Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

Despite all of our unique differences, the majority of single people have at least one thing in common: they're looking to find a partner they’re attracted to, have a great connection with, and can be in a committed relationship with. The thing is, there is a lot we do that sabotages a new, potentially great relationship before it ever gets off the ground.

No one intentionally tries to sabotage a relationship. In fact, self-sabotaging behavior is an unconscious attempt to protect yourself. As human beings, we are wired to respond to perceived threats, whether that threat is physical or emotional. I've seen it many times in my work as a therapist, and I've been guilty of it myself.

A new relationship can feel all sorts of tricky. There are unanswered questions, the pressure of wanting to find a partner, and it’s generally a time when everything seems precarious because you don’t quite know where the relationship stands or if it’s going anywhere. This can be an anxiety-provoking time.

Depending on the quality of one’s upbringing and past relationships (family system included), many people have been programmed to go into a stress response when they fear being emotionally hurt. For many people, the fear of rejection or the fear of engulfment—an overwhelming level of attention and dependency on another person—can cause them to act out in unconscious ways. Some common unconscious beliefs that trigger the fear and resistance that lead to relationship sabotage include:

  • I’m not lovable. Nobody will love me if they see the real me.
  • I will have to give myself up to be in a relationship. I don’t want to lose my freedom.
  • I can’t handle rejection. I don’t want to get hurt.

If any of these internal narratives sound familiar, take a closer look at these five specific ways we sabotage romance before it even has a chance.

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The good news? It is possible to heal from self-sabotaging behavior. We do this by first recognizing that the common denominator in the aforementioned examples is fear. Before you get too demoralized or start blaming yourself for everything, remember what I mentioned earlier—what we bring to a relationship has a lot to do with things from our past outside our control; you are not sabotaging relationships on purpose. But, if we really want to grow, we have to be willing to dig deep. We can gain an enormous amount of insight by looking at our most engrained influences and be willing to challenge our oldest defenses.

Here are some ways to practice this:

  • Notice self-judgments. Practice being kind and compassionate toward yourself. When you can embrace your painful feelings with understanding, rather than with judgment, you will not be so afraid of being hurt.
  • Consciously see mistakes and failure as steppingstones to success, rather than as definitions of your worth. Give yourself permission to fail. Failure and mistakes show us where we need to grow, they are not indicators of your intelligence or worth.
  • Shift your own definition of your worth. Define yourself by the loving actions you take for yourself and others, rather than by the outcome of the actions.

If these practices feel too challenging to do on your own, and they likely will, consider reaching out for help. Working with a therapist or counselor can be incredibly helpful in healing past wounds that cause these unconscious behaviors to pop up in the first place.

When it comes to finding love, you don't have to be your own worst enemy. If you look yourself in the mirror and take on those defeating behaviors, your dating life will be happier, healthier, and ultimately more fulfilling.