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Self-Sabotage, Part II: How Do I Overcome It?

By Andrew McNaughton LCSW CADC

Part One of this three-part blog on Self-Sabotage described the pattern and characteristics. In Part Two, I will present a rational approach to overcoming this tendency. Let’s go back to the first of our two scenarios.


Remember in Scenario #1, I have convinced myself to not ask a woman out on a date because I have decided the rejection would be unbearable and must not happen. When we look to dispute our irrational beliefs (DiBs, for short), we want to 1) first acknowledge the preference and discomfort or disappointment, and 2) next give ourselves grace and consideration for not getting what we want and having to endure the discomfort and/or disappointment from not having our preferences met. Finally, after these two steps, we 3) directly dispute the belief through logical and practical disputing questions that generally ask ourselves, where is the evidence my belief is true, and Where is the evidence that holding this belief gets me what I want long term? SPOILER ALERT: There is no evidence and the belief serves no practical function!

So back to Scenario #1, which looks like this (below) using the ABC’s of REBT:

  1. Activating Event: I could be rejected if I ask her out.
  2. Irrational Beliefs: I could not bear the rejection, it would be awful, and I need to not feel that discomfort the way I need oxygen. Being rejected would mean I am totally inadequate. 
  3. Consequence (Emotional): I make myself feel anxiety and shame.

Consequence (Behavioral): I choose not to ask her out because rejection would be unbearable.

For the D. DISPUTATIONS, I give myself the inference at A. that I could be rejected, and that would be unpleasant and disappointing, and surely nobody in my position would ever want to be rejected. 

SELF-CONDEMNATION: Even if I inadequately approach her and make a fool of myself, how does one failing on my part make me a complete and total failure of a human being? It doesn’t, it merely makes me a fallible human being who performed inadequately and was rejected for it. 

DEMANDING: If I give myself the hypothetical choice between oxygen and a guarantee of acceptance, and I can only pick one, which would I choose? Oxygen, naturally, because I need oxygen to live, I don’t need her approval or acceptance, even if I strongly prefer to have it. 

AWFULIZING/CATASTROPHIZING: And lastly, it certainly would be disappointing, discouraging, and unpleasant to be rejected, but is there evidence that the rejection would be truly terrible, meaning it would kill me, or life wouldn’t be worth living because I could never cope with the rejection for the rest of my life? It certainly would not be terrible, even if it is thoroughly unpleasant. I am even creative enough to identify three things that would be MORE unpleasant than being rejected that STILL would not kill me or make life not worth living. Here is where I encourage my clients to get weird and gross, but for the sake of the general audience reading this blog, I will not provide examples. 

I can then bring it all together with my E. EFFECTIVE NEW BELIEF. Next time I find myself thinking, “If I am rejected, then I am inadequate, unlovable, and a complete failure,” instead I will tell myself, “If I am rejected, perhaps I failed to adequately put my best effort forward to ask the woman out for a date, but it only proves that I am a fallible human being who failed.” Next time I find myself thinking, “I NEED to not be rejected or even put myself in a position where I could be rejected because that would be awful, terrible, and unbearable,” instead I will tell myself, “I need oxygen, I do not need to be accepted, even if I strongly prefer to not be rejected. Being rejected would be uncomfortable, unpleasant, and disappointing, but it would not be unbearable, though suffocating without oxygen certainly would be!” And if I really believe my Effective New Beliefs, or at least am open to the possibility that they are true, then I will no longer make myself feel anxiety about being rejected, but instead, I will feel cautious concern, a healthy negative emotion. 

In the next blog, I will apply the same approach to SCENARIO #2. If you have any questions or would like to know more about using REBT to overcome self-sabotage, please email me directly.

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