Self-Sabotaging | Why You Avoid Happiness at all Costs

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This article offers a unique perspective on self-sabotaging thoughts and behavior. Are you ready for the twisted truth about self-sabotage? Read on if you dare. 

Despite extensive experience with Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching, for over 30 years I wondered why I struggled to be consistently happy. Was it even possible to be happy as a default state of mind?

And why did I habitually avoid doing a few key things that would drastically improve my life? Where was my personal discipline? I had tools and techniques coming out of my ears, but not the answer to my deepest question.

Why don’t we apply the tools we have to improve ourselves? Why isn’t everyone a walking Nike slogan? Just do it. 

The world is overflowing with theories about why people engage in an endless variety of self-sabotaging behavior. I wanted to know why – once and for all.

Given my fortunate position in life, I’ve had the opportunity to ask this question to some of the best minds in modern psychology and personal development. I used to own a newspaper that covered 17 cities in Southern California, so I got to interview some highly successful people. At the end of each interview, I asked them all to chime in on my personal quest to understand why we self-sabotage.

None of the answers were satisfying.

Some of the answers I got:

Life is just difficult. (It would be much less difficult if we stopped self-sabotaging. Why don’t we just do that?)

People are afraid of success. (Why be afraid of something that makes you happier, though?)

People prefer to indulge themselves more than make the sacrifices of time and personal discipline required to be happy. (Still, why? It is more than worth the sacrifice, since the payoff is so positive.)

People lack the tools. (But they so often don’t use the perfectly good tools they have. Why? What good is adding more tools if you’re self-sabotaging?)

At long last, I stumbled upon a satisfying answer that turned my own world right side up and made sense of everything I’d observed during my lifetime. The answer has to do with psychological attachments.

Psychological attachments are the most important and overlooked issue in psychology, especially where self-sabotaging thoughts, feelings, and behavior are concerned. This post explains what they are, how they create self-sabotage on autopilot.

We’ll do this FAQ style.

What is a psychological attachment and how does it cause self-sabotage?

A psychological attachment is a pervasive, largely subconscious tendency to seek out the negative or do things that cause you to be unhappy.

When you unwittingly and consistently behave in ways that cause you to be unhappy or unhealthy, it can be said that you are psychologically attached to something negative. Attachments are most often experienced passively – even though they are an active process. In other words, self-sabotaging is something you do but feels like it is being done to you or that you can’t control it. You feel at the mercy of something more powerful than you, even though you might be forced to admit that the self-sabotage originates from within.

These strange attachments to negativity are the root of your self-sabotaging tendencies.

You can be attached to anything but it is helpful to put negative, self-sabotaging attachments into categories.

Three helpful categories are control, deprivation, and rejection.

Control: You are attached to feeling controlled.

When you self-sabotage with a control attachment, you live your life feeling out of control (anxiety, worry, helplessness) or that someone else is trying to control you (authority issues, rebellion, feeling oppressed, power struggles).

Deprivation: You are attached to feeling deprived.

Self-sabotaging with a deprivation attachment, you lead an unfulfilled life, feeling empty and unloved, or emotionally numb. You may feel a void inside you, which you may attempt to fill with activities, substances, and relationships that do not actually fill the void. The deprivation attachment seeks to avoid getting real needs met.

Rejection: You are attached to feeling rejected.

When you’re self-sabotaging with a rejection attachment, you often feel dismissed, disregarded and hurt. You anticipate being criticized by others and feel compelled to seek approval (social anxiety), often in ways that only lead to feeling more rejected (seeking approval from someone who will never approve, such as a critical parent). The rejection attachment often features a harsh inner critic that demands perfection or never ceases to judge.

Where do self-sabotaging attachments come from?

They originate in childhood through the infant and child perspective. To grow and develop into a functional adult, regardless of the family of origin, a child must endure what the child perceives as an excruciating sense of being controlled, deprived and rejected.

No, you can’t do that.

No, you cannot have that.

No, I cannot feed you now.

No, you cannot sit on my lap right now.

Given where the child comes from (the womb) these common occurrences are experienced negatively, thus the child’s tantrums and anger.

Being raised in a dysfunctional family, with parents who are less than loving and attentive, only exacerbates the child’s problem (often extensively). Various forms of abuse, authoritarianism, neglect, and common bad parenting just intensify the child’s situation.

Get out of my face!

You’ll never amount to anything.

Why should I do anything for you?

Do what I say or else!

I don’t have time for you.

There is no escape. The only option a child has is to learn to tolerate the perceived control, deprivation, and rejection. In order to function, the child must familiarize – or even learn to find a strange satisfaction in the control, deprivation, and rejection because he or she cannot function in excruciating pain every single day. The pain must be numbed or turned into something tolerable. And we’ve all seen that kid who seems to take pleasure in pushing mom or dad’s buttons, even though it leads to punishment.

This is the root of self-sabotaging, but we suppress the fact that we have turned pain and displeasure into pleasure and familiarity and end up unconsciously seeking out in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways what we grew accustomed to – being controlled, deprived or rejected. These become ‘the devil we know.’

The familiar pain of self-sabotaging has become “home” or a default state that you want to return to again and again, in part because you don’t know anything else. It may be miserable, but people tend to choose familiar misery over foreign happiness.

Life becomes a battle between a conscious desire to be happy and an unconscious desire to self-sabotage and maintain the status quo. You are in a battle with your attachments. This is why life is so difficult.

Is everyone affected by attachments and self-sabotage?

Yes, this is a universal phenomenon. If you are a human being, you are affected by attachments to one degree or another.

How do I know if I have an attachment?

You may be self-sabotaging if….

You have a critical inner voice that keeps you feeling bad.

Negative feelings and behaviors are a daily occurrence.

Self-sabotaging interferes with your goals.

You do things that you know aren’t good for you.

Attract unhealthy people into your life is a consistent problem.

You know what you need to do, but can’t get yourself to do it.

Excuses to stay the way you are, even though you’re unhappy, are the norm.

Self-destructive tendencies worry you.

You are sick and tired of living the way you live, but keep on living that way.

You unwittingly set yourself up for failure.

And so on…

How come I have never heard of attachments?

Modern psychology has not embraced the basic idea that we unwittingly seek what is not good for us.

This is a radical concept that turns most personal development efforts inside out. Essentially, attachments suggest that you seek what you do not want in life and do it over and over again, then hide this fact from yourself.

Most people don’t want to hear this, even though it has potential to free them from their self-inflicted bondage.

Who came up with this concept?

Edmund Bergler, MD (1899-1962). Bergler was a colleague of Freud who published over 300 scientific research papers in medical journals and wrote 25 books. Ever heard of Edmund Bergler? He should probably be a household name, given the profundity of his breakthrough.

Bergler’s term writer’s block stuck around, although very few people know he coined it. Bergler undoubtedly had his own issues with self-sabotage, which become apparent when you study him, but that’s another story.

Why should I care about psychological attachments?

Because your attachments contribute more to self-sabotage and unhappiness than anything else. Imagine, you are unconsciously seeking the very things in life you consciously hate. You do this because, long ago, you became attached to those old, unpleasant yet familiar feelings.

As a result, you recycle your angst day in and day out. Once you see it, you gain unprecedented choices – things you never had a choice about now become optional in your life.

Can I get beyond my attachments?

Yes. It requires a re-education about how your psyche works. The education is simple and straightforward, but very different than anything you have heard before.

This is the purpose of the AHA Solution. The AHA Solution is a revolutionary program that helps you identify and access your attachments so that you can begin to have a conscious choice in your life where you’ve never experienced choice before.

This is the solution to self-sabotage: Watch the free AHA Solution video.


Bergler, Edmund. (1949). “The Basic Neurosis”. New York: Harper and Brothers

Bergler, Edmund. (1959). “Principles of Self-Damage”. New York: The Philosophical Library

Bergler, Edmund. (1961). “Curable and Incurable Neurotics”. New York: Liveright Pub. Co.

Michaelson, Peter. (2011) “Why We Suffer: A Western Way to Understand and Let Go of Unhappiness”.

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Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is a retired psychotherapist, Master NLP trainer, and practicing life coach. He and his wife, Hope, co-founded iNLP Center in 2011.

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