Self-Destructive Behaviours: Ways to Recognise and Remove Them

26th August 2022

I’m sure we’ve all used self-destructive behaviours at some point in our lives right?

Self-destructive behaviours are deliberate actions we do that negatively impact your physical or mental health, which compromises your wellbeing.

Self-defeating and self-destructive behaviours come in many forms, including;

  • Emotional eating, overeating or limiting food
  • Having too much caffeine
  • Staying up all night every night watching TV rather than sleeping and then lacking energy during the daytime
  • Not looking after our hygiene
  • Avoiding exercise
  • Isolating from our social circle
  • Physically hurting ourselves
  • Abusing substances or alcohol
  • Sabotaging relationships and jobs through being aggressive, rude, avoidant and controlling towards others

These behaviours can be done knowingly or unconsciously, so it’s important to be aware, so we can recognise when they arise.

Why Do We Use Self-Destructive Behaviours?

Self-destructive behaviours can be our unconscious defences against the shame we might form when trying to mentally survive and cope with things.

These defences help us to hide the feeling of shame or reverse it onto other people.  

We might use these behaviours as a way to escape from the difficulties or pretend they don’t exist.

These self-sabotaging behaviours are also a way of showing the world how we feel inside by taking openly it out on yourself.

Mentally Destructive Behaviours

A lot of these behaviours are physical actions, but there’s also mentally destructive behaviours, such as;

  • Constant negative self-talk
  • People pleasing (allowing people to use you when you wouldn’t usually allow this, offering help when you don’t have time or capacity)
  • Pessimism
  • Procrastinating
  • Perfectionism -we can never achieve it so will berate ourselves for this

Neurodivergent people can have some of these as traits due to how their mind is wired.

I’m divergent with ADHD so these traits can be in-built as opposed to purposefully self-destructive.

Over time these behaviours can lead to over thinking, verbal aggression, emotional dysregulation and low self-worth.

chronic pain

How Can We Reduce or Remove Self-Destructive Behaviours?

Habits we form from being self-destructive can be broken using tools which encourage positive habits to be made instead.

To break these shame-based patterns, we need to take deliberate actions.

We can’t just hope that in time or with a little willpower these self-destructive behaviours will improve.

Here’s a list of ideas that may help create some positive habits and reduce self-destructive ones.

Some of these were found in articles from Psychology Today, Metro and Thrive Global, and others from personal experience.

  • Think about what triggers these behaviours; What tends to happen just before you do this behaviour?
    What is going on in your life at the moment that might be challenging? Identifying these triggers might help to then work out how to reduce them. Journaling might help you start to see things you might have been avoiding.
  • Make a list of what matters to you (your values) and who you want to be that incorporates these.
    This reminds us who we really are, and almost fights back at the shame and reminds us of the way we want to behave so may motivate it to start happening.
  • Think of alternate things to do that replace self-destructive behaviours.
    Write a list of positive or constructive things you can do instead and keep them somewhere you see everyday, like your fridge.
    So if overeating is an issue, pre-plan a weeks meals and shopping. Or start even smaller by introducing a piece of fruit or a new vegetable into your daily menu, or set yourself a goal of drinking a certain amount of water per day and use a special bottle to track your progress.
    When wanting to go out drinking, use this money on a relaxing massage or new outfit instead.
  • Keep goals small and easily achievable
    This means we are more likely to achieve them and feel motivated to carry on, rather than failing big goals straight away which can lead to giving up.

Practical Tasks To Try

  • Try the 30 minute rule
    If you want to do that destructive thing, like text a random you don’t fancy for a night of passion that might leave you feeling used, or eating that massive tub of ice cream, hurting yourself or sending that massive rant to your partner to upset them, leave it for 30 minutes.
    Sit with the feeling of whatever is going on for you at that time. This helps you notice the feeling that you might be avoiding so you might start to open it up and process it. It also helps you to notice when this feeling may come again and you might start being able to reduce it coming before it gets to the point of self-destructive behaviour.
  • Find small ways to be kind to yourself to generate some self pride or self worth
    Have a shower or make a nice hot chocolate are small, easy ways to get a little boost.
    Going back to a hobby you’ve neglected during this period, or starting a new one you’ve always wanted to try can do wonders.
    Visit someone who is positive to be around.
    Book a massage or create a home spa- a bath with music, candles and a face mask to start showing yourself you matter and your body deserves a treat.
  • Start noticing any negative thoughts about yourself and challenge them
    Note the negative thoughts you’ve had down and reframe them into something positive. The process of writing and reading aids the processing and challenging of it inside your brain.
    Reframe these thoughts as if you were responding to a friend saying it about themselves-how would you help them see themselves in a more positive, kinder light?
  • Bullet journals
    These help you to keep track of everything you need to do each day, week and month.
    They can be used to track progress of new positive habits, which might also keep you motivated.
  • Practice self-compassion
    You wont achieve huge change straight away, and there will be slip ups, so be kind to yourself.
    Kristin Neff offers free meditations and talks on how to do this on YouTube and has a Self-Compassion Workbook* too.
    If you aren’t kind to yourself, you wont improve. The more we beat ourselves up doesn’t give us more motivation to change or improve, it actually does the opposite. If we’re kind to ourselves like we are to friends who are struggling, it can boost us to carry on trying to change and can increase our self love so we begin to respect ourselves too much to do some of the behaviours.
  • Self-help books
    Try ones that have a focus on proactive future change, such as Solution Focused Therapy, NLP and CBT approaches.
  • Talk to someone you trust
    Talking can do wonders for helping us recognise things that we might have been denying to ourselves;- It sometimes sounds so different when we hear ourselves say the words out loud.
  • Use Tools To Increase Self Awareness
    Mindfulness, Somatic, EFT tapping, DBT therapies can all be useful in this area.
    Being more self-aware helps you to keep you on track and stay calm in moments you want to self sabotage.
    Regular meditation or mindfulness can help keep your mood more stable so might naturally reduce you being triggered as often as you are currently.
    Free apps like Insight Timer can be great for listening to mindfulness, meditations, talks on self care and other topics.

Any Other Suggestions?

These suggestions are not the only things that help.

They are just some of the ideas I have found so far.

If you have any other suggestions of how to help reduce self-destructive behaviours, please comment below.

Listen to this on MindVox Pod

I’ve recorded an episode about this topic on my podcast Mind Vox if you wanted to listen.

The episode includes my own personal experiences of self-destructive behaviours and more detail about the tips mentioned above.

To share your personal journey or professional advice by being interviewed on the pod, contact us via this short form.

The form includes a space for feedback on how to improve the pod too.

No payment has been given for this post. This is not endorsed by any person or company.
All views are honest and my own.

*contains Amazon Affiliate link meaning I might get a small commission if you purchase through this link.


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