Say you have one goal. For example, to run a mile below 4 minutes. You train hard, do all your best to accomplish that goal, etc.

Somehow there is a person who does not want you to be successful: they keep telling you that you are uncapable of running that fast. Moreover, they do all that they can to sabotage your efforts: hide your shoes, etc.

The day of the big race comes and the sabotage works: you finally cannot make it because the night before that person kept ringing you on the telephone so you couldn't rest properly.

Then, that person comes and says: See? I told you that you wouldn't manage to make it!

Is there a sustantive, adjective or idiom to describe this? I was thinking about cynical but it kind of lacks the sabotaging part.

  • 3
    Given that you use the word "sabotage" a couple of times already in your question, can I assume that you have rejected "saboteur" as an answer? If so, could you edit to explain why? If not I'll post it as an answer :)
    – AndyT
    Aug 14, 2017 at 10:06
  • @AndyT regarding saboteur, that's an interesting one! However, to me it has the "sabotaging" part but it lacks the "I told you that you wouldn't manage" one.
    – fedorqui
    Aug 14, 2017 at 10:12
  • A Typhoid Mary comes to mind, but it doesn't capture the sabotage or the "I told you so" parts. Similarly with harbinger of doom. Aug 14, 2017 at 12:16
  • That reminds me of Natalie Porter's mother in Black Swan. Anyway I really doubt there a single word for such an articulated course of action.
    – user66974
    Sep 4, 2017 at 11:42
  • Sociopath and malignant narcissist are two that come to mind... the person you describe has psychological problems, you might find a better answer at cogsci.stackexchange.com.
    – amdn
    Sep 5, 2017 at 5:44

5 Answers 5


The generic word for sneaky sabotage is "undermining" or even "subversion".

But the scenario you're describing here is a little different. It sounds not just like sabotage, but a general type of manipulative tactic called "gaslighting": when someone secretly undermines you and then gloats and blames you for it. The pattern of behavior you describe includes all the indicators:

  1. secretly rearranging/hiding your stuff
  2. causing you to fail and then trying to convince you that it was your fault
  3. harassing you (calling you non-stop at night) and pretending like it's normal and you're the rude one if you complain
  4. trying to make you believe that they know more about your situation than you do ("I told you, you had no chance of winning")
  5. when you fail as a result of all of the above, they deny doing anything and pin it all on you.

Basically, you're describing sabotage by gaslighting.

Here is a definition of gaslighting from PsychologyToday:

Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality.


It is not merely a clinical term--it has been in common usage since at least the mid-1990s. Here is an example of an article from 1995 which features the term: http://www.nytimes.com/1995/11/26/opinion/l-liberties-the-gaslight-strategy-066192.html

The Urban Dictionary of the word is pretty informative as well, with a good technical definition at the top, as well as some working descriptions from both a victim and an abuser of this tactic: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gaslighting

  • Can you provide a reference to that definition of gaslighting?
    – amdn
    Sep 5, 2017 at 10:56
  • @amdn, I edited the answer to include references Sep 5, 2017 at 12:14
  • [link] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting. Very interesting, though in my opinion it looks more like a psychological manipulation with the intent to disorient the victim, it's missing or it's less evident the component of the self gratification of the victim failure
    – ealy
    Sep 7, 2017 at 14:39
  • @ealy, you're right, "gaslightling" is a pretty broad term for the whole dynamic of this type of behavior, which definitely includes gratifying/aggrandizing/empowering oneself at the victim's expense. But it doesn't have a one-to-one correspondence to the gloating part of the dynamic specifically. Is my answer misworded to imply that there is? Should I correct something? Sep 7, 2017 at 14:50

Phrases that come to mind:

Throw a spanner in the works


A thorn in one’s side


You could also say that this person attempted to:

jeopardize your success

derail your success

thwart your plans to win

Such a person could be described as a schemer.


  • I would complete your suggestion for the second part with sadistic: "that person is a sadistic schemer/plotter". Sadistic is a person who enjoys from the failures or suffering of others.
    – ealy
    Sep 5, 2017 at 11:05

snake in the grass (thefreedictionary.com)

One who feigns friendship with the intent to deceive.

A sneaky and despised person.

snake in the grass: A treacherous person, as in Ben secretly applied for the same job as his best friend; no one knew he was such a snake in the grass . This metaphor for treachery, alluding to a poisonous snake concealed in tall grass, was used in 37 b.c. by the Roman poet Virgil ( latet anguis in herba). It was first recorded in English in 1696 as the title of a book by Charles Leslie.


The German term Schadenfreude (there are umlauts in there somewhere) comes to mind.

It means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others as in "I told you he couldn't do it."

By adding some subversion in at the front end, Schadenfreude seems to come closest to meeting the need.


You could use self-fulfilling prophecy

"A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior."

In this case, the person phoning you repeatedly has made the self-fulfilling prophecy.

  • It would be a self-fulfilling prophecy if someone said "you will fail", and the worry about this caused the person to fail. But in the OP's case they said "you will fail" and then did other things to make sure they failed. The prophecy did not self-fulfil, it was fulfilled by extra effort by the saboteur.
    – AndyT
    Aug 14, 2017 at 14:44
  • Yes and further to AndyT's Comment, there was the prophecy and the fulfilment but where, please, is the bragging? Either way, I don't think positive feedback between belief and behaviour. Aug 15, 2017 at 23:10
  • One could argue that the other person has made a prophecy (belief) and then modified their behaviour to make sure the prophecy comes true. I'm not going to press the point though, self-fulfilling prophecies do more usually refer to situations where a person's behaviour affects themselves. Aug 16, 2017 at 7:42
  • 1
    +1 Although it isn't the common form of the expression, I think "self-fulfilling prophet" goes far toward explaining the motives and the approach of the Nostradamus of Negativity that the OP describes. One might also refer to such a person as "having his [or her] hand on the scale"—that is, intervening in a deceptive way to influence the outcome of a putatively fair process of testing or measurement.
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 5, 2017 at 18:34

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