It’s a kind of self sabotage but specific to coveting something. Sort of Sisyphean, but also not. Carrying a burden. Imagine holding a sack of potatoes while trying to escape a dangerous situation but no one needs the potatoes.

  • Yes; self-defeating and counterproductive are not specific enough. Nor is shoot oneself in the foot. Harbour does not demand a self-destructive attitude, though it is used mainly for holding on to negative attitudes, which are never helpful. Sep 26 at 10:44
  • 2
    Expressions like an albatross around one's neck and a monkey on one's back come to mind. But they imply a burden carried unwillingly, whereas you seem to be looking for an expression where the subject unknowingly retains something (a possession, habit, whatever) that hinders progress. But perhaps the monkey usage (originally and still primarily used of drug addiction) might match your context, anyway. Sep 26 at 12:08
  • ‘My Precious! O my Precious!’ Sep 26 at 12:29
  • It reminds me of the fruit-in-jar monkey trap. The monkey can't get its hand out without letting go of the fruit. I don't know any idiom referring to this though.
    – Peter
    Sep 26 at 12:57
  • Is it essential to have the sense of a burden to be carried, or would you accept another metaphor, e.g. taking a wrong turning/going up the wrong road, or tying yourself up?
    – Stuart F
    Sep 26 at 13:02

4 Answers 4


(Carry) dead weight

Carry dead weight

To be burdened with a person or thing that holds someone or something else back or prevents progress.

It's clear that the team's quarterback is too far past his prime. They're basically just carrying dead weight at this point.

This legislation serves no purpose and is stalling our negotiations in other more important areas. Let's stop carrying dead weight and just toss it out already.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms

Dead weight

Someone or something that makes success more difficult.
The Britannica Dictionary

When a space shuttle goes up, those rocket boosters on its sides eventually separate from the shuttle and drop back to earth, so that the shuttle can go into orbit. Just like that spacecraft, sometimes you also have to shed dead weight so you can soar. You're not obligated to carry along everybody you grew up with, or to be with everyone you meet along the way, for an entire lifetime.
Rickey Smiley; Stand by Your Truth (2017)

  • This does not demand that the drawback is easily (at least on the surface) disposed of. Sep 26 at 14:10
  • @EdwinAshworth I think dead weight involves the realization that the thing in question is now "dead" or no longer worth what it was and that "letting go" is both beneficial and not as difficult as you imagined. You can drop anything you are carrying.
    – DjinTonic
    Sep 26 at 14:47

In pop-psychological contexts, we find references to emotional baggage, "things" people carry around that hold them back, such as memories that bring them pain, goals they chose or perhaps didn't choose for themselves, situations that have caused them stress, fixations, and so forth. Often the baggage is something the person doesn't recognize as an impediment, and either sees as part of their identity, or as something worth holding onto.

  • +1 I was thinking of excess baggage as a metaphor also, and it can be used for both tangible and intangible burdens *
    – ermanen
    Sep 27 at 5:42

dig one's own grave

Seriously harm oneself, cause one's own ruin or downfall. For example, If Sam pursues that course, he'll be digging his own grave.

Is that close enough?


Mark 8:36 has this adage:

  • What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?

[Berean Standard Bible; BibleHub]

Matthew Poole [BibleHub] comments:

  • there are many things which men value in proportion with their lives, their honour, estates, nay, many value their lusts above their lives ... [but it is the man who] will lose his life [who] shall save it.

... Many of us hold on to things we treasure but which are ultimately detrimental to our wellbeing.


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