One of the most common trends seen in counselling is the highly capable client who reports a sudden loss in motivation close to achieving a goal in their life. This change in behaviour is often surprising and extremely frustrating to the person seeking help. Often, they may not even know why they feel unmotivated or unable to concentrate. People around them might event feel disappointed in the sudden loss of motivation.

What may be happening is not that a highly capable person suddenly became irresponsible or lazy, but that emotional conflict is hindering them from facing their end goal. Those who shine the brightest are often the ones who have found their calling after overcoming significant life hurdles. Achievement and success can feel foreign or even like they are playing the role of someone else. This kind of crisis of identity can inadvertently lead to self-sabotaging behaviour that baffles the client and everyone around them.

Some reasons individuals may self-sabotage their potential to reach their goals:

  1. Fear of failure: It may sound strange, but this kind of behaviour is a symptom of distorted thinking in which one decides to ‘beat it to the punch’ (failure that is).
  2. Fear of the future: For some individuals, achievement does not feel like the end but the beginning of a long road ahead. It may feel like there is nothing to strive for after a goal has been accomplished.
  3. Fear of success: For the individual who has struggled most of their life until they found their calling success can be a strange feeling. Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where a person feels unable to internalize their accomplishments because they feel like a ‘fake’. Therefore, failure feels more in line with their self-esteem and self-worth.
  4. Cycle of guilt: The self-defeating individual may find him or herself in a cycle of guilt starting with one event in which they feel let down or let someone important down. This one event then cycles into the next and then the next until they are too far behind to catch up! They’re trapped in a mindset of self-loathing.


Self-Defeating-Behavior - Artwork by Seonna Hong:
Artwork by Seonna Hong

The Good News

The good news is that therapy and counselling is often a wonderful way to get back on track! These individuals have enough insight to see their behaviour happening in real time but don’t have the tools to change it. Counselling can bring awareness as well as provide skills for getting to the end goal!


Talia Singer, PhD RN RP is a mental health nurse, art therapist and registered psychotherapist working at Acutoronto Wellness Clinic. She is an approved Blue Cross mental health care provider. Contact Acutoronto to book an appointment today at (416) 486-5222.