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Identifying Self-Destructive BehaviorsMany people struggle with self-destructive behaviors. Self-destructive behaviors can take many different forms. Unfortunately, engaging in such behaviors harms not only you but also has the potential to hurt those around you. How can you work towards identifying and overcoming self-destructive behaviors in recovery?

What Is Self-Destructive Behavior?

Self-destructive behaviors are actions that can harm you. They may be deliberate and planned, though they are often subconscious and impulsive. As a result, many people are unaware of the damage they are causing to themselves and those around them when they engage in self-destructive behavior.

Examples of self-destructive behaviors include:

  • Self-injury
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Often being confrontational with others

What Causes Self-Destructive Behavior?

Self-destructive behaviors are diverse, and so are their causes. There is no single cause for engaging in self-destructive behavior. However, there are various theories as to why these actions may occur.


Many self-destructive behaviors stem from trauma. Trauma may include experiencing a violent crime, the death of a loved one, or divorce. This is especially true when the trauma occurs at a young age. Many adults who engage in self-destructive behavior have a history of childhood trauma. For example, studies show that traumatic experiences are often a significant predictor of self-harm. Self-destructive behaviors can be used as a way to cope with the emotional pain of trauma.

Feelings of Insecurity

Some people may engage in self-destructive behaviors because they feel insecure. For example, someone may repeatedly act aggressively toward other people because of their insecurities. By bullying other people, they boost their own self-esteem.

Signs You Are Engaging in Self-Destructive Behavior

There are several traits associated with self-destructive behavior, as well as signs that you may be engaging in it. Some are obvious, while others are more subtle. Signs you may be engaging in self-destructive behavior include:

Depression, Apathy, and Pessimistic Beliefs

Being depressed or regularly experiencing low moods can put you at risk of self-destructive behaviors such as substance use and self-injury. Not only are these behaviors detrimental to your well-being, but your mindset can be just as dangerous to your well-being. For example, if you believe that good things will never come and life will not get better, this can perpetuate self-destructive behavior.

Impulsive Behavior and Lack of Self Control

Impulsivity can be an indicator that you are engaging in self-destructive behavior. Impulsivity is a general trait that can encompass numerous harmful activities. For example, one person might spend money excessively and on a whim, while another might start conflicts with people even when unprovoked.

Neglecting Responsibilities

Another sign of self-destructive behavior is neglecting responsibilities, including health, hygiene, and attending school or work. Someone who is self-destructive might not trust their ability to carry out tasks and may avoid opportunities. You might also appear to others like you are not taking care of yourself. For example, you might indulge in poor dietary choices, forget to bathe, or refuse to accept necessary medication.

Sabotaging Relationships

If you notice the relationships around you failing, you may be engaging in self-destructive behaviors. This is because you may come across as jealous, manipulative, or passive-aggressive. More subtle behaviors can include ones connected to neediness, seeking reassurance, and seeking approval and recognition. Behaviors like these can become especially dangerous when they lead to actions like being sexually inappropriate with people close to you.

Emotional Sensitivity

Hypersensitive individuals often take people’s opinions and values seriously and can easily feel hurt, rejected, and inadequate. They might take others’ comments personally even if they were never meant to be harmful. These individuals are also more likely to try to seek the approval of others. As a result, they are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors like self-harm.

How to Stop Self-Destructive Behavior

Even after completing a treatment program, you may still engage in self-destructive behavior. While you may not be using drugs and alcohol anymore, you may do things to fill the “void” addiction left behind. For example, risky sex can produce similar feelings in the brain as using substances. If you do not keep up with aftercare, such as seeing a psychiatrist or therapist, you may still struggle with mental health symptoms. This can also lead to self-destructive behaviors.

Seeking aftercare is a great way to stop self-destructive behaviors. With therapy, rather than simply managing symptoms, you can get to the root of the feelings of shame and guilt that are likely to have caused the harmful behaviors in the first place. A therapist can also help change the way you feel about your life, which is a core part of modalities like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Self-destructive behaviors can continue even after you complete a treatment program. Even though you are no longer using drugs or alcohol, you may still struggle with lingering effects of trauma, mental health symptoms, and a “void” that you once filled with substances. Signs you may be engaging in self-destructive behavior include depression, impulsive behavior, neglecting responsibilities, sabotaging relationships, and emotional sensitivity. Recognizing the signs of self-destructive behavior in yourself is the first step in getting help. At The Guest House, we can help you create an aftercare plan that fits your needs. An aftercare plan may include therapy, psychiatric care, and more. By engaging in aftercare, you can ensure you don’t slip back into old habits and reduce your risk of relapse. At The Guest House, we want to see you succeed in recovery and beyond. To learn more about how we can help you in your recovery, call us today at (855) 483-7800.