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How To Stop Self Destructive Behavior?

Understanding Self-Destructive Behavior. What are Common Risk Factors for Self-Destructive Behavior? Letting Go of Self-Destructive Behaviors. Seeking Help for Addiction and Self-Destructive Behavior.

Understanding Self-Destructive Behavior 

Self-destructive behaviors or dysregulated behaviors are those that are bound to harm you mentally or physically. It may be unintentional, or it may be that you know exactly what you’re doing, but the urge is too strong to control. Self-destructive behaviors provide relief or even pleasure in the short term but ultimately get in the way of living a satisfying and fulfilling life. These behaviors can include substance use disorder, compulsive computer gaming, smoking, binge eating, self-harm, chronic avoidance, or other behaviors that feel helpful in the moment but harmful over time. It can be related to a mental health condition, such as depressionborderline personality disorder, PTSD, or anxiety.

It’s not uncommon for substance abuse and a psychological disorder to co-exist. In fact, at the root of any addiction is a psychological disorder. And for this reason, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) includes addiction as one of the many psychological disorders it lists. The DSM is a reference tool that therapists and psychologists use to facilitate arriving at a diagnosis in their patients. Addiction and self-destructive behavior might develop for one or two reasons, both of which are related to one another.

how to stop self destructive behavior
Typically, self-destructive acts and thoughts occur because of conscious or subconscious self-hatred and low self-esteem.

Many of us are engaged in self-destructive behaviors that have become recurring habits. We allow these self-destructive behaviors to interfere with personal happiness and growth. In most cases, people do not openly recognize what or why they are doing certain bad habits. Self-sabotage is when we do something that gets in the way of our intent, or bigger goals and dreams. We want something, but somehow, we never accomplish it. Why? Because somewhere deep in our subconscious we are fighting against that goal in many cases because of fear of failure.

Traits Self-Destructive People May Share

People suffering from self-destructive behavior differ dramatically, but there are some histories or traits in common. Everyone has a specifically different story, but as a general overview, here are some of those common traits:

  • Born to feel emotions more than others. This is not a bad thing, in fact, there are a lot of advantages to being able to feel and connect more.
  • Experiences of neglect, physical abuse, or continuous criticism.
  • Routine experiences with family members who discourage the expression of emotions or have self-destructive behaviors themselves when coping with their emotions.
  • Bullying at school, abuse from someone outside of the family, being mistreated or excluded by other children.
how to stop self destructive behavior

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What is Self-Destructive Behavior? 

The definition of self-destructive behavior is any behavior or lack of behavior that actively contributes to negative results. Self-destructive behavior is caused when someone inflicts harm on themselves or puts themselves in a risky situation where harm may happen. There are many different forms of self-destructive behavior, and their meaning is very broad. This type of action can be physical or emotional. It has long-term effects on the individual that can impact various areas of his or her life.

In some situations, a person may be unaware they are even performing a self-destructive behavior. They may be surrendering to a strong urge or may not understand the consequences. In many cases, self-destructive behavior is a maladaptive coping mechanism or a stress reaction. At the moment, it brings relief and pleasure to the person. However, it is harmful in the long run.

Substance abuse and addiction are self-destructive behaviors, and a return to drug or alcohol abuse may be a coping mechanism or a perpetuation of self-destruction. These behaviors may stem from childhood trauma or abuse, low self-esteem, or even mental illness. Around half of all drug abusers and a third of alcohol abusers also suffer from mental illness. Depression, anxiety, and mood disorders often co-occur with substance abuse disorders and need to be diagnosed and managed to promote recovery. Substance abuse can exacerbate mental illness symptoms, increasing stress, anxiety, and depression.

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What are Common Risk Factors for Self-Destructive Behavior? 

Alcohol or drug abuse

A person who engages in destructive behaviors might suffer from an alcohol or drug addiction. Oftentimes, individuals who use substances as coping mechanisms had a troubled past and use alcohol and drugs to numb their feelings. They seek short-term relief for their pain, and alcohol and drugs provide the perfect outlet – in their minds – to achieve their goal. However, the negative feelings and uncomfortable emotions always come back, making this a dangerous habit in the long run.


Burning or cutting oneself is an unhealthy way of coping with emotional pain. Most of the time, self-harm is not a suicide attempt, but it can lead to suicide either deliberately or accidentally. If you or someone you know is hurting themselves, please seek help immediately. Self-harm is a sign of much deeper issues that need to be addressed.

Impulsive behaviors

Reckless spending, hypersexuality, drug abuse, stealing, and other impulsive behaviors are classic signs of self-destruction. Someone who suffers from this might have a bipolar disorder or personality disorder, which makes it challenging for the sufferer to control their emotions. This, coupled with an inability to assess consequences, makes an individual prone to impulsive behaviors.

Being too sensitive

While being too sensitive is often a genetic trait and can’t be helped, some individuals who feel things more deeply use this as a way to manipulate people. For instance, if someone feels as though they have to walk on eggshells around a person, this is self-destructive behavior. The overly sensitive person might not mean to make them feel this way, but they still use their emotions to control the person or situation.

How to stop self destructive behavior
Acknowledge that your self-destructive habits are the outcome of your decisions and actions in the past. 


People might think there’s no harm in trying to please others, but some people take this to the extreme. Letting others walk all over you just to keep them happy only results in your own misery. Moreover, will take advantage of your self-sacrificing behavior and won’t respect you. This self-destructive behavior is usually overlooked because it seems relatively harmless; in the end, however, it causes pain for both parties involved.

Negative thoughts

Everyone deals with negative thinking, but when it becomes all-encompassing and intrusive, it’s a cause for concern. Individuals who have frequent negative thoughts often suffer from a lack of control over emotions, which often lead to other problems in life. This destructive behavior can be overcome, however, through yoga, mindfulness meditation, or other relaxing activities that require one’s full attention.

Burying emotions

Hiding your emotions might feel like a healthy way of dealing with them, but the exact opposite is true. Society encourages us to put on a mask and pretend, but many individuals are hurting deeply inside because of this. Refusing to acknowledge emotions to appease others or to appear strong will only backfire and lead to a breakdown later.

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How To Stop Self-Destructive Behavior? 

While psychologists suspect that self-destructive behaviors could be coping mechanisms (i.e, to deal with stress, social demands, pressure, etc.), others consider self-destructive behavior as a way of maintaining comfort zones due to feelings of unworthiness or lack of confidence (e.g., staying at the familiar bottom of the social ladder).

Self-destructive behavior comes in many guises – some intense, some not so intense. But in order to continue internally evolving, connect with your true self, and live a life you love, it’s best to look at your devils right in the face. 

You might start thinking that you’re fundamentally “broken” or something is severely wrong with you. You’re not broken, you’re just humanThe goal isn’t to feel terrible about yourself, the goal is to see that “it is what it is” and find ways to reverse, undo, and triumph over your self-destructive tendencies.

Break The Cycle of Shame

Shame involves an internalized feeling of being humiliated and exposed. Shame is different from guilt. Shame is a feeling of badness about the self. Guilt is about behavior — a feeling of “conscience” from having done something wrong or against one’s values.

Everyone can break the cycle of shame — even when the odds seem insurmountable. The first step is recognizing how shame is fueling your self-destructive behaviors and acknowledging the shame. It’s okay to have flaws — we all do because every one of us is human and deeply flawed.

Shame can be healed and relieved by:

  • Breaking secrecy with people who understand.
  • Taking healthy risks to be known and seen authentically, acting from a positive motive, and trying out new behaviors in a safe (nonjudgmental) setting.
  • Taking actions that generate pride — the antidote to shame.

You can break the cycle. It will take time and patience, but the more you make a concerted and conscious effort, the more likely you will be able to end self-destructive behavior and the cycle of shame.

Don’t Believe The Negative Self-Talk

There will be thoughts in your head about not being able to do it or wanting to quit. Don’t listen to them. See them, acknowledge them, but don’t believe what they say or follow their commands. They just come up because your brain is trying to get out of hard work. Lying brain, lazy brain. Instead, come up with better counterarguments: “Brain: You can’t do this.” “You: Actually, I can and have. Other people have done this, and so can I. And I will only really know if I try.”

Get Support

Ask a good friend, your partner, or your family to support you. Ask them to check on you and not let you fail. If you don’t have anyone supportive around you, find a group online.

Use Failure to Learn

Failure should not be evidence that you can’t. Use it as a chance to learn: learn about how you work best, about negative self-talk and urges, and how habits work. Learn about obstacles, which are unavoidable, and how to get around them. Each time you mess up, this is an excellent opportunity to get better, to improve your method. Failure isn’t a bad thing — it’s new information to improve your habit method.

How to stop self destructive behavior
Try to talk about it with your friends, as they are likely to see things that you are not aware of regarding your problems.

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Letting Go of Self-Destructive Behaviors 

The psychological reasons for self-destructive behavior are many — but so are the methods you can use to help yourself or a loved one recover. If you’re not sure how to help a self-destructive person, perhaps that person being yourself, these pointers will be useful. They are appropriate for any type of self-destructive behavior, but can help you form an especially strong foundation for addiction recovery in particular:

1. Define Your Behaviors. Alcohol and drug addiction is a large behavior to define, so it’s helpful to break it down and consider all the negative behaviors associated with it. For example, you may find that when drunk you have a tendency to create emotionally-fraught situations with one or more of your family members. Or maybe you prioritize using drugs over things like nutrition and personal hygiene.

Self-destructive behaviors can be small things, like telling yourself you don’t deserve certain things or talking to yourself in a defeatist manner. They can also be the absence of action, such as not paying the bill or deciding not to feed yourself enough, in order to afford drugs or alcohol.

Write down as many of these behaviors as you can, so you can start to tackle them one at a time. You can ask family or friends to help you flesh out your list, which can make you aware of some new behaviors.

2. Identify Triggers. What makes you self-sabotage? It’s a big question, but you can start by identifying places, situations, people, or things that cause a spike in stress. Aside from general irritation or boredom, stress and anxiety are the biggest triggers for alcohol or drug addiction cravings and other self-destructive behavior. If alcohol and drugs are a way to shut down unpleasant feelings, it’s crucial to know what feelings you’re trying to turn off.

Recognizing situations that cause cravings also gives you the option to avoid them altogether. For example, if you know that seeing others drinking brings on powerful cravings, it’s not a great idea to go to a bar, or hang out with that friend who’s always doling out beers.

Identifying triggers also gives you the opportunity to set up healthy coping strategies in case you find yourself in a difficult situation.

How to stop self destructive behavior
Self-destructive behavior is a way for us to “deal” with hardships in our life, by making things worse. If you got rid of one bad habit just to replace it with another one, you’ve done nothing.

3. Track Your Behaviors. Keeping a journal of your actions and reactions is vital to changing self-destructive behavior. All you have to do is keep a log of any self-destructive behaviors you engage in, and create a short pro and con list for each. This will help you prioritize which behaviors to work on first, as well as uncover patterns of thinking that underlie your actions.

For instance, if you’re struggling with alcohol abuse, you’ll probably experience thoughts such as “One drink won’t hurt,” “I need/deserve this drink,” “What’s the worst that could happen?” or “No one has to find out.”

These thoughts are unhelpful, intrusive, and irrational, but they’re a natural reaction of a brain convinced that alcohol will solve its problems. Keeping track of these thoughts can give you a more tangible and objective perspective and stop you from engaging in the behavior.

4. Practice Mindfulness. Self-destructive behaviors, including alcohol or drug addiction, often arise from our inability to process what is happening to us at a given time. A person might feel fear about a meeting with their boss the next day and try to shut it off by drinking rather than giving the situation the time and consideration it needs to be resolved.

Seeking Help for Addiction and Self-Destructive Behavior

It is very common that those who show self-destructive behavior to actively sabotage their recovery. With self-destructive behavior, it is usually hard for the individual to allow any loved ones to help them seek treatment and remain sober. The person might also not see any point in seeking treatment, as their self-defeating thoughts might make them believe that it’s pointless or that they will fail.

It is also possible that the person might no longer care enough about their well-being with self-destructive behavior and will refuse and fight against receiving any treatment. They might be under the belief that they greatly enjoy the way their destructive behavior makes them feel and will consider it self-sacrifice if they keep it contained within their own life.

There are both emotional and physical components to addiction and self-destructive behaviors, and both components must be addressed in order to recover and regain a healthy balance in life. Medical detox, or removing harmful chemicals from the body, is often the first physical step toward recovery that may be managed in a medically supervised detox facility in order to help smooth the process and ensure safety. Only after the user is clearheaded and drug- or alcohol-free can someone begin to address the psychological roots of addiction.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is often used for flushing out and discovering triggers that often lead to self-destructive behaviors and modifying negative behaviors, thoughts, and visions of oneself into more positive ones. Therapies can help identify problem behaviors, and trained professionals can work with clients to reinvent and reassess those behaviors into more positive ones. New life skills and coping tools are taught to reinforce healthy behaviors and improve self-esteem while reducing anxiety and stress.

Self-destructive treatment can be much more complex when combined with addiction. Many who suffer from both behaviors need advanced care that simultaneously tackles both issues. Dual diagnosis treatment grasps the various constraints that lead people to self-destructive, this will help them discover the problems and cope in a more way.

Now that we’ve answered the question “how to stop self destructive behavior” and learned about the risks that come along with it. It is important to reach out for professional help if you or a loved one are struggling with long-term self-destructive behavior and addiction. Contact one of our helpful treatment specialists today. We Level Up rehab center can provide information on dual diagnosis and detox programs that may fit your specific needs.

How to stop self destructive behavior
Self-destructive behavior can occasionally be misidentified or as part of another co-occurring mental condition.

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[1] NIDA –
[2] Self-Harm Treatment – We Level Up NJ

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