Is there a single word to qualify/describe someone that causes his own misfortune, or even a single noun that refers to such a person?

  • 8
    It doesn't fit your requirement but I love "Architect of their own downfall".
    – Ste
    Sep 4, 2013 at 20:11
  • 2
    It occurs to me that if something has a preventable cause, then it cannot be misfortune. Misfortune is bad luck, right?
    – Kaz
    Sep 4, 2013 at 20:33
  • @Kaz that's undoubtedly why it's hard to come up with good answers. Without considering luck something like responsible would fit.
    – dcaswell
    Sep 4, 2013 at 21:05
  • 1
    Still, if a distressing occurrence is self-inflicted, it's hard to apply "misfortune" to it. There is always some element of chance, or of simply not having all the information (or the proverbial "crystal ball") to be able to fully predict the consequences of justified actions.
    – Kaz
    Sep 4, 2013 at 23:24
  • 1
    Really wish I could answer this one: You might try tragic. In classic literature, tragic heroes were destined for downfall brought about by their own hand. "The change to bad fortune which he undergoes is not due to any moral defect or flaw, but a mistake of some kind." -Aristotle, Poetics
    – Mr.Mindor
    Sep 5, 2013 at 15:45

14 Answers 14


Consider self-defeating

causing the same problems that you were intending to solve


I suggest hapless (from Merriam-Webster):

: having no luck : unfortunate

listed synonyms: unlucky, hard-luck, ill-fated, ill-starred, jinxed, luckless, snakebit (or snakebitten), star-crossed, unfortunate, unhappy

  • 3
    It seems like all of the synonyms are not describing the case where the person is responsible for their own misfortune.
    – dcaswell
    Sep 4, 2013 at 20:04
  • 3
    Having no luck basically mean luck is causing misfortune. Don't like this word here. Sep 4, 2013 at 20:13
  • I feel like "hapless" has connotations of incompetence, but that's just like, my opinion, man.
    – Blorgbeard
    Sep 5, 2013 at 3:24

In addition to hapless, as suggested by Cornbread Ninja, I'd also suggest inept carries similar connotations (from the Random House Dictionary, via Dictionary.com):-

  1. without skill or aptitude for a particular task or assignment; maladroit: He is inept at mechanical tasks. She is inept at dealing with people.
  2. generally awkward or clumsy; haplessly incompetent.
  3. inappropriate; unsuitable; out of place.
  4. absurd or foolish: an inept remark.

Inept carries with it the idea that one has voluntarily exposed oneself to the sort of situation where these things apply.

  • Brian, would you mind very much if I could please trouble you to include an inline name of where you get citations like this from? There’s a new meta question about this. Thank you for all your contributions: they are of high quality and much appreciated.
    – tchrist
    Jul 7, 2014 at 22:32
  • @tchrist, Righto. I won't be able to go through the other answers very rapidly, but I'll get on to them as time permits. Jul 8, 2014 at 9:31
  • Thanks. It’s not such a big deal for past postings. I was just going through the ones that landed on my list. Mostly we just want to make sure to do this for future postings. There are situations per Andrew’s answer on ELU.Meta where without the text part, the attribution could be lost. Thanks again.
    – tchrist
    Jul 9, 2014 at 3:17

I think you mean


(of an injury) having been inflicted on oneself by oneself

or self-induced

induced or brought on by oneself or itself


self-destructive. "Shooting one self in the foot" and "Digging one self into a hole" are my favorite not-one word options.


I do not know a single word to describe such a person, but here are many common idioms in English to refer the act of suffering from one's own action.

  • hoist with one's own petard
  • fry in one's fat
  • be one's own enemy
  • stew in one's own juices
  • be rightly served
  • These seem the most apt suggestions. A phrase that means exactly what you want is much better than a single word that doesn’t quite!
    – PLL
    Sep 5, 2013 at 16:32
  • The third-person wording sounds funny, like "sleep in the bed of one's own making."
    – MarkHu
    Sep 5, 2013 at 21:03

Someone who subconsciously undermines his own success is inflicting self-sabotage. Someone who sabotages is a sabotager or saboteur, and we can combine "self" into a word by replacing it with the "auto-" prefix, hence: autosabotager, or autosaboteur.

Of course, this is a rather narrow nuance. This question seems to have a broader interpretation.

For instance, someone who suffers setbacks due to making foolish mistakes isn't inflicting sabotage; that psychological element is lacking.

Words used for someone who brings avoidable calamity on himself by his own foolishness, and not through any bad luck, are simply general words that denote any sort of fool: buffoon, incompetent, imbecile, and so on. In all the myriad words that describe a fool, there is an understood element, almost by definition, that this is a person who causes bad things to happen to him or herself and others due to poor planning and reasoning.

What about someone who doesn't lack intelligence, but suffers setbacks due to exercising poor risk management? When a calamity occurs due to bad luck, luck cannot always be blamed; sometimes bad luck calamities could clearly be avoided by reasonable steps to manage risk. People usually do not intend for traffic accidents to occur, yet these are caused by mistakes and unnecessary risk taking, and blame is assigned accordingly, not simply on bad luck. Those who take unnecessary risks can be described with adjectives such as careless, irresponsible, nonchalant or blasé (with regard to risk). "His nonchalant attitude always lands him in a bind."


nemesis means

A person or character who specifically brings about the downfall of another person or character

so, self-nemetic is the person who is the cause of his/her own downfall.

  • This word suggests revenge. And self-revenge does not make any sense.
    – user49727
    Sep 5, 2013 at 11:43
  • 2
    Self-nemetic would not be understood by most people, I think: the -esis -> -etic construction isn’t common enough to be transparent, especially when applied to an already unfamiliar word.
    – PLL
    Sep 5, 2013 at 16:30

King Midas might be appropriate.

There's also the "Midas touch" which is generally considered a good thing (everything you touch turns to gold) but the original story is a tragedy (he turns his daughters to gold) which he brings upon himself via greed.

Or if he just trashes everything, there's King Midas in reverse.

  • 1
    I've heard of "Reverse Midas touch" - turns gold into shit.
    – emory
    Sep 5, 2013 at 14:08
  • I’ve recently seen “mierdas touch” used. Sep 10, 2013 at 23:13

In The Netherlands there is a writer, poet and performer known as Johnny the Selfkicker. Paraphrasing Wikipedia, the Selfkicker "has proven to be worthy of his name because of wild, often haphazard performances, during which he never fails to work himself into a frenzy, which often results in him collapsing right in front of an astonished audience." Download a picture of the Selfkicker at http://sdrv.ms/18EwcKs . Johnny even looks the part of the selfdestructor. I'm sure the Selfkicker would love to have his name officially adopted by the English language.

PS When and how does a new member acquire the right and ability to attach a picture?

  • 1
    "When and how does a new member acquire the right and ability to attach a picture?" Questions about how the site works should go on English Language & Usage Meta.
    – user
    Sep 5, 2013 at 8:15
  • 1
    This is a nice piece of related information, but not a good answer to the question. Self-kicker isn’t an English word, nor likely to become one in the foreseeable future; and indeed kicking oneself has quite specific connotations in English (expressing frustration at having made a stupid mistake) which aren’t quite right here.
    – PLL
    Sep 5, 2013 at 16:28

How about shlamazel, a shmoe, a shemendrick. A shlamazel is one who has cronic "bad luck". A shmoe is a foolish person. A shemendrick is A man who messes things up, always loses and feels miserable. An unfortunate asshole. Closely related to Schlemazel and Schlemiell.

  • 2
    Could you include their definitions and a link too, please? These terms are completely foreign to me.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 7, 2013 at 19:58

Depending on the severity/seriousness of the outcome I guess you could also use the following terms:



  • a monstrous creation; especially : a work or agency that ruins its originator.

  • a thing that becomes terrifying or destructive to its maker.

  • a person who creates something that brings about his ruin

The corresponding idiom is Frankenstein's monster

Giving extra powers to the army turned it into a Frankenstein's monster that is now threatening to overthrow the ruling party.


I might use a well worded phrase in place of a single word. You could state that he was the 'harbinger of his own misfortune' and it would suffice.

harbinger — n 1. a person or thing that announces or indicates the approach of something; forerunner


Foolish, or a Fool

a person lacking in judgment or prudence - Merriam Webster

stupid defines someone lacking the ability to make good judgments, while fools have the ability but do not use it, when they do something foolish.

The lack of judgement does not necessarily cause one's misfortune, but the risk is so high, that anyone knowing the risk, is in fact responsible for causing their own misfortune when it occurs. So, looking into the past, someone who causes their own misfortune from lack of judgment or prudence was a fool...having done a foolish thing.