Known for doing things without thinking? That tend to be risky? Things that end up hurting you in some way or another?

You might have an issue with self-destructive behaviour.

What is self-destructive behaviour?

Self-destructive behaviour is when we do something that hurts us either physically, or mentally and emotionally. This might be a conscious choice, a habit, or even impulsive behaviour we struggle to control.

In the cases where our behaviour is impulsive, it might also be that we have a mental health disorder. Self-destructive behaviour is a symptom of things like bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.

Obvious ways of being destructive

We all know that unhealthy behaviours are harming behaviours. This can look like:

Less obvious forms of self-sabotage

There are often other forms of self-destruction that can be as powerful, but trickier to spot and therefore easier to lie to ourselves and others about. These can look like:

1. Hanging around others you know aren’t good for you or don’t even like.

You tell yourself they aren’t that bad. But whenever you are around them, you feel pressured to do things you wouldn’t otherwise, or habits you’ve been trying to chill out on. You drink too much, smoke a joint when you have to meet someone important later.

Or you hang around with people you don’t even like that much, who leave you feeling tired and miserable. You might even engage in sexual activity with people you don't like.

2. Not letting yourself get what you want.

You choose a goal, and put tons of time and effort into achieving it. T

Then just as it looks like you’ll succeed, you change your mind and say you aren’t interested. You might even convince yourself this is true. But on a certain level you’ll be mad at yourself, or tired of yourself for messing up again.

3. Procrastinating on important things.

You have an application due for a course you’ve wanted to take for ages. And of course you leave it to the last minute, and even go out drinking the night before so you are left doing it with a hangover.

4. Focusing only on the negatives.

Instead of letting yourself see possibilities and opportunities, you constantly turn all your attention to what is going wrong.

You did poorly on a science exam, so instead of realising that you excelled in English and might want to focus on that, you decide there is no point in going to college.

Self-destructive behaviour in relationships

It’s easy to use relationships to hurt ourselves. In fact for many of us, it’s our favourite way to be self-destructive.

This can look like:

  • putting ourselves down around others
  • encourage them to criticise us
  • being mean to people we actually like
  • or hurting people we care about
  • pushing everyone away so we are lonely
  • trying to be what others want us to be instead of being ourselves.

Why am I so self-destructive?

It tends to come from childhood experiences that left us feeling unworthy. This might have been parents who always put us down or didn’t love or value us for who we were.

Or it can come from difficult childhood experiences like neglect, or childhood trauma.

Trauma, like child sexual abuse, deeply damages our identity and self-esteem. Many children turn things around and blame themselves, developing core beliefs that they are flawed and unloveable, or even deserve bad things.

When we carry these beliefs into adulthood we then use self destructive behaviours to prove them true, and to punish ourselves for what we perceive is something wrong with us.

In a study that spent four years following over 70 subjects with personality disorders or bipolar disorder, a history of childhood sexual and physical abuse was highly linked to a tendency to self harm or attempt suicide. The more severe the neglect, the more likely participants were found to be self-destructive.

When we hurt ourselves as a way to cope

Or we might be using our self-destructive behaviours as a negative coping mechanism. If, for example, we are scared of intimacy, it feels better to push others away than feel afraid.

Self-harm can work this way. We can have such overwhelming emotional pain that cutting or burning ourselves acts as a way to distract the pain to the body, and have a moment of escape from emotions.

Can therapy help me stop hurting myself?

Yes. Talk therapy helps you see who you are, versus the false ideas you have developed about yourself. You learn to recognise what is right with you, and to see the inner resources that can lead you towards, instead of away, from the life and relationships you long for.

Time to start building yourself up instead of always bringing yourself down? Book a therapist you like now and start talking your way into a better place.

Need an Appointment ASAP?

Here's who's next available...

See other available therapists ›
Are you a therapist?
Apply to be on the platform  ›