3 Reasons Why You Self-Sabotage Your Own Success, Expert Says

Negative self-talk and so-called "syndrome sisters" can be holding you back in your career and life.

We’ve all been there at one point or another: You’re excited about a potential new career opportunity, but before you’re even out the door for the interview, you’ve already negatively self-sabotaged your own success and chances of getting the job.

Your inner voice can steer you astray right from the start, and experts say, you may not even be aware of its detrimental power — and how much it’s impacting your life.

Through her work with hundreds of women over the course of 20 years, business and branding coach Erika Brechtel has determined that there are three major reasons that you’re sabotaging your own career success.

“The most common blocks I have identified are so embedded in our makeup that we often do not realize we are participating in them and continuing a dangerous cycle of self-limiting patterns for ourselves and other women,” she explains.

Brechtel calls these problematic habits the “syndrome sisters.” Keep reading to learn more about them and how you can stop them from self-sabotaging your own success.

1. Imposter Syndrome

A young woman is sitting on the sofa at home with her head in her hands. The concept of health problems , headache or stress
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When people begin to feel somewhat successful, they start to feel guilty that they don’t deserve it. Actress and model Emily Ratajkowski recently recounted her experiences with this syndrome while speaking to the graduating class at Hunter College — proving even celebs succumb to this.

“This manifests in several ways. We downplay our accomplishments, we highlight our faults and insecurities, and we make it sound like anything good in our lives just happened upon us,” says Brechtel.

So why do we do this? To understand and dismantle this block, we need to go all the way back to our hunter-gatherer days, says Brechtel.

“The need we women have to remain likable and relatable stems from a deep-rooted tribal mentality that says we need to ‘stay with the pack’ and ‘not rock the boat’ for fear that we will be ousted from the tribe. If we are too individualistic or different, we are selfish. We must stay in line for the benefit of the whole,” she explains.

But, in this day and age, this mentality continues to keep us small. “It keeps us in a state of wanting to please everyone and keeps us perpetuating an ancient belief system that was designed to keep women ‘in line,'” explains Brechtel. “So instead, we play it safe. If we dare show pride in our hard work and in our uniqueness, we are showing off. Better to play it safe and not cause any waves.”

So what’s the solution to imposter syndrome?

“Let’s support each other in owning our power. Hold space for yourself and other women to show pride in our hard work and accomplishments, and call each other out when we downplay our successes in an attempt to be more likable. Once you discover your truth and live your truth, you simply do not feel like an imposter and do not need to hide behind it. Own it, and know that in doing so, you empower others to own it too,” affirms Brechtel.

2. Perfectionist Syndrome

Woman paying bills

Perfectionist Syndrome is holding onto the idea that you are not allowed to fail — at all costs.

“This is such a difficult block for women to overcome because it is so deeply ingrained in us from when we were little girls.” says Brechtel. “Many of us grew up believing we are supposed to be pretty and perfect. We were taught manners and etiquette, dissuaded from raising our voices, getting a little wild and messy, or coloring outside the lines.”

Signs of so-called perfectionist syndrome show up in things like procrastination (such as overthinking something, but never actually taking firm action) or comparing yourself to others.

How do we overcome this? “It’s all about understanding that failure—the “f” word—is not the end of the road, but a detour along the way,” says Brechtel. “As Oprah Winfrey shares, when she experiences failure in her life, she thanks it and asks, ‘What are you here to teach me?'”

Think about it: If you already knew all the answers and had total control over everything in your life, how boring would that be? “Don’t be so afraid of failure. It’s not the end of the road but an opportunity to change direction to a place that’s better aligned with where you want to go,” advises Brechtel.

Instead, ask yourself: “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” suggests Brechtel. Try to answer this without fear of how it might look, what others might think, or how it might take you off a competitive track. This can lead to a much happier and more fulfilled pursuit.

3. Martyr Syndrome

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Are you the caretaker for everyone in your life, at your own expense? If you can relate, you may have Martyr Syndrome.

“Women tend to place the burden on themselves of taking care of everyone around them. For many, this is how we feel needed and relevant,” says Brechtel. “But, let’s get real: You don’t have to do anything, you choose to do it… because you love your family, care about your team and your work, and you want everyone to succeed. You do it because – as hard as it is to admit – you believe that anything less is a reflection on you. Nonetheless, it is a choice that you’ve made.”

“Those around you might get used to you taking care of it all, never knowing that you carry resentment about it. It all becomes a vicious cycle of taking on the burden, not taking responsibility for our choices, and keeping ourselves in a constant state of victimhood,” says Brechtel.

So it’s time to stop playing the victim by understanding your behavior to take on everything is choice you’ve made and is causing resentment toward others in your life.

“It’s up to you to make yourself a priority, and it’s not up to others to make you happy,” says Brechtel. “You can release the ‘they should do this for me because I do so much for them’ mentality and switch it to ‘I choose to do this because I want to, and I do it without preexisting expectations of others.'”

How to Stop Sabotaging Your Own Success

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You can kick the above “syndrome sisters” to the curb with a few small steps. Simply recognizing them in your own life is the first step, says Brechtel.

For example, “Imposter syndrome is rooted in a fear of being excluded, so by each of us allowing the other to feel comfortable expressing our true selves, we can overcome this,” explains Brechtel.

Perfectionist syndrome is rooted in fear of loss of control, says Brechtel, so you can combat this “by being kind to ourselves and others, and by celebrating the bravery it takes to try new things with the understanding that ‘failure’ is not the end of the road, but an opportunity to change direction.”

And finally, martyr syndrome is rooted in fear of irrelevance. “Combat this one by taking accountability for our choices, letting go of the illusion of resentment toward others, and knowing that we create our reality and are responsible for our own happiness.”

Once you can release those limiting beliefs and silence that negative inner voice, you’re on your way to a happier, more successful, and fulfilling future at work and in all other areas of your life.

Jené Luciani Sena
Jené Luciani Sena is an accredited journalist and internationally-renowned bestselling author, regularly seen on national TV outlets such as Access Daily, Today and Dr Oz. Touted as one of Woman’s World Magazine’s “Ultimate Experts,” she’s a TEDTalk speaker and a busy Mom of 4. Read more
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