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Most people have probably engaged in self-destructive behavior at some point in their lives, whether it was intentional or not, and many mental health illnesses are associated with various symptoms of self-destructive behavior. 

When people typically consider self-destructive behavior, they may think of actions that cause physical harm or physical injury to themselves. However, it is important to understand that self-destructive behavior is more than just physical harm. 

Understanding what self-destructive behavior is and how it can affect your well-being can help you to identify this behavior when it surfaces in yourself or others. From there, you will be able to recognize when someone may need support or guidance in healing from these behaviors. 

What Are Self-Destructive Behaviors?

Self-destructive behavior is any behavior that causes self-harm — including emotional, mental, and physical harm. These behaviors are sometimes intentional, especially for those that may be struggling with severe mental health symptoms. Other times, these behaviors are unintentional but can become life-threatening over time. 

Self-destructive behavior may also be termed more broadly as self-injury or self-sabotage, or as specific as self-directed violence. Whereas the other terms identify any kind of intentional or unintentional harm caused to oneself, self-directed violence is almost always intentional. 

Examples of Self-Destructive Behaviors

There are some forms of self-destructive behaviors that are more obvious than others. Common forms of this type of behavior might include:

  • self-injury such as cutting or hair-pulling
  • binge eating, as well as overeating or under eating
  • compulsive behavior including gambling or gaming
  • overindulging in substance use of any kind
  • risky or impulsive sexual behavior

There are also less obvious forms of self-destructive behaviors that still wreak havoc on an individual’s well-being. These behaviors are more likely to be emotional or mental forms of self-sabotage that set a person up for a lacking appreciation of self as well as self-worth. These examples might include:

  • engaging in behaviors that are likely to cause separation from friendships or other relationships
  • changing yourself to please someone else
  • embracing harmful attachment styles in relationships
  • obsessing over self-pity or lack of self-worth
  • identifying with hurtful characteristics or personality traits, such as believing that you are unattractive or not smart
  • engaging in behaviors such as procrastination, avoidance, and isolation 

What Causes Individuals to Engage in Self-Destructive Behaviors?

There are many risk factors that might contribute to the likelihood of a person engaging in self-destructive behaviors. The most crucial risk factor to consider is the presence of co-occurring mental illnesses or experiencing untreated mental illness in general. 

Self-destructive behaviors, though, can surface in anyone with or without a mental illness present. Anyone at any age might engage in such behavior. 

A person may be more prone to engaging in self-destructive behavior if they:

  • regularly use alcohol or other drugs.
  • experienced childhood trauma, including situations of neglect or abandonment. Childhood years are crucial to developing a healthy sense of well-being, and once this is tainted, it is difficult to restore. 
  • experience abuse, including emotional and physical abuse. This may cause a person to lose their own understanding of self-worth. 
  • have peer groups or family members that also engage in self-destructive behavior. 
  • are socially removed, such as experiencing social exclusion or isolation by choice. 

Self-destructive behavior is ultimately a coping mechanism that may develop from trauma, abuse, unfair treatment, or neglect of any kind. This type of behavior can be difficult to recognize in yourself or in others, especially if you consider their harmful behavior to be a normal part of their personality. 

If you find yourself engaging in any behavior that is causing physical, mental, or emotional harm to yourself, it is important that you receive the support you need to heal. 

Treating and Working Through Self-Destructive Behaviors

Consider what behaviors you regularly engage in that may not be positive in your life. Consider the risks and possible consequences of your behavior. If you are struggling to understand whether or not your behaviors are destructive, consider receiving an evaluation from a mental health professional. 

Any amount of self-destructive behavior can be life-threatening. These behaviors can have detrimental health consequences. It is essential that those that need assistance in altering their behavior get the help that they need. 

Most treatment centers will create an individualized treatment plan once they complete an evaluation of your unique and subjective behaviors. These treatment plans will be tailored to the specific needs of an individual, highlighting the levels of frequency and severity that symptoms may present themselves as. 

Most treatment will focus on psychotherapy or behavioral therapy, as well as a combination of both. Psychotherapy will work to address the root causes of your self-destructive behavior while challenging you to deal with stress in a beneficial way. Behavioral therapy will specifically work to alter your problem behaviors while shifting your mindset into a more positive frame of mind. Other treatments might include:

  • substance use or addiction counseling
  • mindfulness techniques such as meditation
  • stress management or the development of new coping skills
  • anger management 

Self-destructive behaviors surface when a person experiences disconnection from either themselves or from the world around them. These behaviors are motivated by a lack of self-worth, and can surface as physical, emotional, or mental forms of self-harm. There are more and less obvious forms of self-destructive behavior, as well as intentional and unintentional forms. It is important to understand why and how people engage in these behaviors, so when someone does engage in self-harm, you will know how to better encourage them to seek out professional help. West Coast Recovery Centers is a treatment center that understands how isolating mental health illness can feel. We understand that treatment and recovery can be overwhelming, but we also know how important it is to address and manage self-destructive behavior when it occurs. We offer traditional and holistic treatment approaches to help individualize your recovery journey. For more information about the treatments we offer, call (760) 492-6509

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