self-de·​feat·​ing ˌself-di-ˈfē-tiŋ How to pronounce self-defeating (audio)
: serving or tending to defeat oneself or itself : counterproductive: such as
: acting to defeat its own purpose
a self-defeating argument
You kind of realize that violence can be a self-defeating strategy, because it just gives the other guy an incentive to attack you back in revenge.Stephen Pinker
: being or involving an attitude of defeatism
Procrastinators tend to be more stressed than other people—even before they start procrastinating. According to a recent study, that's possibly because they have self-defeating thoughts like, "I'm simply too stupid to benefit from more studying, so I'll just hang out on Facebook."Shana Lebowitz

Examples of self-defeating in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Many adults, Gaines believes, are plagued by their self-defeating thoughts. Anna Halkidis, Parents, 8 June 2024 The constant bickering, the infighting, the votes against moving legislation to the next level of the legislative process are self-defeating exercises that a huge majority of real Americans do not understand and care about even less. Kevin Igoe, Baltimore Sun, 1 May 2024 His own actions, his own writing, provide enough evidence of just how self-defeating and self-immolating violence can be. Gal Beckerman, The Atlantic, 28 Mar. 2024 Lowe can senses when the film might grow tiresome when Agnes is stuck in a self-defeating cycle, apt to throw in a particularly sadistic flourish into the mix any time a feeling of redundancy could set in. Stephen Saito, Variety, 16 Mar. 2024 Allies, too, might respond to a U.S. abandonment of the region in dangerous and self-defeating ways. Daniel Byman, Foreign Affairs, 12 Mar. 2024 Within it, Strong created an icon of his own with his portrayal of the damaged and tragically self-defeating eldest son, Kendall Roy. David Marchese Photograph By Mamadi Doumbouya, New York Times, 8 Mar. 2024 Making body adjustments—pulling your shoulders back, standing or sitting up straight, walking in a more expansive way—can pull you out of self-doubt, disappointment or dread and any other self-defeating emotion. Bryan Robinson, Forbes, 11 Feb. 2024 You are stuck in a self-defeating cycle that isn’t going to change. Jeanne Phillips, The Mercury News, 7 Feb. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'self-defeating.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1812, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of self-defeating was in 1812

Dictionary Entries Near self-defeating

Cite this Entry

“Self-defeating.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


: acting to defeat its own purpose
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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