Why Some Accountability Groups Fuel Self-Sabotage

Kelly Coffey

Accountability groups – online and IRL 1 – are supposed to help us make positive change. Here’s why so many end up fueling our self-sabotage, and doing us more harm than good.

Do you belong to any accountability-type groups or online ‘wellness’ communities? Lots of us join Facebook groups and other kinds of communities because we want support around developing healthier habits. Unfortunately, that’s not usually what we get. More often, these groups and the people in them fuel our self-sabotage, especially if the group is free and open to anyone who feels like joining.

Who’s Wrecking Accountability Groups?

1. Bitchers

These folks are known for complaining that they can’t “do it” or they don’t “get it,” sometimes a lot, and so we get irritated. Eventually, we stop checking in because we just don’t want to read their crap.

2. Golden Effing Unicorns

These folks present as though they’re doing it absolutely perfectly, absolutely all the time, with no effort 2 and so we resent them. 3 Without support or guidance from an understanding, active moderator, we get trapped in comparalysis, and decide we can’t ever do it that well, “So what’s the point?,” and so we stop checking in.


3. Evader / Manipulators

These are the folks who seem hell-bent on not doing the work (what the hell are they doing in an accountability group?!), or on gaming the system, and that nurtures the part of us that doesn’t feel like doing the work, either. Eventually, reading something they post “reminds” us that we don’t actually care about developing the new habit, 4 and so we quit.

4. Trolls

And, if the group is large and free-to-join, odds are some angry 15-45 year-old guy is lurking in there, 5 reading everything we post, gathering information, and waiting for an opportunity to say something awful and offensive, and to keep saying it until the moderator (if there even is one, and there often isn’t) kicks them out. Not only does this guy ruin the group, he also has the potential to make us think we’ve been “shown” how dumb we were for even trying to change.

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What Kinds of Groups Should I Be Wary Of?

1. Free-for-alls

Use caution in free-to-anyone-just-click-to-join! “accountability” groups – unless it’s the exception to the rule,  groups like this are likely to attract resolution-makers, fly-by-nighters, and folks who aren’t taking the effort as seriously as you are, or would be more likely to be if you were surrounded by folks who were committed.

2. Spreadsheets

Consider what motivates you, and what stops you dead in your tracks, before joining a “post how many miles you ran today!”-type group. Unless you’re consistently inspired by watching other people claim to be doing “better” than you, seeing other people’s progress every day may make you feel like a failure and a fraud, and may make you want to hang up the running shoes before they’ve even hit the pavement.

3. ANYTHING Diet-focused

Think twice before signing on to a weight-loss-focused, “how many calories / how much food can I eat and still lose 20-lbs by summer!?”-type group, because these tend to miss the point entirely. Unless you’re a blessed eater, someone who loses excess fat – and keeps it off – the moment they’re given a portion-controlled meal plan, groups like this will likely only distract you from addressing what’s actually stopping you from making lasting change.

Not sure what’s keeping you from making lasting change? You’re in the right place. Get comfy and have a look around.


And the instinct to get support while we make those changes is a strong one: we develop habits more quickly in a community.  Just like our unhealthy habits didn’t develop in a vacuum, neither will the healthier habits we’re trying to adopt. It makes sense for us to get support and be in community with like-minded people – but not every group is gonna get us that.

It’s up to us to find and give ourselves permission to use tools that ACTUALLY work 6 – whether we’re trying to fix a car, build a house, maintain a relationship, or develop a consistent exercise routine. It’s up to us to make stronger choices around where we get our information, 7 and around what groups we join.

So What Does a Strong Group Look Like?

1. It’s Exclusive

Exclusive groups are often safer, usually smaller, and tend to attract more folks who’re committed to doing the work. It’s hard to be a tool when everyone knows your name, and almost no one pays actual money to attack people anonymously.

2. It’s Actively Moderated By Someone Who’s Committed to the Mission

When an owner or moderator is deeply invested in a group’s mission, the group gets cared for, and its members are supported. Self-sabotage, unproductive navel-gazing, and self-harming justification is kept to a minimum so that the group can remain an effective tool. Caring, thoughtful, and personally-invested owner/moderators keep shame-based quicksand out of the group conversation, or they use the rare thread of it as an opportunity to shed light on the mental gymnastics that keep us from making change.

3. It’s ALIVE

For an online group to feel like a community, people need to be using it. If we’re committed to making a hankering a habit, whether it’s around business or nutrition, we get there faster if we work on, or at least think about, our commitment every day.

Every day I moderate a super-exclusive group for folks who’ve taken my course. I began the group because, in my own experience, most online communities de-volve pretty quickly into uninspired gripe-fests, where people spend more time talking about why they aren’t making more progress than they do talking on about the pleasure they get from whatever progress they have made. 8 These gals aren’t subscribing to an “accountability” group – they’re members of a tribe with a mission – a mission to get happily grounded in healthier habits. What specific habits? That’s unique to each member, because each member is unique, 9 but the tools we – the folks in my groups, and in other strong groups – use to get there are universal: they’re the tools that dismantle self-sabotage, and use the same raw materials to build caring defaults.


Have You Found, or Started, a Strong Group?

Are you already part of an online community that’s exclusive, moderated, and effective? 10 If you are, please reach out and tell me about it. I’m in the process of curating a list of such online communities, so I can provide an easy-to-access resource list for my group. Thanks in advance for reaching out!


  1. IRL stands for In Real Life. I hate not knowing what an acronym means. It brings up all kinds of feelings like when I was a kid and everyone seemed to know what was going on and I didn’t. I hate that.
  2. This is very rarely the case, but that’s how they present.
  3. And, truth be told, even if someone is only occasionally positive, if we’re trapped in self-criticism, or have already decided we’ll fail, we can easily still brand them a Pollyanna.
  4. Depending on the group, a habit that’ll spell more health, more happiness, more peace, more success, more connection, better quilt-making, better spud-shooting – PICK A THING.
  5. Sometimes disguised as a woman, sometimes not.
  6. Not just the ones being sold by the hottest chick, or the loudest, chipperest dude.
  7. You’re on the trail of some pretty solid information right now, so good on you.
  8. And that, friends, is the kind of positive reinforcement we need to develop in order to develop new and improved habits. And if the term ‘positive reinforcement’ makes you itch a little, we have that in common.
  9. And any online group or app whose goals is to get every single member doing the exact same freaking thing the exact same freaking way because it’s the “right” way to do it is worth less than the paper it’s printed on….or something…
  10. Whether or not it’s a paid group is irrelevant if the group is made up of dedicated people being supported by equally dedicated, passionate person.
Showing 4 comments
  • ksol

    You know, what I have found harder than all of your examples are the well-meaning folks who have bought into an idea of body image, diet and exercise that I find unhealthy. It’s not the trolls or bitchers or evaders, it’s the whole atmosphere. When someone is talking about being sooooo hungry but they’re determined to stay within their calorie limit, I want to tell them to eat something and quit worrying about it. When they’re worried about missing a workout because they don’t feel well, I just want to tell them to rest, already, and let their body heal. And the hardest is hearing the self-hate. It took me a long time to love my body at whatever size it chooses to be and to take care of it because I love it, not because I’m supposed to be a specific size or supposed to adhere to a specific regimen. I was on My Fitness Pal for a while, and yes, there were the obnoxious types (don’t get me started on why I hate the word “excuses”), but it was more the overall atmosphere and wanting better for the people I went out of my way to befriend.

    • Kelly Coffey

      Hey, K –

      I agree with much of what you say here. You’re commenting on the larger culture of why it is we feel compelled to try to change in the first place. Most of us, especially when we first endeavor to change, as doing so from a place of self-hate, of shame, of embarrassment – none of which make for solid foundations for positive, sustainable change. It’s hard, if not impossible, for a support group to exist when the premise for the change it’s supporting is based in an innate dislike for ones self.
      This is why I created this space – so that the women who’re already operating from a place of acceptance, who want to take the next step into love-as-action, have a hand to hold and some guidance around how to do that in a genuine way that feels right for them. I created his place so that no woman would ever feel like she needed to go hungry, or hurt herself, in the name of some fantasy of “self-improvement” ever again.
      Thanks for writing. I appreciate you taking the time.

  • Susan

    Hi Kelly,
    Thank you so much for writing this! It was so timely because I want to start a place online for my clients where we can share information, and have productive discussions that I can share across all clients who want to participate. I will definitely keep in mind the principles that you laid out for good, productive groups! I was wondering if you had a suggestion for an online platform for conducting groups- what do you like best? Not all of my clients are on Facebook, so I was playing with Google groups, but I am open to ideas! Thanks so much for all of your wisdom!! I love reading your posts and checking out your videos!!

    • Kelly Coffey

      Hey there, Susan!

      The jury is out about strong contexts for group work. The thing is, you want it to be maximally helpful to the greatest number of people. The reason so much of what I do with my subscribers is on FB is because almost all of them are already on FB every day. If I had my own membership site, with forums, they’d be less likely to click through to go there, and so it would be a less effective tool. Google groups is amazing, IF people use, which most people don’t.
      It’s important to cater to the people we’re serving, as opposed to heaping one more sign-on, or one more click. It sounds so simple, but if you’re working with professionals, the simpler and more accessible the better.
      Thanks for writing!

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