Is Self-Sabotage a Mental Illness?

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a debilitating mental illness that affects all aspects of a person's life, including self-sabotaging behaviors. Self-sabotage can take many forms, such as sabotaging relationships, jobs, and other opportunities. It is often caused by feelings of insecurity and distrust due to a lack of stability in one's life. In this study, we explore the relationship between medical self-sabotage behaviors and BPD.

We hypothesize that medical self-sabotage behaviors are more common among psychiatric patients than primary care patients. To test this hypothesis, we conducted three studies: one with family practice outpatients, one with internal medicine outpatients, and one with hospitalized psychiatric patients. In the first study, we found that 7% of family practice outpatients reported participating in at least one medical self-sabotage behavior. In the second study, we confirmed a correlation between three specific medical self-sabotage behaviors and BPD among internal medicine outpatients.

In the third study, we explored the same three medically self-sabotaging elements among a sample of hospitalized psychiatric patients and again confirmed a relationship between increased support of medical self-sabotage behaviors and BPD symptomatology. The results of our studies suggest that medical self-sabotage behaviors may be characteristic or represent a somewhat different subgroup among those with BPD. We found that 63% of hospitalized psychiatric patients reported participating in at least one medical self-sabotage behavior, compared to 7% of primary care patients in our first study. The most common behaviors reported were “intentionally harming oneself and seeking medical treatment” (28.3%) and “not going for medical treatment despite knowing it was needed” (27.5%).

These findings suggest that medical self-sabotage may be more prevalent among psychiatric patients than primary care patients. Our research provides evidence that there may be different patterns of medical self-sabotage in different types of study populations. Further research is needed to better understand the relationship between BPD and medical self-sabotage.