Stress is part of everyday life. If you feel weighed down by stress, you may tend to develop negative emotions and behaviors. These behaviors may include binge eating, distancing from social activities, drinking, smoking, or drug use. You may feel powerless and unable to restrain yourself from engaging.

This article may help you recognize your negative behaviors. As you read along, you may learn coping skills that may help you improve your behavior to form healthy relationships.

What Are Self-Destructive Behaviors?

Self-destructive behaviors are actions that may cause you harm physically, emotionally, or mentally. These behaviors are unintentional. In some cases, you may be aware of your negative behaviors but are having a hard time controlling the urge.

Self-destructive behaviors may range from mild to severe. The frequency of these behaviors may differ from person to person. Some evident and common self-destructive behaviors are:

  • Binge eating
  • Uncontrollable activities such as gaming, shopping, or gambling
  • Trying to commit suicide
  • Engaging in risky sex
  • Alcohol and drug overuse
  • Self-inflicted injuries like hair pulling, burning, and cutting

There are some subtle self-sabotage behaviors that you may not even realize you are doing. These subtle behaviors are:

  • Changing yourself and blending in with others to please them
  • Negative self-talk such as: “I’m not intelligent, good-looking, or talented enough.”
  • Holding on and clinging to someone uninterested in you
  • Drowning yourself in self-pity
  • Displaying unfriendly, rude, or aggressive behavior to push people away
  • Maladaptive manners like procrastination and chronic avoidance

Outlook of Individuals With Self-Damaging Behaviors

You may be at high risk of developing poor mental health and premature death if you continually engage in risky behaviors.

You may be able to recover from your self-destructive behaviors. The length of your recovery may depend on the following:

  • How frequent and severe your symptoms are
  • If you have other mental illnesses such as depression or PTSD
  • If your behavior is associated with an eating disorder or drinking alcohol or drug abuse 

Your outlook of whether you will get better or not depends mainly on your circumstance. Therapy and medication may help with your condition. It is best to keep in touch with a healthcare professional to give you the correct status of your situation.

Causes and Risk Factors

It is common for people to inflict self-harm whether they have a mental illness or not. Developing self-destructive ways can happen to anyone. Developing negative behaviors may be due to your childhood experiences. 

It may also be because of having mental health issues like depression and anxiety. You are at risk of behaving in a self-destructive way if you may have experienced any of the following:

  • Constant intake of alcohol  or drug use
  • Experiencing childhood trauma, abandonment, or neglect
  • Physical or emotional abuse
  • You witness some friends who inflict self-injury
  • Low self-esteem
  • Social exclusion and social isolation
  • If you have an existing self-destructive behavior, you may develop another one

Mental Illness and Destructive Patterns

Self-destructive behaviors may also be a cry for help as there may be underlying mental health conditions. Yes, some mental health conditions have symptoms of self-destructive behavior or it can be a result of these illnesses, as a way of acting out. Here are some mental health conditions that may cause your self-harming behaviors:

  • Anxiety Disorders. Distinguished by incapacitating fear, worry, and distress  
  • Depression. You feel overwhelming sadness and disinterest. You may see physical symptoms as well.
  • Eating disorders. Some common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating
  • Personality disorders. You struggle to interact and engage with others in a healthy way
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You can develop PTSD if you have experienced a very traumatic event. An individual exposed to traumatic events is likely to develop destructive behavior like a war veteran. 


You may not realize that your destructive behavior is your coping mechanism. You use self-destructive behavior to protect yourself from getting hurt by others.

For instance, you grew up in a household where you were constantly rejected. You developed self-destructive behavior growing up. This may reflect into adulthood. You may tend to give poor quality of work or put yourself down so that you won’t be promoted or praised.

It is in your best interest to recognize the reason behind your behaviors. Your destructive behaviors are your ways of coping. In that case, you may be able to give yourself a chance to replace these with positive ones.

Aside from displaying self-harming behaviors, inflicting physical self-harm is another serious matter. If you are already in this situation, it is about time that you seek help.

You need to be correctly evaluated by a qualified mental health professional. Such evaluation may include an interview. This interview will allow the evaluator to understand your behavior and associate its clinical significance.

To stop self-destructive behaviors, you should be properly diagnosed. You may have an underlying mental health disorder. A proper diagnosis can guide a mental health professional to best proceed with your treatment.

Here are the criteria used to diagnose non-suicidal self-injury behaviors:

  • Intentionally harming your body without suicidal intention for at least five days within the past year
  • You engage in this type of behavior to release negative thoughts and feelings
  • The repeated urge to inflict self-injury
  • Feels significantly distressed
  • It is not because of other medical or mental health conditions

Self-destructive behaviors may easily be diagnosed as a borderline personality disorder.      

How to Stop Self-Destructive Behaviors

The first step to stop your self-destructive tendencies is recognizing your own mistakes and shortcomings. This may be difficult, but you have to do it if you want to get over your self-destructive behaviors.

Self-destructive behaviors are challenging to let go of because of their addictive nature, and you don’t know what to replace them with.

Most bad behaviors are learned. Thus, you may be able to learn how to stop it. Here are some steps you can do that may help you deal with your self-destructive behaviors:

Identify Unhealthy Behaviors

Habits are neutral and subconscious behavioral patterns that you learn through repeated actions. Habits are good if they benefit your well-being. Habits become harmful when it causes you and others harm.

You just had dinner, but you still binge over junk food. Also, you know that exercising is good for you; but, you are still lazy enough to do it. You know that all these bring only temporary joy. But, you seem hopeless, and you give in to your urges. You have to sit down and identify which of your behaviors are harmful to your health.  

Know Your Stress Triggers

Triggers are the events in your life that may push you to “misbehave”. It may help if you keep a diary or journal to write down the situations that trigger your misbehavior.

For instance, you may feel the need to smoke; instead, you resort to binge eating. Write this episode down. Keep doing this until you see a pattern. The pattern may show that you feel stressed out every time your mother calls you to ask for money.

Discover Alternative Outlets for Stress

After recognizing your unhealthy behaviors, it is time that you work out how to counter them. You may come up with a list of healthy coping strategies that may help clear your mind and ease your tension.

You can take a walk, do yoga or meditate, hang out with good friends, give yourself a warm bath, or join a support group.

Cutting back or controlling yourself from giving in to your urges is considered progress. Baby steps are better than doing absolutely nothing at all.

Eliminate Pointless Triggers

Stress will always be present in life. It is up to you if you will take all the pressure thrown at you seriously. You have the choice of which stress you have to react to.

If you are stressed out about the endless house chores, you don’t have to worry about it forever. You have the choice to either rearrange your schedule to free up some time or hire professional service.

There will always be pros and cons in every decision you make. Some solutions to your problems may not be ideal or easy. There are some sacrifices you have to make to minimize the stress in your life.

Get Help

Having self-destructive behavior may not necessarily make you a bad person. Learning to shift your bad behavior needs a lot of help, support, and guidance.

You may consider joining a support group to keep you inspired, motivated, and accountable. It is easier for you to learn healthier habits if you surround yourself with the right people. You may also consider reaching out for professional help like a therapist or counselor.

Treatment Through Therapy

In treating self-destructive behaviors, it is essential to note the frequency and severity of the symptoms. The treatments for self-destructive behavior are tailored to fit each individual’s condition. Your doctor may recommend a combination of therapy and medication. Therapy may help with negative behaviors. Here are the possible therapies that you can choose from:

Talk Therapy

With talk therapy, you may be able to understand the reason behind your self-destructive tendencies. Through talk therapy, you may learn different ways to manage stress and deal with problems in a healthier way. Talk therapy sessions can be done in a one-on-one, with family, or in a group setup.

Behavioral Therapy

Through behavioral therapy, your therapist can help you recognize your triggers. They can guide you to respond to problems in a less disruptive manner. There are other ways you can address your self-destructive behaviors, such as:

Breaking the Cycle

If you think you repeatedly harm yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally, you may have self-destructive behaviors that you need to address right away.

You don’t have to live with your “bad” behavior forever. Don’t give yourself negative self-talk. You deserve to live a healthier and less destructive life.

If you feel burdened by your destructive habits, it is about time you seek help from reputable healthcare professional.  Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) understands that certain behaviors may be challenging to let go of.

Bad habits may be hard to stop. But, transforming these into new habits is possible. KCC is here to help you deal with your negative behaviors. With your commitment and dedication, you will feel better in no time. Book an appointment now.

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