The Habits of a Self-Destructive Person

Self-harm is an example of self-destructive behavior. This behavior reveals suppressed suffering and is clearly a coping mechanism for self-destructive people to deal with the pain. It's very important for these people to seek help.
The Habits of a Self-Destructive Person

Last update: 04 October, 2021

Self-destructive people tend to create a very harmful lifestyle for themselves. Often, these behaviors include abusive relationships, self-harming tendencies, impulsivity, procrastination, self-sabotaging, and drug consumption, among others.

In many situations, these behaviors can be explained by an underlying psychiatric disorder. Conditions like borderline personality disorder or even schizophrenia, for example, present this trait.

However, it’s important to mention that not all self-destructive people have a psychiatric problem. Teenagers or people that have suffered from childhood neglect or physical abuse can present atypical behavior.

Something that we should understand about these kinds of clinical issues, is that the person falls into these types of behaviors because they give them some kind of relief (small or large). The internal emotional intensity is so intense that the person needs to turn it into some kind of behavior.

However, the relief they find offers short-term pleasure and, ultimately, these practices make it more difficult to lead a fulfilling and satisfactory life.

What does it mean to be a self-destructive person?

Self-destructive behavior also has a severe impact on relationships with partners, friends. and family.

Self-destructive behavior usually is a symptom of other underlying psychological trauma. Generally speaking, they hide some kind of trauma behind them. This is a painful reality that often breaks the person’s internal balance from very early on.

After that, instead of dealing with the lived situation, what they do is adopt a series of behaviors that clearly hurt them.

Why is this?

They look to channel their accumulated suffering, the anger that doesn’t go away, the sadness that persists, and that anguish that becomes mixed with frustration.

The self-destructive person feels that their whole world is out of control. However, and amongst this psychological chaos, one way they’re able to feel in control is by falling into damaging behaviors.

An example of this is self-harming, which is very common among young people between 12 and 18 years old. Hurting themselves alleviates some of the emotional pain and the sensation that they are in control of the pain.

Common habits of self-destructive people

Self-destructive people never consider their own well-being. They’re biased towards chaos, towards searching for a form of pain to silence another form of pain: a more internal, deeper pain.

For example, people that drink alcohol as a form of escape, whilst fully aware that this habit will end up destroying them, don’t do anything to avoid drifting into that abyss.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the habits of self-destructive people.

A tendency towards forced incompetence

When it comes to doing any task or project, self-destructive people concentrate all their attention on their own limitations, on their (supposed) incompetence, and their failures. They’ll inflate all of their insecurities and shortcomings to demonstrate to the world and themselves that they’re useless.

Self-destructive people have defeatist attitudes

They don’t put the effort in, they abandon tasks early, they resort to playing the victim and to the negativity that impregnates each aspect of their lives.

Similarly, they constantly talk themselves down and feed their self-fulfilling prophecy bias. By this, we mean that everything bad that they say will happen, happens because they cause it themselves.

Passive, victimizing behavior 

Self-destructive people are void of motivation and are passive in any situation, adversity, or opportunity that they find themselves in, or in any circumstance in which they need to act.

They cut and run, and don’t take responsibility for anything. They resort to playing the victim.

Aggressive personal relationships

All of those people that are profoundly suffering and constantly on the edge; who carry with them trauma or a past of abuse, for example, can easily fall into self-destruction. However, on this path of suffering, they don’t hesitate in projecting this internal unease onto everyone around them.

Platonic relationships don’t last long; partners come and go, and generally, bring more pain than happiness. They’re not easy people to get along with because of their highs and lows, and they struggle to create trustful bonds: the pain is, often, a double-edged sword that hurts everyone around them.

Poor emotional management

A self-destructive person’s emotional universe is broken, chaotic, and unpredictable. They have a large number of negative emotions living in them: hate, grief, anger, sadness, fear, blame, and embarrassment.

These act like steam from a pressure cooker: they need to come out one way or another, but when they do, they take the form of violent or angry outbursts.

Risky or addictive behavior

Drug abuse, alcoholism, sex addiction, compulsive buying, eating disorders, self-harming… Unregulated personalities and self-harm are almost always evidence of these linked problems. They develop bit by bit until finally, they end up putting their lives at risk.

Studies, like those published in Violent Adolescents magazine by doctor Andrea Scherzer state that in reality, it’s more common in adolescents.

Self-destructive people have a negative reaction to receiving help

A common trait in this kind of person is absolute negativity to receiving help. They deny the support of family and friends, and what’s worse, professional intervention.

You may also be interested in: Types and Treatment for Behavioral Addiction

woman crying over toilet
Adolescents often suffer from self-destructive behaviors and eating disorders are an example.

Advice to stop self-destructive behavior

The first step to treating self-destructive behavior is all about the self-awareness of the individual. Understanding that these behaviors cause and solve nothing, other than more stress, is essential.

  • The first stage calls for these people to work on the unconscious feelings of guilt and anger. These two realities are present in every risky behavior. These people look to silence them and substitute them for pleasure. The first step is to eliminate all those defense mechanisms and work on those emotions.
  • The second stage is going to therapy where they can work on their internal dialogue, their irrational thoughts, their negative ideas, and invalid beliefs about themselves.
  • We recommend that it’s best to get to the cause of the situation. The self-destructive person may have dealt with trauma or an underlying condition like borderline personality disorder. In any case, we advise family therapy that involves people close to the person in question.
  • Lastly, they should consider introducing new, healthy habits. Adequate coping mechanisms can help them to discover new interests that they can get involved in beneficially and respectfully.

To conclude, all of these psychological disorders must be treated by psychological specialists. Destructive habits can sometimes lead to harmful thoughts and behavior, and this is something we should all work to prevent.

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  • Anthony W. Bateman, Roy Krawitz (2013). Borderline Personality Disorder: An evidence-based guide for generalist mental health professionals. OUP Oxford
  •  Henshaw, Sophie (8 July 2018). “How to Change Self-Destructive Behavior: Stages of Change”. World of Psychology. Retrieved 11 February 2020.
  • Kerig, Patricia. (2017). Self‐Destructive Behavior. 10.1002/9781118524275.ejdj0137.
  • Scherzer, Andrea L. (2018-03-29), “Understanding self-destructive behaviour in adolescence”, Violent Adolescents, Routledge, pp. 5–20, doi:10.4324/9780429484711-2
  • Lovaas, O.Ivar; Freitag, Gilbert; Gold, Vivian J.; Kassorla, Irene C. (1965). “Experimental studies in childhood schizophrenia: Analysis of self-destructive behavior”. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 2: 67–84. doi:10.1016/0022-0965(65)90016