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Strategies for Breaking Free from Self-Destructive Patterns

Everyone forms healthy and unhealthy habits throughout their lives. For example, you may be good at following a healthy sleep routine but you tend to take on too many hours and or extra projects at work. You may have some unhealthy habits, but those behavioral expressions, like biting your nails, are not typically destructive. However, when those habits impair your ability to function and engage in healthy behaviors, you are caught up in a cycle of self-destructive patterns. Self-destructive patterns can be detrimental to your long-term physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

At The Guest House, we know self-destructive patterns are often born from traumatic life events. When your ability to adapt to life stressors is overwhelmed, it becomes easier to gravitate toward unhealthy coping strategies. In the short-term unhealthy coping strategies may click with your brain’s reward center, which creates a feedback loop of unhealthy patterns to recapture those reward feelings.

However, those unhealthy coping strategies become self-destructive patterns as every moment becomes about chasing that false feeling of relief. You become so caught up in trying to quickly eliminate your distress that the self-destructive patterns become a part of the distress you are trying to shove down. Therefore, we believe in helping you build adaptive strategies to address and dismantle self-destructive patterns to support long-term healing.

What Are Self-Destructive Patterns?

You may not even realize or understand how your behaviors have become self-destructive patterns. As the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) notes in “How to Change Behavior Patterns,” behavior patterns come from three general areas of behavior. Behavior patterns are based on your strengths and weaknesses, learned reactions from experiences, and habits.

The combination of characteristics that make up your behavior patterns is deeply rooted in your thoughts, emotions, and beliefs about yourself and the world. When you experience challenges with maladaptive thinking patterns and distress, self-destructive patterns become more pronounced. Thus, it is important to address self-destructive patterns to support your long-term well-being.

According to the Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, self-destructive behaviors can include:

  • Non-suicidal self-injury
  • Suicidality
  • Disordered eating
  • Substance use disorder (SUD)
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Other process addictions
    • Activities become compulsive
      • Gambling addiction
      • Shopping addiction
      • Gaming addiction
      • Internet addiction
      • Sex addiction

Many self-destructive patterns have different levels of frequency and severity, from mild occasional self-destructive patterns to extreme self-destructive patterns that impair functioning and increase your risk for physical and psychological harm. Moreover,  self-destructive patterns are often related to challenges with mental health disorders. The difficulties of distressing life events can contribute to increased mental health distress that fosters self-destructive patterns.

In addition, challenges with unaddressed mental health disorders can increase psychological distress and encourage self-medicating with substances. Thus, many self-destructive patterns often share co-occurrences that inform and impede each other. Further, self-destructive patterns are often rooted in traumatic life experiences that overwhelm your ability to maintain or build healthy coping skills.

Listed below are some of the trauma-related risk factors that contribute to self-destructive patterns in mental health disorders and addiction:

  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
    • Physical, sexual, and or emotional abuse
    • Emotional and or physical neglect
    • Exposure to substance misuse
      • Parental substance misuse and or SUD
    • Untreated parental mental health disorders
  • Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Exposure to self-harming behaviors
    • Friends who self-harm
    • Loved ones who self-harm
  • Social exclusion
  • Low self-esteem
  • Challenges with emotional regulation
  • Difficulties managing mental health disorder symptoms
    • Anxiety disorders
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
    • Depression
    • Personality disorders
    • Eating disorders
  • Exposure to traumatic events
    • Natural disasters
    • Chronic stress
    • Loss of loved ones
    • Chronic and or life-threatening health conditions

Looking at the potential roots of self-destructive patterns highlights how maladaptive coping strategies are used as a means to manage or suppress traumatic stress responses. Many self-destructive patterns overlap and are informed first by maladaptive coping mechanisms. You may be at a point where you can see that your SUD is a self-destructive pattern and a maladaptive coping strategy. Yet, many other maladaptive coping mechanisms can intersect with and contribute to your challenges with self-destructive patterns.

Examples of Maladaptive Coping Mechanisms

Maladaptive coping behaviors work against you to stop you from adapting to new or changing circumstances in your life. Moreover, as the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) states, negative coping can worsen your symptoms and create new difficulties like SUD and mental health disorders. Listed below are some of the other maladaptive coping mechanisms that can become self-destructive patterns:

  • Avoidance behaviors
    • Trying to avoid thinking about the roots of your distress
    • Avoiding reminders of your trauma
    • Emotional numbing to shut out distressing feelings
    • Changing your behavior to avoid difficult situations and feelings
    • Avoiding situations and events that may be upsetting
    • Not making eye contact in conversations
  • Behavioral disengagement
    • In distressing situations, you disengage or reduce your efforts to participate in activities or social situations
  • Withdrawal from others
    • Avoiding spending time with loved ones
    • Finding excuses to not engage in social interactions
  • Staying on guard
    • Constantly on the lookout for danger
  • Anger, aggressive, and violent behaviors
    • Short-tempered
    • Reckless behavior
  • Passive-aggressiveness
    • You say you are fine, but you engage in aggressive behaviors
      • Hostile comments
      • Slamming doors
  • Overworking yourself
    • Avoiding memories of the trauma
  • Rumination
    • Repetitively thinking about negative thoughts and feelings
  • Procrastination
    • Conscious or unconscious avoidance of difficult issues
  • Intrusive thoughts
    • Involuntary and unwelcome negative distressing thoughts and ideas
  • Maladaptive daydreaming
    • Choosing to engage in an extensive fantasy inner world rather than interact with others or participate in your life
  • Blaming
    • Unable or unwilling to recognize the role you play in your self-destructive patterns
  • Self-blame
    • Irrationally feeling like everything or the trauma is your fault
  • Sensitization
    • Remaining hyper-vigilance to perceived threats
    • Feeling excessive worry about yourself and or others
    • Frequently over-rehearsing events
  • Co-dependency
    • Only relying on others for continual reassurance that you are okay

Thus, understanding how maladaptive coping strategies may exist in your daily life can give insight into their potentially destructive nature. With more awareness of the roots of your self-destructive patterns, you can start learning how to dismantle those self-destructive patterns.

Addressing the Challenges of Breaking Self-Destructive Patterns

Breaking out of self-destructive patterns does not happen overnight. As noted in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, behavior change can be incredibly difficult even when you know you should engage in healthier behaviors. For example, you know engaging in physical activity or taking a break from work is good for your physical and mental health. Yet, countless people all around the world use their treadmill as a clothing rack or work that double shift at work.

Many people like to play the blame game and accuse people of weak willpower for not being able to commit to or maintain healthy choices. However, dismantling self-destructive patterns is far more complex than a willpower issue. In fact, trying to brute force your way to a healthier you through suppression of unhealthy behaviors is not effective. Many self-destructive patterns like SUD are often rooted in self-medicating to suppress distress.

In reality, there are a variety of challenges and barriers to healthier patterns that must be addressed for healing to start happening. Changing behaviors are often tied to your capacity to regulate impulses and the environment in which you exist. All of your experiences and interactions play a role in the self-destructive patterns you form and the barriers that impede your well-being.

For instance, financial challenges can act as a barrier to not taking extra or double shifts. Moreover, financial instability is a stressor that further impedes your well-being as you are physically and psychologically exhausted by the cause of your distress and the self-destructive behaviors born out of your financial challenges. Listed below are some of the barriers to changing unhealthy behaviors:

  • Lack of information resources
  • Limited and or insufficient support services
  • Insufficient skills
  • Negative self-talk

Increased awareness of your self-destructive patterns and the barriers that impede healing is the first step to recovery. Knowledge and deeper self-understanding can empower you to effect positive change in your life. Now you can build the healthy coping strategies you need to dismantle your self-destructive patterns.

Strategies for Replacing Self-Destructive Patterns

Everyone’s experiences and needs to dismantle self-destructive patterns are different. Therefore, it is important to build healthy behavioral interventions that make sense for you and your life. As the National Institute on Aging (NIA) states, behavioral interventions foster different ways of thinking, feeling, acting, or relating with others to support behavioral changes. Moreover, behavioral interventions that focus on self-regulation, stress coping, and social support can be effective strategies for healthy behavioral changes.

Listed below are the different ways behavioral interventions can support you in dismantling your self-destructive patterns:

  • Self-regulation: Learning how to modify or control your behaviors to support healthier decision-making
    • Acceptance and mindfulness training
      • Focuses on learning to experience and accept your present moment without judgment
  • Coping: Learning how to manage external and internal stress reactivity
    • Increase ability to cope with and adapt to stressors
      • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
        • Focuses on helping you identify negative thinking and behavior patterns
        • Recognizing how your thoughts and feelings impact your behaviors
          • Learning how to engage in problem-solving skills
          • Reframing your thoughts
          • Deepening self-understanding for improved confidence and self-worth
  • Social support: Learning how to lean into healthy social connections for support
    • Modeling healthy behaviors for each other
    • Finding emotional support in each other to process life stressors

Understanding basic strategies to replace self-destructive patterns gives you a foundation to build adaptive coping skills. With adaptive coping skills, you can learn how to dismantle self-destructive patterns and build adaptive coping skills to utilize in your daily life for long-term recovery.

Examples of Adaptive Coping Mechanisms

While dismantling self-destructive patterns can be challenging, it is important to remember that recovery is not a destination. The day-to-day practice of healthy choices is a journey, an evolution of yourself. Long-term recovery is the continual process of learning and growing throughout your life. Some of the adaptive coping mechanisms you can engage in throughout your daily life include:

  • Build balanced goals
    • Be specific
    • Realistically achievable
    • Has a time limit
  • Though journal
    • Write down and reflect on negative thoughts and beliefs
    • Reframe thoughts and beliefs with positive ones
    • Engaging in evidence-seeking
      • Only work with the information you have
  • Grounding techniques
    • Utilize your five senses or tangible objects to reconnect with yourself in moments of distress
      • Feel the texture, weight, and temperature of items
      • Challenging yourself to name specific colors of objects
      • Mindful eating
        • Savoring each bite, acknowledging both texture and flavor
      • Pay attention to your breath work
      • Feel your body
        • Your heartbeat
        • The weight of your clothing
        • Wiggle your fingers and toes
          • Feel the floor under your feet
        • Listen to the world around you
        • Utilize the 5-4-3-2-1 method
          • Use your senses, counting backward from five, to notice the things around you
            • 5 things you hear
            • 4 things you see
            • 3 things you can touch
            • 2 things you can smell
            • 1 thing you can taste
  • Positive self-talk
    • Give yourself pep-talks
    • Say/write positive affirmations
    • Actively replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts
      • For every negative thought, come up with two positive thoughts
  • Self-care
    • Schedule a healthy reward for yourself every week
      • Watching your favorite show/movie
      • Buying a candle
    • Deep breathing exercises
    • Meditation
    • Physical activity
    • Eat nutritious foods
    • Build a sleep schedule and routine
    • Engage in time management
    • Schedule breaks for yourself
    • Build healthy boundaries with yourself and others
    • Take a trip to one of your favorite places on your own or with supportive loved ones
      • Bookstore and or library
      • Ice cream shop
      • Park
      • Art museum
      • Music store
      • Coffee shop
  • Finding support in your loved ones and community
    • Share your thoughts and feelings
    • Spend time with your pets/emotional support animals
    • Reach out for support from your healthcare providers
  • Engage in your community
    • Participate in community activities
    • Volunteer work
    • Participate in community sports
    • Try out community-based school activities
    • Connect with faith-based organizations
    • Join a support group in-person or online
  • Spend time in nature
    • Go for a long walk
    • Sit at a park/lake
    • Go bird watching
    • Take a scenic drive
    • Go on a day trip to places that make you feel calm
  • Participate in activities and hobbies that bring you joy
    • Play a sport
    • Listen to music
    • Play an instrument
    • Draw and or paint
    • Dance
    • Pottery and or sculpting
    • Try out a new hobby

Exploring different coping strategies and grounding techniques gives you the space to figure out which ones best match you and your needs. There are a variety of strategies and techniques you can use to build your coping toolkit for your daily life. Having a variety of tools in your toolkit gives you the coping flexibility you need to adapt and cope with the external and internal stressors in life. As Plos One notes, coping flexibility allows you to change coping styles to respond to your different external and internal demands. Through the availability and use of multiple positive coping strategies, you can experience more positive adjustment over time for your long-term well-being

Finding Support for Self-Destructive Patterns at The Guest House

Through an investment in building a toolbox of adaptive coping strategies, you can dismantle self-destructive patterns and increase your self-esteem to better address difficult thoughts, feelings, and experiences. At The Guest House, we know true addiction and mental health recovery is a lifelong process for meaningful recovery to happen. When you get caught up in the idea of absolutes or viewing recovery as a resolution rather than an evolution, you set yourself up for disappointment. Long-term recovery happens when you have access to support that addresses your needs during and beyond treatment.

Therefore, we are committed to providing holistic care and a variety of therapeutic modalities to give you the space and long-term coping tools to dismantle self-destructive patterns and heal. You deserve the opportunity to live an independent meaningful and fulfilling life. With support, challenges with SUD and mental health disorders do not have to be a barrier to your daily functioning and ability to achieve your life goals. Through a holistic approach to care, you can heal in mind, body, and spirit for long-lasting recovery. Thus, with a wide range of evidence-based and experiential therapies, you have the space to build a path toward long-term healing that matches you.

Challenges with self-destructive patterns are often rooted in traumatic experiences and difficulties with emotional regulation. When you are overwhelmed by life stressors and or mental health symptoms, it becomes easier to gravitate toward maladaptive coping strategies. Increased engagement in maladaptive coping strategies fosters narrow and negative coping styles that become ingrained as self-destructive patterns. Thus, understanding the roots of your distress allows you to increase your self-awareness and build multiple flexible adaptive coping strategies to address internal and external demands. At The Guest House, we are committed to providing a wide range of therapeutic modalities to heal as a whole-person. Call us today at (855) 483-7800 to learn how you can dismantle self-destructive patterns for your long-term well-being and independence.