January is a time for self-improvement. If you struggle with self-destructive behaviors, putting a stop to them may be at the top of your list of New Year’s Resolutions. But you may not always recognize the things you do to hold yourself back. Here are 15 self-destructive behaviors to resolve to stop in 2023, and some tips to make this a resolution you keep.

What are Dysregulated Behaviors?

Self-destructive behaviors – sometimes called dysregulated behaviors in clinical settings – are activities you engage in that provide short-term relief or pleasure, but that interfere with your longer-term goals. They interfere with your ability to live a satisfying and fulfilling life. They are sometimes considered a maladaptive coping mechanism because they can provide temporary relief from negative feelings, but don’t help you resolve the underlying reason for your action.

Dysregulated behaviors can be a symptom of a variety of mood and mental health disorders, from ADHD to anxiety or depression. There is some evidence that they are most common among people who are more creative or empathic or feel emotions more strongly than others. They can also result from growing up in a negative or unsupportive environment. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, you can still find yourself engaging in self-destructive behaviors, particularly when stress is high.

Get Help Stopping Self-Destructive Behaviors

Talk to a psychotherapist today about how to avoid dysregulated behaviors blocking you from your goals.


15 Common Self-Destructive Behaviors

Self-destructive behaviors can be anything that undercut your own ability to reach your goals. However, there are some common self-destructive behaviors that you may be struggling with:

1.     Alcohol or Drug Use

Substance abuse and addiction can interfere with everything from your career to your relationships.

2.     Binge Eating

Eating disorders are mental health challenges of their own. However, sometimes binge eating is a self-destructive behavior triggered by shame, stress, or another disorder.

3.     Chronic Gambling

Like other addictive behavior, gambling or even video gaming, can be self-destructive if they interfere with your finances or time to do other, more important things.

4.     Overspending

If you have trouble keeping to a budget, it may be a self-destructive symptom of ADHD, bipolar disorder, or another mental health challenge.

5.     Risky Sexual Behaviors

A healthy libido is a good thing, but some people engage in sexual behaviors because they are risky. This can be self-destructive and can have serious negative consequences.

6.     Engaging Self-Defeating Mindsets

You may unconsciously engage in “negative self-talk,” telling yourself you will fail or cannot meet your goals. Adopting these self-defeating mindsets can become self-fulfilling, keeping you from doing the things you know you want to do.

7.     Procrastination or Failing to Act

Sometimes self-destructive behaviors come from a failure to act, rather than a specific action. When you know your next steps but fail to act, you guarantee failure.

8.     Self-Pitying

Feeling bad for yourself can also prevent you from taking steps to make yourself better. Self-pity can prevent you from being proactive to improve your life.

9.     Alienating Yourself from Your Family and Friends

Sometimes called “social suicide,” the self-destructive behavior of alienating or isolating yourself can cut you off from support structures and force you to face your challenges alone.

10.  Seeking Out Conflict

If you go out of your way to start or egg on conflict with others, it can destroy relationships and isolate you from opportunities to improve yourself.

11.  Personal Neglect

Keeping bad sleeping habits, refusing to exercise, eating unhealthy foods, avoiding hygiene, or other types of personal neglect are especially common self-defeating behaviors for those struggling with depression.

12.  Suppressing or Refusing to Acknowledge Your Emotions

You may unconsciously prevent yourself from acknowledging or resolving your emotions. This may cause them to well up, unregulated, at inconvenient times.

13.  Refusing Help

Often, those experiencing self-destructive behavior are given advice or offerings of help and support. Refusing help prevents you from taking the first step toward health.

14.  Unnecessary Self-Sacrifice

Sometimes sacrifices are necessary for your greater goals. However, making yourself a “martyr” unnecessarily can mask self-sabotage behind feelings of nobility or altruism.

15.  Self-Harm

One of the most destructive dysregulated behaviors is self-harm. At its most extreme, this can result in suicide. Self-harm is a result of low self-worth and a desire to physically cope with intense, uncontrolled emotions.

How to Keep Your Resolution to Stop Self-Destructive Behaviors

The New Year is a great opportunity to interrupt patterns of self-destructive behaviors. By resolving to stop one or more self-destructive behavior, and to adopt positive coping mechanisms in their place, you can improve your chances of accomplishing your larger goals. It takes about two months to develop a new habit, so commit January and February to one or more of these new behaviors overcome your self-destructive tendencies:

  • Journaling can help you recognize subconscious behaviors like procrastination or isolation
  • Meditation and mindfulness can help you acknowledge and limit the impact of self-pity and self-defeating mindsets
  • Engage in emotional release activities such as running, boxing, creativity, yelling, or crying
  • Adopt self-love and self-care behaviors
  • Commit to a period of abstinence from alcohol, drugs, spending, or compulsive behaviors
  • Find help and support

It is one thing to make a resolution to stop self-destructive behaviors. It is another thing to make meaningful change in the way you cope with stress and mental health challenges. You don’t have to do this work alone. If keeping your resolutions feels impossible, work with a psychotherapist to address the underlying causes of your self-defeating behaviors.

David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps adults and couples handle life stresses through short-term therapy or ongoing counseling. Contact David Stanislaw to get help today.