Mental Health Recovery and Self-Sabotage

Recovering from the diagnosis of mental illness is hard enough, but we often--conscious or not--self-sabotage our mental health recovery. This blog will attempt to explain why we may do this and, well, how we can focus on recovery without making the process any more difficult.

What is Self-Sabotage As It Applies to Mental Health Recovery?

Briefly, let's refer to the dictionary, yes the dictionary. I think it's important to have a general sense of complicated terms before we connect them to mental illness.
Would you know if you were self-sabotaging your mental health recovery? Look at 3 examples of self-sabotage in mental health recovery and 4 ways to beat it.
According to the above resource, sabotage, and more specifically self-sabotage, is connected to the following words:

  • To damage
  • To undermine
  • To derail

I am assuming you get the drift here. It's complicated, but I am going to try and simplify it because it's important. When first diagnosed with a mental illness, we often take actions that make recovery more difficult.

Three Examples Connecting Self-Sabotage to Mental Health Recovery

First, I want to point out that the above words intended to help us define self-sabotage seem a little bit negative--they are a bit negative. But we need a basis and so try to put a positive spin on them. That's my goal.

Examples of self-sabotage and mental health recovery:

Refusal to take medication. We can connect this to the word "damage." This damages our recovery. Taking medication is difficult--more so when first diagnosed--and most of us are not used to putting medications in our bodies. It feels foreign! We may refuse treatment for this reason. But most of us need to take medication in order to recover. That said, part of the process when recovering from mental illness is coming to a place of acceptance and accepting the reality that medication is important, well, that's a huge step forward!

Not Educating Ourselves on Our Illness. Let's connect this to the above word to "undermine." I have said it many times--and I don't believe it is talked about enough--we need to educate ourselves on our illness. Education is an ally we cannot afford to dismiss. To refrain from educating ourselves is, yes, undermining our recovery. It's not as complicated as it might seem: Talk to your mental health care team, ask for resources and, most importantly, ask questions! If you can educate yourself you can educate those around you.

Not Taking Self-Care Seriously. I immediately connect this to the word "derail." Taking self-care seriously is really important and, yes, ties into educating ourselves. But we need to practice self-care--not just read about it! Words are great, but are not of much use unless we put them into action.

Okay. Moving on. . .

4 Ways to Embrace Mental Health Recovery & End Self-Sabotage

I want to make this easy, well, give it my best shot. . .

  • Make a list (and be honest with yourself) of ways in which you might self-sabotage your recovery. Use this list to determine how you can stop negative behavior and the corresponding actions.
  • Stay positive. We all self-sabotage, it's part of being human and makes us real, but remember that recovering from mental illness requires us to be honest with ourselves--and our mental health team--in order to recover. Admittedly, it's hard to stay positive, but just try. Sometimes, that's all we can do.
  • Try to remember that the more positive actions you can take (self-care for example), the quicker your mental health recovery process will be.
  • Work on accepting mental illness. This is, I believe, the hardest part of being diagnosed with a mental illness. But once we can work toward acceptance, self-sabotage will lessen.

Hopefully, this was not exceedingly boring as that was certainly not my intent. It's a messy topic---but learning to recognize it and work to push it out of our lives--makes us stronger.

Now, I'm throwing the question out to you: Do you believe you self-sabotage? Provide some examples and, if you like, ways in which you were able to change the behavior and actions associated with it.

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2013, May 23). Mental Health Recovery and Self-Sabotage, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

July, 10 2017 at 11:24 am

One of the biggest problems for me is that when I'm at my most vulnerable, I'm much more susceptible to other people's ignorance and as I don't feel able to trust my own mind anymore, I invalidate my constant experiences of mental illness and believe that there is nothing to recover from, even when I'm obviously debilitated. Ignorance is so common, even amongst people who are very open-minded and decent in other ways, so it's so confusing to constantly have your own truth questioned, discarded or ignored. And depression and (in my experience) dissociation disorders affect your cognitive abilities so much, which obviously just makes it even more confusing.

March, 11 2016 at 9:41 am

I have realized that I self-sabotage a lot. I don't believe I am worth having a better life. I only know life as a depressed person or a person without a true identity only doing things to please others (when I was a child). That is so scary to me. So, yeah, I want the pain to end (both psychical and mental), but there are things I do and don't realize until later, that get in the way of my recovery. So, two things for me, 1). Feeling I don't deserve to be healthy; and 2) Scared of the unknown...what it would be like not to be depressed.

January, 30 2016 at 1:21 pm

I have dealt with Major Depression as well as other mental health disorders all my life. Self-sabotage has been as still is my biggest issue. I try to find at least one thing to be grateful for everyday, I work with meditation as much as possible, try to be positive as much as possible. Still there are days it does not work. I quit taking the anti-depression meds years ago because they cycled my depression and made it worse. Proper diet and exercise has helped the most but has been unable to maintain as other health issues have come up. I know very well the things I need to do to off-set an episode. When you are in the throws of Major depression all logic and being able to implement the things you know you need to do, go right out the window and survival becomes the most important issue. Sometimes the pain becomes too much and I slip and fall but I get back up and fight on; daily. I have found that forgiving yourself for feeling weak and slipping into acts of self-sabotage is more important than staying positive. Sometimes you just have to own your illness and ride the wave till you can drag yourself back up-right again. Forgiveness, self-acceptance trying to stay positive and grateful must be integrated into daily life for survival and healing. One alone does help but all must work together to heal. Healing takes time. Learning to re-program your thought patterns takes time. Un-learning something takes time. The healing process is painful at times. Never give up and always get back up, never be ashamed of your feelings no matter how intense, unwanted or ill timed. Learn to laugh at yourself and keep on moving forward. Every little bit helps. Blessings to all who suffer in silence. We are warriors, we are survivors and we are not alone nor forsaken. We are the phoenixes of the human race. We will rise again. Each time getting stronger and wiser. We will endure. Blessed be.

June, 28 2015 at 7:43 pm

Good post. Encouraging comment Natalie only "positivity" can help to overcome..

November, 14 2014 at 1:49 pm

Hi there, I do this in times of stress to get away from the problem cause I was never taught any problem solving skills.I'm clinically depressed as well and I didn't really connect the two as having any relation to the other.I struggle with this one alot.

Maggie Read
October, 5 2014 at 6:59 pm

I have add-inattentive and depression -at times. I quit taking anti-D because I did not want them to kill my libido. I am gogin to try to do other things besides take drugs.

June, 14 2014 at 9:25 am

I know for myself that it has been almost 10 years since I've been on my medication or been to counseling. I was positive about doing everything i could to live a normal life. After several abusive relationships and failed friendships. After going through a nasty divorce and custody battle that ended with my ex going on the run with my daughter and beating her to the point of almost ending her life and now having to fight another state to get her back home. I now have a very positive friendship that has opened my eyes of realizing i do need the counseling and medicine because my body just doesn't function right with all that's going on because of my mental illnesses.

Addiction Help
May, 26 2013 at 8:19 pm

Staying positive should always be the top priority and persevere your way up to beat self-sabotage! It may not be effective at first, but keeping track with the things you've done in the past could actually do wonders.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
May, 27 2013 at 6:25 am

Hi, Addiction Help:
You are correct--positivity should be a top priority!
Thanks for the comment and for reading,

Steven Darbyshire
May, 24 2013 at 2:20 pm

Interesting article - and a question that should be discussed.
IMHO: Self-sabotage is often a reality when recovery is a poorly defined, imposed or emerges as an absolute 'threat' to a person given the social, economic and personal relationship world in which they live, survive or depend. Self-sabbotage can therefore (under certain circumstances) be called self-preservation (especially when the body is under chemical assault)...or even perhaps a vital part of personal 'recovery'.

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