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Self-Sabotage, Part III: How Do I Deal With Uncertainty?

By Andrew McNaughton LCSW CADC

Part One of this three-part blog on Self-Sabotage described the pattern and characteristics. In Part Two, we took a close look at using the ABCs of REBT to catch and dispute our irrational beliefs with which we cause ourselves anxiety. In Part Three, we will apply this to our second of the two scenarios described in Part One. 


I asked her out, she said yes, we went out on a first date, and it went well enough that we agreed to go out a second time. Suddenly, I am making myself anxious again about the outcome of the date. This is how this could play out:

  1. Activating Event: The second date could go well, possibly leading to a third date or even a relationship. 
  2. Irrational Beliefs: If I am accepted, the future is unknown, and I cannot bear the discomfort of not knowing how it will turn out. I must have the assurance of outcome!
  3. Consequence (Emotional): I make myself feel anxious again. 

Consequence (Behavioral): I cancel, I stand her up, I show up late, or act disinterested or otherwise tank the second date in order to guarantee there will not be a third one. 


For the D. DISPUTATIONS, I give myself the inference at A. that the date could go well, possibly leading to a third date or a relationship. Then I address first:

DEMANDING: I certainly would like to have a guarantee of outcome, know how things will turn out, see into the future, but is there any evidence that I could ever have any of this? Only if I sabotage it myself, but do I need to know the way I need to breathe oxygen? Of course, I don’t! Why? Because I need oxygen, I don’t need the guarantee of acceptance, even if I really want it.

AWFULIZING/CATASTROPHIZING:  And wouldn’t it be awful to not get what I want? It would certainly be disappointing, unpleasant, and even inconvenient, but no, it would not be awful to the extent that I would never be able to cope or enjoy anything ever again. Again, I can use my sick imagination to identify two or three things that would be worse than the discomfort of uncertainty that still would not be permanent or fatal.

Now, again, we go to E. EFFECTIVE NEW BELIEF. Next time I find myself thinking, “If I don’t have a guarantee of success, acceptance, or of an outcome, I cannot bear it because I NEED this,” instead I will tell myself, “I would certainly prefer to know the outcome, to know that I will be accepted and perform well, but I don’t need this the way I need oxygen, and uncertainty is uncomfortable for sure, but never unbearable since it is temporary!” And if I truly believe this, or am even open to the possibility that it is true, I pivot away from unhealthy anxiety and towards healthy and cautious concern about how the date will go. 

With these two examples, hopefully, it is evident that REBT is useful for overcoming self-sabotage. A common response to this is often, “that’s easier said than done,” and certainly this concept is simple to understand but difficult to practice with precision consistently, but with these tools, we can use them as long as it takes to develop new neural pathways to change our own thinking and make ourselves feel and behave in a rational and healthy manner that puts us in the best position to be successful and avoid the temptation to self-sabotage. 

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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