own chances seems less scary than being out of control if the environment or situation ‘beats’ them. Symptoms:
  • Perfectionist have chronic feelings of disappointment. They also tend to focus on the negatives and ignore the positive.
  • These self-saboteurs truly identify with their labels and feelings of failure. They play the “I am not as ___ as ____.”
Fear of Success: Some teenagers who have very low self-esteem feel that success of any kind will either disrupt their current life (change is typically bad for those who fear success) or negatively impact their self-identity. Surprisingly, some teens are very protective of their identity as ‘lazy,’ a ‘fuck-up,’ or ‘a loser.’ They also might have been called these things by people in their life, and even if they do not like them, they do not know what they would be without these labels. Success might cause disruption so they self-sabotage. Symptoms:
  • These fearful self-saboteurs are incredibly fearful of what “might” happen if they fail and this might make them even more of a loser. Therefore they become paralyzed in progress or destroy the success they have already had.
  • Self-saboteurs who are driven by fear are also plagued with procrastination because they fear change. This often can halt or destroy success.
How can we help teens who self-sabotage?
  1. Help them learn to cultivate mistakes and failure.
  2. Gently help them learn to focus on the positive. It is important for both perfectionists and fearful self-saboteurs to learn to focus on the positive more than the negative. Researchers from Oxford University in the United Kingdom found that training youth to be more positive can actually help with their anxiety. In the study, researchers attempted to train 36 teens to boost their thinking — in either a positive or negative direction — through a computer program. Those who got the positive training became more positive themselves in regard to their interpretations of the situations; the reverse was true for those who received the negative training (Child Psychiatry and Human Development.).
  3. Never compare them to others. Many self-saboteurs have parents, teachers or siblings who have compared them in the past. Get real and make sure you never accidentally make them feel less than.
  4. Focus on what they do not self-sabotage. There is always something that self-saboteurs keep sacred–even beating video games counts! Focus on these activities and help your teen see how fulfilling it is when they finish something successfully.

  Self-sabotage is something that parents should deal with immediately if they see it in their children. Be open with your teens about it and talk to them openly about whether they need extra help if they have a fear of failure or success.

This is part of our Science of Family series. If you would like to read more articles on the scientific research and studies behind relationships, families and teens, please visit our Science of Families page for tips and updated research. 

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  • Alexis Avila

    I love how you added that we need to teach teens to focus on the positive. There is a lot of negative energy coming from teenagers-but a lot of that stems from the parents. We need to be role models. 

    Alexis Avila, Founder of Prepped & Polished, LLC 

  • http://morningsicknessremedieshq.com Chris

    This is an interesting post, because I see this behavior in myself and others, and we are mainly all adults! For me it boils down to being afraid of actually succeeding, and feeling naturally like I am just not as good as someone else who has succeeded at something. It is amazing how some positive focus and work will wipe away doubt and lead to success!