Self-sabotage is something most people experience at one point or another — particularly if mental illness makes you feel unworthy or undeserving of good things. But for many folks with borderline personality disorder (BPD), self-sabotage can often be at the forefront of their lives.
As Mighty contributor Sheridan Ashby who lives with BPD put it,
Self-sabotaging (relationships, jobs, etc.) is a fairly common habit of people with borderline personality disorder. Personally, I think I sabotage myself without even knowing it, mainly because I feel like I don’t deserve anything good in my life. When things are going well, my anxiety actually increases, because I’m afraid things will fall apart at any second. I’m not used to stability — it’s a foreign concept to me — so it makes me feel uncertain and suspicious.
There are many ways someone with BPD might engage in self-sabotage. Some engage in impulsive behaviors that wreak havoc on their lives. Others might secretly put their friends “to the test” by pushing them away to see if they still love them when they stick around. Some folks might engage in self-harm or suicidal behavior and don’t know where to turn for help.
We wanted to know what self-sabotaging behaviors people who have BPD engage in, so we asked our Mighty BPD community to share one way they self-sabotage, and explain how it affects their lives.
It’s important to remember not just folks with BPD engage in self-sabotaging behaviors like these. If you find yourself self-sabotaging, please seek the help of a mental health professional. If you are in crisis and need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Here are the self-sabotaging behaviors our BPD community shared with us:
1. Pick Fights With Loved Ones
“Causing arguments by picking at every little negative, even if the negative hasn’t even happened yet. On mine and my partner’s anniversary, we had an amazing day together, went out for a romantic meal at our favorite place and I managed to get really upset because he’d not replied to a nice comment I made about him on Facebook. Luckily he knows me well enough that he held my hand and said, ‘Bronte, you’re sabotaging yourself again. Your brain doesn’t like letting you be happy so you’re trying to find ways to ruin a perfect day.’ I apologized but I just felt like utter garbage afterwards.” — Bronte E.
“I set up arguments to see if people will leave me. I haven’t in a long, long time but it used to be a regular occurrence prior to college. Sometimes I’m tempted because I’m convinced people are better off without me but I avoid doing it because it’s something I [wasn’t] proud of doing before and I wouldn’t be proud doing it now.” — Hannah G.
2. Push People Away
“I purposely push people (usually a boyfriend) to his breaking point to see if he will leave me, but then I’ll be heartbroken and want him back. It’s that push and pull, but when I’m pushing, I push way too far and hurt them unintentionally. It’s something I want to change so badly.” — Holly D.
“I cut off healthy friendships because I feel they’re finding me annoying or are planning to leave me anyway, so I leave them before they can. Which leaves me isolated and completely alone.” — Samantha P.
3. Push Loved Ones to Their “Limit” to See If They Will Stay
“I tend to push people I care about to their limits. I’ve lost a lot of friends because of it. It’s heartbreaking because most of the time I do it subconsciously. I don’t realize I’ve done it till it’s done… It’s like a train on the tracks. I am the conductor, but I am also the one who put the dynamite under the bridge to blow up the track.” — Hannah E.
“I will create impossible secret tests for my friends and family. If they fail the tests, I will disappear from their lives and train my mind to forget they exist even when it hurts. Sometimes it is irrational but if my mind is made up, that’s it.” — Rae E.
“I self-sabotage by waiting forever to do things that have a deadline. I allow myself to let the anxiety surrounding certain projects to get the best of me and I don’t get to complete it and I feel so disappointed in myself afterward cause I missed out for no reason. ” — Brittany G.
“Procrastinate like a pro into oblivion, both with important deadlines and menial things. Also, I will repetitively distance myself from those closest to me.” — Bridget C.
5. Spend Money Impulsively
“I hurt myself financially. I impulsively buy expensive things so I can have instant gratification and because it is fleeting, I continue to spend and get caught in an endless loop.” — Vincenzo M.
“Overspending. I struggle with impulse control over buying things. I got into debt, and have gone through a debt relief order and setting up a bank account without an overdraft so I can’t get into the same situations as before. The bad credit rating has also been a blessing, as it means I don’t have access to any sort of credit. My spending habits have improved, but I have relapses… It’s hard work. And I hate being a burden on my aging parents. But I can’t run up debts anymore.” — Samantha Q.
“I tend to overshare as soon as I feel a little comfortable. I get over-enthusiastic and then the emotion multiplies by a thousand and I become a completely different person. I tell my life story or very personal issues to acquaintances and scare people away. I feel ashamed and guilty for a long period after the incident. After the whole ordeal, I tend to remain a hermit for as long as possible since I felt like I made a fool of myself once again.” — Steff F.
“I expect people to leave me, so to avoid it, for some reason I think it’s a great idea to bare my soul, just hoping they would feel bad and stay but it just scares them away.” — Alyssa P.
7. Take on Everyone Else’s Problems
“I put everyone’s issues on myself. If someone is sad, I want to fix it. Even if it’s something beyond my control. I take in everyone’s problems and make them mine.” — Alicia H.
“I take care of everyone around to the point there is nothing for me… I give and give and give so people don’t leave me… I don’t care of myself at all… forget to eat, shower, just even basic things. I consume myself too much with other people’s needs.” — Trudy B.
8. Do Things to “Prove” Your Unworthiness
“I self-sabotage by ruining my own relationships. A guy can be completely perfect for me but I can convince myself I’m not worthy of his love, so I’ll do things to prove to myself that I’m unworthy. I’ve cheated during my relationships to prove to myself that I don’t deserve to be in a stable and happy relationship. I understand now those actions are results of my BPD thoughts. It’s like I try to leave a person emotionally before they can leave me.” — Ragel I.
9. Quit Your Job
“I was verbally abused at my previous job. Now I quit my job before I can be told I’m doing everything wrong. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quit before I even really got started.” — Dana U.
“When everything is going well and I start getting comfortable at a job, I get paranoid that I am going to make a huge mistake and get fired. So I quit the job before that can happen.” — Shannon M.
10. Over-Apologize and Blame Yourself for Everything
“I apologize for everything, even if I know it isn’t my fault… I clam up… I push people away in fear that I will say/do something wrong.” — Katie R.
“I self-sabotage by blaming myself for everything, even if I may not be in the wrong. I question everything and take it to heart so I cannot see myself in a positive light and I also apologize for everything, regardless of fault. I also reduce into a state of depression and can spend whole days in bed or cry for an hour-long shower. “ — Sam L.
11. Avoid or “Act Out” in Therapy
“When things get hard in therapy, I tend to miss appointments, call in ‘sick’ or do the silent treatment.” — Alea D.
“I sabotage my relationship with therapists by acting out because I feel I need to show them just how ‘bad’ I am to protect myself from being rejected by them later on in the relationship. It’s like, I’m so sure they will eventually see me for the horrible person I am and want to get it over with before I get to like and depend on them.” — Diane M.
12. “Play Games” With People
“I play games with people. You haven’t talked to me in a few days? Cool. I can ghost you longer and faster. But then I find something online I want to share with them and I become friends with them again.” — Stacey P.
“I seek out attention then push people away. It comes across as playing games when I don’t mean it to. I freak out when I get the attention, but feel lonely and abandoned when I don’t. It’s confusing” — Jackie S.
13. Trigger Yourself on Purpose
“Triggering myself. Literally going out of my own way to make myself upset because I feel like I deserve it and don’t deserve to be happy.” — Natalie F.
14. Binge Eat
“Binge eating. Sometimes, even when I feel like I am most stable, I find myself reaching for food as a way to hurt myself the most. Stress or feeling guilty about things that may or may not be my fault, always leads me to binge on food. It’s something that has gotten better over time, but it’s a constant daily mental struggle.” — Sarah L.
15. Hold in Emotions
“As what some people refer to as a ‘quiet borderline,’ I try my hardest to hold emotions in to the point of self-destruction because I don’t want to burden others or come across to them as ‘too much,’ ‘needy,’ ‘manipulative’ or any of the other stigmatizing comments I’ve heard referring to BPD. Empathy is a very common trait in people with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder — one of my biggest fears is hurting someone.” — Nikki W.
16. Look for the Bad in People
“I’ll get paranoid thoughts that someone I’m in a relationship with will hurt me and find ways to make things seem negative when in reality everything is actually going fine and they happen to be very genuine people worth trusting. I tend to always find the bad in people.” — Nick B.
17. Cancel on Plans
“Cancel on people, miss appointments or call in sick. Basically let everyone down around me and then I sit back and taunt myself, trying to come up with a good reason as to why I do this.” — Naju S.
18. Don’t Follow Through on Decisions/Commitments
“I don’t follow through with decisions I should, because I’m worried I won’t do well, or someone will judge me, and I constantly self-internalize about how I self-sabotaged. Then I look for validation that it’s OK, all the while internally berating myself for it.” — Jessica S.
“My fear of failure keeps me from doing anything with my days. I wake up with great plans, but ultimately do nothing because I’m so scared I will fail at everything I do. I’m currently out of work and so I spend 12 plus hours in the same position on the sofa. I become so dissociated and my muscles hurt from the lack of movement. I tell myself the following day will be different, that I’ll work on my novel, on some short stories, that I’ll exercise, that I’ll do something productive, but tomorrow comes and nothing changes. This cycle only worsens my depression and my self-hatred, but I feel stuck and have for years now.” — Autumn A.
19. Set Unrealistic Goals
“I make goals that are completely unrealistic and will always fail at reaching the goal which I then use as a reason to punish myself for not being good enough.” — Kirstie O.
20. Second Guess Decisions
“I constantly second guess every single decision I ever make. I never know if it’s the right one, even when it comes to relationships. I think about what it would be like if I wasn’t in the relationship and what I’m missing and etc. Everyone always says, ‘If it’s the right person, then you won’t do that,’ but I can’t ever tell anymore. In short, I don’t rationalize.” — Katie T.
“I isolate myself. Partially because I simply don’t want to interact with other people, and partially because I feel as though I don’t deserve friends. I push away loved ones so I don’t end up hurting them, but I end up hurting them in the process. I don’t believe I deserve happiness and anyone who tells or tries to show me otherwise is wrong.” — Julie C.
22. Violate Boundaries
“I break boundaries and snoop to see if I can trust them. Look for anything and it’s stupid and embarrassing that I can’t stop…” — Michelle L.
“I force myself into my sister’s personal life to the point of her being so angry that it will start a fight. I need to know she still wants me in her life and doesn’t hate me. I just want to know that even if I am hard to deal with, I’m still loved.” — Erika M.
23. Get Into Relationships Too Fast
“I get into relationships before I know they’re healthy or not in order to feel as though I have a connection to a person because I typically lose those who are closest to be due do my other self-sabotaging behaviors.” — Sarah H.
“I overlook red flags, particularly in relationships. My paranoid thoughts always make me think other people are sabotaging me or my potential happiness when they point out the red flags too.” — Jess B.
24. Overthink Situations
“ I tend to over-asses a situation particularly someone’s actions and overanalyze their words until I find a reason to put distance between me and them. Be it they are either ‘using me’ or they aren’t ‘trusting enough.’” — Daniel C.
25. Reject Love From Others
“I find it hard to feel worthy or accept or accept other people’s love. When my partner hugs me or my kids hug me, a voice inside my head constantly tells me I am not worthy of their love. I either cringe or pull away. I have to force myself to hug my children and to remember to do it enough to make them feel loved. It makes me feel horrible to have to force myself to do something that should just be freely given.” — Kerri H.
26. Get Into Toxic, but Familiar Relationships
“I self-sabotage in relationships. I crave toxicity. So when I finally find myself in a healthy relationship, I make excuses to leave.” — Sarah P.
27. Self-Harm or Act on Suicidal Thoughts
“I self-harm, I attempt suicide, I overspend a lot, I binge eat. I don’t do as well as I could in school or miss opportunities, I get into painful relationships, I isolate myself.” — Thea D.
28. Assume Others Think the Worst About You
“Assuming I know exactly how someone else feels and making the worst assumption about how they feel about me in my own mind. DBT taught me to check facts and label my own emotions when it comes to conflict with loved ones.” — Christopher R.
29. Engage in Negative Self-Talk
“Negative self-talk, usually when I start something new (like a job), I’ll tell myself I’m no good at it, nobody likes me, I’ll never succeed. Generally leads to my quitting on bad terms.” — James T.