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Self Sabotage And The Subconscious Mind

When it comes to improving your life for the better, understanding your subconscious mind is one of the most important things you can do because it holds many of the beliefs which influence your behavior on a day-to-day basis.

Some of these beliefs are positive and will help you to achieve the things you want out of life. Other beliefs, however, are negative and will make it harder for you to achieve the things you want.

See Also: The Importance Of Examining Beliefs (opens in new tab)

But once you learn how the subconscious works, you can then take action to reprogram your mind so that you can limit or overcome the effects of your negative beliefs and create new positive empowering beliefs to replace them.


The human brain…as mysterious as it is wonderful.

In this article, we are going to take an introductory look at the subconscious mind, and then, most importantly, how negative beliefs can actually cause you to sabotage your chances of achieving success and happiness. So to begin with, lets first look at what the subconscious actually is.


Just had an insight and thought I would add it to this article.

To make the subconscious work for you, you need to first spend some time to program it (i.e., tell it what to do). This can be done by talking to the subconscious, literally saying “subconscious, I need to know…” or “subconscious, I want you to…” and emphasizing that what you are saying is important.

Once this is done, you have to let go and not think about what you have just programmed your subconscious to do. If you obsess about something, you use your conscious mind and will probably experience some degree of anxiety, worry, uncertainty and fear as a result of wondering whether you will do, have or achieve something.

The subconscious is an automatic machine. One that responds to programs that have been entered into it. So if you obsess, and can’t let go, the subconscious won’t be able to function properly to execute your command. The conscious mind will interfere with the subconscious.

By this logic, thinking about what you want all the time will probably make it harder for you to get it, as your conscious mind will essentially be shutting down the power of your subconscious mind by preventing it from running your command automatically.

A quick example to demonstrate this is the “tip of the tongue” phenomenon. You know the word, but the harder you try to remember it the more difficult it becomes to remember and the more frustrated you become as a result.

But once you let go, and accept that eventually it will come to you, it almost always comes at a point when you were least expecting it (i.e., when you were not consciously thinking about it). This is the subconscious kicking into action by processing your command and then then giving you the answer in an automatic fashion.

Usually, however, if you let the subconscious do its job it will communicate a message to you via an intuitive feeling or a dream. The best time to program the subconscious is at night before you fall asleep, although programming can be performed at any time of the day.

What is the Subconscious Mind?

If you’re unfamiliar with the subconscious mind, think of it as a video recorder that has recorded everything you have ever done or experienced.

Your subconscious mind then plays back programs to you in the form of beliefs and behaviors from the information that has been frequently entered into it, especially, information that was entered during your first six years of life.

Woman holding camcorder.

Your subconscious is constantly recording everything you do, see and hear.

So basically, your subconscious mind is like a storage dump of all the things that you have been exposed to throughout your life.

Depending on how this stored information is graded (i.e., how important something is considered to be), will then determine whether it has a positive or negative influence on your life.

Influence of Early Childhood

Your first six years of life are extremely important in shaping your subconscious mind.

This is because, as children, we are genetically programmed to model (copy) those around us and so we rapidly acquire/absorb new information during this phase of our life.

This information first comes from your parents, and from them, you learn what you can or can’t do and what is good or bad.

mother holding baby

We are genetically programmed to learn from our parents.

What is vital to understand here, is that because at this young stage of life we have no frame of reference with which to compare the information that we receive from our parents, the subconscious mind automatically accepts what your parents say, or how they behave, as being true or correct. In other words, you internalize your parents beliefs as your own.

Essentially, this means that when you are born your mind is not really your own. Rather, it’s a hybrid copy of your parent’s minds, a mind comprised of their beliefs and their perceptions of the world.

As this is the first information that you receive as a child, your parent’s beliefs and perceptions are then used by the subconscious to compare all future incoming information against.

mother holding child close to head

As we grow older we slowly absorb our parent’s beliefs and those beliefs then become our own.

The trouble with this, is that the beliefs you acquire as a child tend to be graded as important information by the subconscious. So unless those beliefs are overridden, they will stay with you for the rest of your life and continue to influence the type of life that you live.

If your parents gave you good beliefs that empowered you, then those subconscious beliefs are likely to help you throughout your life. As a result, the chances of you being a successful, happy and confident person will be high.

If however, your parents gave you bad beliefs, then those beliefs are likely to cause you to live a self-destructive life that makes being a happy, successful and confident person that much more difficult.

The Effect of Beliefs

Let’s have a look at an example to demonstrate how beliefs can be incorporated into the subconscious mind.

Jimmy was always told as a child ‘you can’t do that, stop it!’, whilst his brother, Bobby, was told ‘come on Bobby, you can do it!’.

Later in life, Jimmy never believed very strongly in himself and always doubted his ability to accomplish a task. Bobby on the other hand, was extremely confident and always believed that he could achieve anything he wanted.

two boys standing next to each other

Jimmy (left) was never encouraged as a child and developed limiting beliefs. Bobby (right) received lots of encouragement and developed positive empowering beliefs.

This is a very simplistic example with only one external influence, but it does demonstrate how beliefs can be passed from parent to child and therefore why we tend to share similar beliefs and characteristics with them.

Put in simple terms, the more times that you are exposed to a certain piece of information, especially if that information is coming from a person of perceived authority, the more likely it is that the subconscious will use that information, as opposed to less commonly encountered information, to form the beliefs that will govern your life.

In other words, the more good experiences you have, the more good/beneficial beliefs you will create. The more bad experiences you have, the more bad/limiting beliefs you will create or reinforce.

This is the very basis of how the subconscious works, and how the beliefs which you have in your mind are formed. If you can understand this principle, you will be well on your way to making a positive and meaningful change to your life.

External Influences & the Subconscious

As your subconscious mind is first shaped by your parents, you are likely to develop similar beliefs and attitudes as they have. In addition to this, you will also tend to behave as they do.

mother sitting in field with child

Because we spend so much time with our parents as young children we become very much like them.

The downside to this, is that whilst acquiring your parent’s beliefs allows you to survive as a baby, and then as a child, by giving you skills to deal with the world in which you live, if you had bad parents, then you could form beliefs that end up working against you rather than for you.

However, it’s important to remember that whilst our parents do play a big role in shaping our subconscious mind, and therefore shaping the type of person that we become, there are other things which will continue to modify your subconscious mind as you grow older.

This is why grown up children often retain some resemblance to their parents, but at the same time, are very different and unique individuals.

mother with child walking

Even though we may be similar to our parents as children, they are not the only ones who influence the type of person we become.

How different you become from your parents is really dependant on the external differences that your subconscious mind is exposed to, in addition to your current state of life satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

The main way in which this occurs is through the life experiences that you have. If your life experiences are radically different to those of your parents for example, then you are likely to be more different to them compared to someone who has had similar life experiences to their parents.

The Effect of Cultural Influences

A good example of how the subconscious mind can remain relatively constant from generation to generation, can be found with African children who live in an isolated tribe.

These children tend to have extremely similar beliefs and characteristics to their parents. This occurs because the life they live, and the things they experience, are very similar to what their parents did when they were younger.

One of the main reasons why this occurs is because in such cultures tradition is a very important way of life. As a result, beliefs tend to be passed down from generation to generation relatively unchanged.

African tribesman lip ornament

A tradition is a set of beliefs regarding acceptable forms of behavior in one’s culture.

Of course, because no two lives are ever completely the same, there will be some degree of difference throughout generations which means that no two people will be exactly alike.

They will however, be very similar, and so they are likely to think the same way, feel the same way and act the same way. All because of the beliefs they have programmed in their subconscious mind.

African tribe members

Members of an African tribe share similar beliefs and values as a result of the traditions and lifestyle they follow.

If you compare African tribe children to westernized children where tradition is less valued, and where there is greater exposure to a variety of external influences such as TV and music culture, you will find that children in the west are far less likely to share the same beliefs as their parents once they reach their teenage years.

group of punks

Exposure to popular culture introduces you to new beliefs and ideas. This can then affect how you choose to express yourself.

But with that said, the very core beliefs that a person holds true about themselves are likely to be the same as their parents, because as was mentioned earlier, those beliefs are very often the first beliefs that the subconscious formed, and therefore, are what the subconscious uses to compare other information against.

Information that agrees with your core beliefs will be accepted into the subconscious, because it is consistent with the information that is already stored. Information that is different from your core beliefs however, is likely to be rejected because it goes against what you subconsciously hold to be true.

In some cases, this rejection may come in the form of self sabotage, and this is another key area to understand when it comes to reprogramming your mind.

What is Self Sabotage?

Self sabotage is a term used to describe the things that people either do or say which ruins the success or happiness that they are experiencing. This occurs when the success or happiness is above the level at which the subconscious believes it is worthy of.

man with hands on surface of water

With self sabotage you will only touch the surface of what you’re truly capable of.

In other words, if you become more successful than your subconscious believes you should be, then your subconscious will bring you back down to the level that it believes you should be at. This subconscious sabotage can affect current success/happiness, or possible future success/happiness.

Generally speaking, there are two main ways in which self sabotage can manifest itself.

1) Reaching a plateau in life

A very common sign of self sabotage occurs when you appear to reach a plateau in life, whereby you achieve some level of success/happiness but can never seem to get any more than what you have.

Even though you try your hardest to climb up the ladder, no matter what you do, you always seem to remain where you are.

2) Not being able to hold on to success or happiness

The second way that self sabotage can manifest itself, is by achieving a high level of success/happiness and then suddenly losing it within a short period of time. A good example of this can be found with many lottery winners.

Luke Pittard

This man, Luke Pittard, won $1.9 million but spent it all in under two years. With no money left, he got himself a job at McDonald’s. Self sabotage?

Despite winning millions, a large percentage of people who win the lottery lose all their money within a few years. They then find themselves right back where they started before they won the jackpot.

The “Subconscious” Mind

An important point to remember about self sabotage, is that it’s not something which is done consciously, but rather, subconsciously from the subconscious mind.

This means that even though you may consciously want to achieve success and happiness, subconsciously, you don’t feel worthy and deserving of it due to the limiting negative beliefs you have.

As a result, these beliefs can prevent you from achieving more than your beliefs think you are worth, stop you achieving anything at all, or even destroy something once you have achieved it.

Your subconscious beliefs are therefore acting like a “success thermostat” because they are constantly regulating what you achieve, and by doing so, making sure that you always have what your beliefs tell you that you are worthy of.

success failure dial

The beliefs in your subconscious can bring you closer towards success or closer towards failure.

The most common areas of your life that subconscious beliefs regulate, and therefore, the most common areas that people tend to self sabotage, are; relationships, money, health and career success.

Let’s now have a look at an example to see how this might occur in real life.

Mary’s Self sabotage of Her Relationship

As a child, Mary was always told by her parents that, compared to her sister, she was not good-looking and would be lucky if she ever found a man later in life. When Mary grew up and went to school, she was never very popular and attracted little male attention.

When Mary left school and started working however, she blossomed into a fine attractive young woman. Her luscious blonde hair and voluptuous figure made her very popular with her male colleagues. As a result of this attention, Mary had many offers from men and soon started dating.

But Mary had one major problem. All her relationships started out wonderful, but within a few months, things would start to turn bad and soon the relationship ended. No matter what Mary did, she could never seem to hold on to a long-term relationship. So, what happened?

sad woman face

Mary’s subconscious beliefs caused her to sabotage romantic relationships by being demanding and argumentative.

Mary’s childhood and school years continually reinforced the belief that she was undesirable to men and not attractive enough to be with them. These beliefs were accepted by Mary’s subconscious mind, and when she finally started dating, her subconscious beliefs caused her to sabotage any relationship that she was in.

Mary’s beliefs told her that she was not good enough to be in the relationship, and so caused her to sabotage it by being over controlling, demanding, obsessive, possessive and negative. In the end, Mary always got out of a relationship what she subconsciously believed she deserved.

What we learn from Mary’s story is that unless you identify the beliefs you have about yourself, you will never know which beliefs are causing you to sabotage your life. And so no matter what else you do, your life will always remain at more or less the same level.

Causes of Self Sabotage

Causes of Self Sabotage

As you saw in the previous example, Mary’s self sabotage originated from a belief that she acquired during her childhood and which was subsequently reinforced during her school years. This left her with a subconscious belief that she was unattractive, undesirable and unworthy of male attention.

Listed below are the most common causes of self sabotage:

1) Childhood & Adolescence Beliefs

parents with baby

The majority of your current beliefs were formed during your childhood and teenage years.

Childhood beliefs are formed by the people you meet and the experiences you have with them. Typically, these beliefs are created by your parents. These beliefs may then be reinforced during your school years or replaced with different beliefs.

The mind is very impressionable during childhood, so the majority of your beliefs will be formed during this period of your life.

2) Associating Failure With Pleasure

two women hugging

Sometimes it can feel good to fail.

If throughout your life you have learned to associate failure with pleasure, then you may subconsciously want to fail in life because of some perceived pleasure which you get from that failure.

For example, if as a child you received lots of love and attention after you had failed at something, then this may have created a connection between failure and pleasure in your subconscious.

Another way that failure may become linked to pleasure, could involve receiving a reward after experiencing some kind of failure. For example, after a relationship ends you go on a holiday to take your mind off the pain.

3) Associating Life Changes With Pain

man face eyes closed

When life changes sometimes your subconscious doesn’t want to change.

This type of self sabotage comes from associating changes in your life with pain. As a result, it can cause you to sabotage things that could take your life in a new direction, such as a new job or a marriage.

Things which may cause a person to associate change with pain can involve frequently changing location as a child, such as by moving house or moving school, or alternatively, change brought on by the death of a close family member or pet.

4) Low Self Worth

girl with hands covering face

Low self-worth can make you blind to many opportunities.

Low self-esteem is a major cause of self sabotage, and is most commonly formed during your childhood along with your core beliefs.

When you have low self-esteem, you become very clear as to what you can or can’t achieve. Consequently, anything above a certain level is disregarded without further thought because you think that there is “no way” that you could get it.

The most visible manifestation of low self-worth is seen in romantic relationships, where a person does not believe that they can attract a person who is much more attractive than they are.

Identifying & Stopping Self Sabotage

As stated earlier, the most common areas of life affected by self sabotage are; relationships, health, money and career success. You will know that you are sabotaging your life when:

  • No matter how hard you try you can never seem to achieve more.
  • You are close to achieving something, then it suddenly slips away.
  • You experience some degree of good fortune, only to lose it shortly afterwards.

However, whilst these signs may be useful in helping you to identify when self sabotage has occurred, the problem is that they do little to help you stop self sabotage from happening because they only tell you that it has occurred, and not that it is going to occur.

So listed below you will find some other ways of identifying potential self sabotage in your life. These signs can warn you if you are at risk of sabotaging yourself, which will then help you to take specific action to prevent that sabotage from occurring.

1) Question Your Current Beliefs

People walking down sidewalk

Many of the things that we believe about ourselves are not true.

As your belief systems will largely determine the extent of your self sabotage, it is very important that you examine them in detail.

To do this, think about an area of your life that you want to improve. For example, you may want to improve your ability to form relationships with other people or you may want to earn more money. For each key area in your life, write down any related beliefs that you have about it.

Are these beliefs realistic or unrealistic? Do you have high expectations or low expectations?

Beliefs that are unrealistic with overly high expectations are likely to be rejected by the subconscious, because such beliefs are too far out for the subconscious to accept as a real possibility.

Beliefs that are realistic with very low expectations are likely to be accepted by the subconscious, because those beliefs signal what the subconscious already holds to be true or possible. As a result, these are the things that you are most likely to achieve, have or do in your life.

What you should really be looking to develop are beliefs that are realistic with high expectations, expectations that seem possible but which you know will also require a lot of hard work and dedicated effort over time to achieve.

These beliefs, if achieved, will be the most effective in terms of adjusting your success thermostat towards a higher level of success and away from a lower level of failure.

To do this exercise effectively, you should write down your beliefs on paper. Doing so will allow you to easily see which areas of your life are most likely to be affected, or are already being affected, by your beliefs.

2) Monitor Your Self Talk

woman in front of mirror

The way you talk to yourself is often a reflection of the beliefs inside your subconscious mind.

Things that make you happy, or present you with an opportunity to be happy, are a good way to discover how highly you value yourself. This is because in people with low self-esteem, happiness and success often act as a trigger that activates an internal limiting dialogue. Something which is also known as negative self talk.

Negative self talk occurs as phrases such as “I don’t deserve this“, “it will never last“, “don’t worry about me” or anything else that puts you down or minimizes your importance.

If you use negative self talk when success or happiness presents itself this may therefore indicate limiting beliefs which you have acquired, and so is also a good sign that you will probably sabotage happiness or success when it appears.

The good news is that once you are aware of negative self talk, you can then actively monitor your thoughts and change or replace the phrases that you use to something much more positive and empowering.

Eventually, your negative self talk will be replaced entirely, and you will have created new belief systems that finally allow you to achieve your maximum potential in life.

3) Avoid Bad Influences

grandma with cigarette in mouth next to baby holding lighter

Stay away from negative influences as they will only bring you down to their level.

The people who you associate with on a daily basis all have their own ideas about what is possible and what is not possible. Many of these beliefs will influence your own attitudes and behaviors.

For this reason, it’s important to pay close attention to who you allow yourself to spend the majority of your time with, and this includes both the people who you see in real life and the people who you see on TV.

If you regularly associate with people who have predominantly limiting beliefs, then you may be at risk of self sabotaging yourself when you reach a level of achievement above those beliefs.

This is because, as we discussed earlier, the subconscious mind tends to accept things as true when it encounters something frequently and when it is a belief held by someone who we respect.

The best way to reverse such negative influences, is to not associate with people who hold beliefs that are detrimental to what you want or hope to achieve in your life.

Instead, replace these negative influences with positive influences by filling your mind with information that will help you to achieve your hopes and dreams rather than acting as a hinderance towards them.

4) Examine Your Handwriting

Another way to determine if you are at risk self sabotaging is to look at your handwriting. To do this, simply write the letter “y”.

If your last stroke heads up to the baseline and then turns away (as shown in picture), you may have a subconscious fear of success and so could be likely to self sabotage yourself in the future.

fear of success y handwriting

Below are some other examples of handwriting and how they relate to different personality traits.

low self esteem handwriting

self consciousness handwriting

self conscious handwriting

y handwriting analysis

secretive handwriting

high self esteem handwriting

emotionally responsive handwriting

concentration handwriting

aggressive handwriting

To find out more information on how your handwriting can affect different areas of your life, you may want to read books on handwriting analysis by Bart Baggett who discusses this subject in detail.

Reviewed – 29th March 2016

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