Everyone engages is some self-destructive behaviors from time to time. You may have one more drink when you know you shouldn’t or put off until tomorrow what really should have been done today. But for some, these behaviors are more than inconvenient. Sometimes, they can escalate to self-harm or even suicide. Find out what to watch for, and when to get help.


What are Self-Destructive Behaviors?

A self-destructive behavior is an action you that is certain to work against you, physically or emotionally. The severity of self-destructive behaviors ranges from minimal to life ending:

  • Self-derogatory statements or thoughts
  • Alienating yourself from others through aggressive or offensive behavior
  • Maladaptive behaviors such as procrastination, chronic avoidance, or passive-aggression
  • Self-pity
  • Clinging to or dependence on another person
  • Changing behaviors or patterns to please others
  • Overuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Excessive psychologically addicting behaviors (as opposed to chemical addiction) such as gambling, video gaming, or shopping
  • Impulsive or risky sexual behaviors
  • Binge eating
  • Self-injury such as cutting, hair pulling, or burning
  • Attempting suicide

The need to get help for self-destructive behaviors depend on their frequency and severity. Some more extreme self-harm requires immediate attention. However, less intense behaviors can still create problems if they cause distress or are disruptive to your everyday life.

If You are Considering Suicide or Self-Injury, Call 9-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 now to get help.

Are Self-Destructive Behaviors a Mental Illness?

Self-destructive behaviors are not generally considered mental illnesses on their own. However, they may be a symptom or a result of another mental health condition, including:

Developing patterns of self-destructive behavior can be an early warning sign of a cyclical or episodic mental health condition. They can also be a clue for psychotherapists and mental health professionals about the root cause of the behavior. Many self-destructive behaviors are defense mechanisms or coping mechanisms learned in response to childhood trauma or an abusive relationship. Identifying the behavior and its triggers can help you overcome those traumatic events and develop more affirming practices.

Breaking Self-Destructive Habits Means Getting Help

Even when self-destructive behaviors are not directly connected to a mental health diagnosis, they can still cause distress and interfere with your personal, professional, and relational goals and make you feel like you are a failure. Psychotherapy is useful in combating the self-destructive habits that interfere with your life. By working with a therapist, you can identify how your behavior is destructive and help you make a plan to interrupt the patterns of shame and self-blame. Your therapist can teach you strategies to interrupt the shame-based thinking and negative self-talk that often trigger unhealthy choices.

Get Help Breaking Self-Destructive Habits

Talk to a psychotherapist today about how to overcome self-destructive behaviors or self-harm.

The Escalation of Self-Harm

Some forms of self-destructive behaviors are immediately harmful and dangerous. If you have frequent thoughts about self-injury, fantasize about being hurt, or find yourself planning how you might hurt yourself or commit suicide, get help right away.

These thoughts may seem abstract or even hypothetical. However, self-harm is often a response to shame and hopelessness. Those who have attempted suicide often describe the behavior as an extreme measure to end severe emotional destress. If allowed to go untreated, these emotions can cause plans of self-harm or suicide to solidify quickly. You may not be able to reach out when you need it most. It is important to have alternative coping mechanisms in place before a problem or situation increases your desperation and escalates your desire for self-harm.

Get Help Rewriting Your Personal Scripts

Whether you are dealing with a pattern of self-destructive behaviors or an acute desire for self-harm, a psychotherapist can help. They can guide you down the path of breaking destructive habits and building up healthy patterns of behavior. They can also help you prepare, building up your resilience for when life puts challenges in your way. By making these changes now you can avoid hurting yourself in the future. You might even save your own life.

David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps children, teens and adults with self-destructive behaviors and other mental health concerns. Contact David Stanislaw to get help today.