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What Are Self-Defeating Behaviors? How Do They Fuel Addiction?

Everyone forms habits over the course of their life. Some habits are healthy, like taking moments to stand up and stretch. However, some habits can devolve into self-defeating behaviors without you even realizing it. As noted in an article from the National Institute of Health (NIH), repetitive behaviors that you associate with feeling good can become automatic habits that you perform with little thought. For example, the repetition of having a few drinks after long work days can morph into self-defeating behaviors when your whole life is centered around when you will have your next drink. Thus, it is crucial to address how self-defeating behaviors can impede your long-term well-being.

At The Guest House, we know self-defeating behaviors often form from difficult life events. Moreover, we understand how challenging it can be to find healthy coping strategies for the stressors and trauma life throws at you. When you feel overwhelmed by the pressures of life, it is easier to engage in unhealthy behaviors that may make you feel better in the moment. Thus, you become so caught up in alleviating the immediate distress that you may not even realize that your behaviors are doing more harm than good. Nevertheless, we at The Guest House believe that helping you recognize your self-defeating behaviors can give you the tools to dismantle self-defeating behaviors and build healthier coping strategies for long-term healing.

What Are Self-Defeating Behaviors?

According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology from the American Psychological Association (APA), self-defeating behaviors or self-destructiveness are actions that are damaging to your best interest or well-being. Further, you may not be fully aware of the harm your actions cause you and your loved ones. In addition, as noted in the article “Understanding Self-Destructive Behavior” by Ann Pietrangelo, self-defeating behaviors can come in many different forms and cause physical and or psychological harm to you.

Types of Self-Defeating Behaviors

As noted by Pietrangelo, listed below are some different types of self-defeating behaviors that can harm your well-being:

  • Overconsumption of substances:
    • Alcohol
    • Drugs
  • Compulsive activities and behaviors:
    • Gambling
    • Shopping
    • Gaming
    • Risky sexual behavior
    • Self-harm
      • Cutting
      • Burning
      • Hair pulling
    • Disordered eating
      • Binge eating
      • Anorexia
  • Negative self-talk:
    • Making derogatory statements about yourself
      • Appearance
      • Attractiveness
      • Intelligence
      • Capability
  • Maladaptive behaviors:
    • Chronic avoidance
    • Procrastination
    • Passive-aggressive interactions

Moreover, the many types of self-defeating behaviors highlight unhealthy coping strategies as a means of managing or ignoring life stressors. However, you may question how self-defeating behaviors form. Furthermore, what leads to maladaptive coping mechanisms?

Understanding the Roots of Self-Defeating Behaviors?

According to an article from Child Development Perspectives, mental health issues born from self-defeating behaviors are rooted in childhood. In other words, the childhood root of self-defeating behaviors can be found in early adverse experiences and environments. Many adverse childhood experiences (ACE) can be both direct and indirect sources of trauma. For example, growing up in poverty can be an indirect traumatic experience that can cause physical and emotional harm as you witness the distress of the adults around you. Other traumas, like physical and emotional abuse, for example, are direct, interpersonal traumas that happen first-hand to you.

Types of Adverse Childhood Experiences

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ACEs can be categorized into three different groups. Listed below are the three ACE groups and the types of experiences that can lead to self-defeating behaviors:

  • Abuse:
    • Physical abuse: The harm was committed by a parent, stepparent, or another adult in the home
      • Pushed
      • Grabbed
      • Slapped
      • An object was thrown at you
      • You were physically hurt by their actions
    • Sexual abuse: The harm was committed by an adult, family member, family friend, or stranger at least five years older than you
      • Physically touched or fondled you in a sexual way
      • Forced you to touch them in a sexual way
      • Attempted to have any type of sexual intercourse with you
    • Emotional abuse: The harm was committed by a parent, stepparent, or another adult in the home
      • You were sworn at
      • They insulted you
      • Frequent put-downs
        • Hurtful statements designed to make you feel small and less worthwhile
      • Acted in a way that suggested you would be physically harmed
  • Neglect:
    • Physical neglect: The harm was committed by someone in your family
      • There was rarely or never anyone around to care for or protect you
      • No one was around to take you to doctor’s appointments
      • Limited access to basic needs like food and clothing
      • Caregivers were too consumed by substances to take care of you
    • Emotional neglect: The harm was committed by someone in your family
      • They rarely made you feel important or special
      • You rarely or never felt loved
      • There was a lack of closeness between your family members
      • Your family has never been a source of strength or support
  • Household challenges:
    • Intimate partner violence
      • Your mother or stepmother was physically harmed by your other parent
        • Pushed
        • Grabbed
        • Slapped
        • Kicked
        • Punched
        • Repeatedly hit for several minutes
        • An object was thrown at her
        • She was hit with a hard object
        • Threatened or harmed with a knife or gun
    • Substance use
      • A household member had substance use disorder (SUD)
    • Mental health disorders
      • A household member had depression or another mental health disorder
      • Member of the household attempted suicide
    • Parental separation and or divorce
      • At any point in your childhood, your parents were separated or divorced
    • Incarceration
      • A household member was imprisoned

Furthermore, the vast range of ACEs showcases how vital your early experiences are to how you process difficult situations as an adult.

Put more simply, childhood is an important time when the ways you cope with life stressors and trauma are formed. As the Child Development Perspectives article notes, whether you develop adaptive or maladaptive coping strategies starts as early as infancy. In infancy, you start learning how to regulate your emotions and responses to stress by co-regulating with your caregiver(s). Then over the course of your childhood, you move from dependent to independent self-regulation. Thus, by late adolescence, you have a wide range of healthy adaptive coping strategies for different situations.

However, ACEs disrupt the normative development of healthy coping skills. When you are exposed to trauma in childhood, you are more likely to use unhealthy coping strategies to protect yourself from an overwhelming amount of stress. Therefore, repeated exposure to trauma, repetition of maladaptive coping, and a lack of healthy coping examples cement these self-defeating behaviors well into adulthood.

Moreover, understanding different coping styles can give you insight into how various coping styles can lead to self-defeating behaviors like SUD.

Types of Coping Strategies

As noted in the publication titled Coping Mechanism by Emad B. Algorani and Vikas Gupta, coping is your perception and reaction to internal and external stressors. Coping styles are born out of coping as you develop traits that impact your response to stress. These coping styles become consistent representations of the way in which you deal with stressful thoughts, feelings, and situations.

Moreover, coping styles are typically broken into two parts:

  • Reactive coping: You react after a stressor occurs
  • Proactive coping: You focus on neutralizing future stressors

Both reactive and proactive coping can have benefits in different settings. Reactive coping, for example, can be effective in a more variable environment where there can be multiple factors at play. Further, reactive coping can be beneficial for short-term relief in the midst of a stressful situation like deep breathing exercises. Proactive coping, on the other hand, can be effective in more stable environments where there is more time to recognize potential stressors. When you have more time to recognize potential stressors, you can utilize more tools to prevent or minimize the amount of distress you experience in a given situation.

Furthermore, coping can be broken into four major categories:

  • Problem-focused coping: Focuses on the problem causing the distress
    • Active coping
    • Planning
    • Restraint coping
    • Suppression of completing activities
      • Putting other things aside to focus on the stressor
  • Emotion-focused coping: Focuses on reducing the negative emotions associated with the stressor
    • Positive reframing
    • Acceptance
    • Humor
    • Coping through religion
  • Meaning-focused coping: Focuses on using cognitive strategies to derive and manage the meaning of the distressing situation
  • Social coping: Focuses on reducing stress by seeking emotional and or instrumental support from your community

The four major coping strategies can present both positive and negative behavior patterns. As noted in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the coping strategies you use are often a reflection of the personal and situational factors that influence your perception and evaluation of the situations you encounter. Therefore, the level of control you perceive over the distressing situation can influence what coping strategies you gravitate towards. According to the article, listed below are some of the ways in which different coping styles can be adaptive or maladaptive in different situations:

  • Problem-focused coping:
    • Proactive
    • Effective in controllable stress environments
      • You act on the stressor, environment, or yourself to decrease or eliminate the stress
        • People who use specific proactive coping strategies often experience less stress
          • Proactive coping strategies include reflective coping and strategic planning
  • Emotion-focused coping:
    • Reactive
    • Effective in uncontrollable stress environments
      • You attempt to regulate your feelings and emotional response to the stressor
        • People who use specific reactive problem-focused coping strategies often experience less stress
          • Reactive problem-focused coping strategies include effective coping and planning ahead for the stressor
        • Using specific reactive emotion-focused coping strategies often leads to less stress
          • Reactive emotion-focused coping strategies include reinterpretation from a positive perspective and growth
  • Avoidance-focused coping:
    • Reactive
      • You attempt to avoid stressful situations and stress reactions
        • People who use specific reactive emotion-focused coping strategies may experience more stress
          • Reactive emotion-focused coping strategies include
            • Focusing on emotions
            • Engaging in denial
            • Disengaging
            • A significant dependence on emotional support

Moreover, looking at the overlapping relationship between coping strategies highlights the value of incorporating a variety of proactive and reactive coping mechanisms to support healthy responses to stress. Coping is an interactive process in which different coping styles, along with the stressor and environmental circumstances can impact your well-being. For example, as seen in both emotion-focused and avoidance-focused coping, emotion-focused coping can have adaptive and maladaptive approaches. Thus, recognizing maladaptive coping mechanisms like denial and avoidance showcases the psychological processing that creates self-defeating behaviors like SUD.

Addressing Maladaptive Coping Strategies

According to an article by PeerJ, self-defeating behaviors like substance consumption is a maladaptive reactive coping behavior. Further, as one of many self-defeating behaviors, alcohol and drug use is an attempt to reduce and or manage stress. Listed below are some of the maladaptive coping strategies substance use reinforces:

  • Avoidance
  • Increased focus on emotions
  • Utilized to temporarily alleviate negative thoughts and feelings associated with the stressor

Thus, maladaptive coping strategies like avoidance-focused coping reinforces the foundation of self-defeating behaviors. Self-defeating behaviors like SUD encourage you to seek out substance use as a means of avoiding the underlining cause of your distress like trauma. Moreover, as noted in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, addiction risk has a significant correlation with uncontrollable, unpredictable, highly stressful, and emotionally distressing events. This is because high emotional stress floods your system and makes it more difficult to control impulses and behaviors. Thus, self-defeating behaviors like SUD act as self-medicating tools to combat overwhelming psychological distress.

However, as noted in an article from the National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA), substance use can exasperate the same self-control issues high emotional distress was causing. Therefore, the more you avoid addressing adverse experiences, the more likely you are to develop self-defeating behaviors to deal with life stressors. However, self-defeating behaviors can be addressed with support. Through the development of more adaptive coping strategies, you can learn how to dismantle self-defeating behaviors and maladaptive coping strategies.

Building Adaptive Coping Strategies at the Guest House

Self-defeating behaviors are often a reflection of disconnection from the inner self and others. When you are engaging in self-defeating behaviors, it becomes more difficult to recognize the destructive nature of your behavior. Moreover, when you are consumed by your self-defeating behaviors, you may isolate yourself from people and resources of support.

In addition, self-isolation and SUD act as maladaptive tools for the avoidance of the roots of self-defeating behaviors. As noted in “Adaptive Strategies for Coping with Stress: Coping With and Without Support from Others” by Kelly Schwind Wilson, individualistic copers who avoid affirmative or external strategies for coping are more likely to have low well-being outcomes. Whereas, people who seek a balanced mix of independent and affirmative coping strategies experienced healthier outcomes. Thus, highlighting the value of a mix of independent and dependent coping mechanisms is valuable for effectively addressing self-defeating behaviors.

According to Wilson and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) listed below are some ways to dismantle self-defeating behaviors and take care of yourself in your daily life:

  • Build healthy connections with others
    • Bond with good listeners
  • Do not wait to seek support from others
    • The earlier you seek support, the easier it is to ask for help when you need it
  • Trying to utilize all coping strategies at a time can increase your stress
    • Focus on using two coping strategies at a time
      • One proactive and reactive coping strategy
        • Problem-focused planning
        • Emotion-focused seeking emotional or instrumental support
  • Engage in self-care
    • Nutritious foods
    • Get plenty of quality sleep
    • Participate in physical activity
  • Establish a routine to foster healthy habits
    • Try to eat at consistent times
    • Be consistent in your sleep times
    • Incorporate a positive and or fun activity to look forward to every week
  • Connect with nature and or animals to support your mental wellness

Moreover, building healthy habits and adaptive coping strategies are important recovery tools to support healing. At The Guest House, we are committed to uncovering the trauma at the root of your self-defeating behaviors. When you understand the reasons for your self-defeating behaviors, you can truly start to form healthier thinking and behavior patterns. Through a holistic approach to care, you can learn to heal in mind, body, and spirit; as deepening your self-understanding can open the door to more love and acceptance. Our ability to provide a wide range of therapeutic modalities gives you the space to find the right path to recovery for you.

Experiencing trauma, especially in early childhood, can increase your risk of maladaptive coping mechanisms. Moreover, a lack of examples of healthy coping strategies makes it more difficult to address life stressors as an adult due to the fact that maladaptive coping strategies increase the use of coping styles that support self-defeating behaviors. Thus, understanding coping styles can give you insight into how finding a balanced mix of proactive and reactive coping styles can give you tools to build healthier thinking and behavior patterns. At The Guest House, we are committed to providing a wide range of therapeutic modalities that truly give you space to heal your mind, body, and spirit. Call us at (855) 483-7800 to learn more today.