How to Stop Self-Destructive Behavior

Phi Atratus
  • Apr 11, 2022
  • 5 min read
young man in a difficult situation

Some people find it difficult to believe that self-destructive behavior is not a conscious or intentional habit.

Most of us have performed actions against our physical and mental well-being without realizing it. And in cases where we are fully aware of this behavior, the urge is so strong that it overcomes our will or control.

The reasons to engage in self-destructive behavior range from early problematic experiences to mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. In fact, research has shown that you don't have to be diagnosed with a mental illness to experience the harmful consequences of this toxic habit.

However, online therapy has proven to be very helpful in finding ways how to stop self-destructive behavior and restore well-being in people's lives. 

What Is Self-Destructive Behavior?

Self-destructive behavior involves actions that lead us to emotional and physical discomfort and go against a life we consider fulfilling and worthwhile.

Some examples of self-destructive behavior are more obvious than others. For instance, suicide attempts, self-injuring, overuse of toxic substances like alcohol or drugs, or risky, compulsive behavior like gambling or excessive gaming.

But there are also more subtle examples that can sabotage our attempts to have a rewarding life. 

If you are self-derogatory, constantly tell yourself that you’re not smart enough, interact with people who don't value you, or procrastinate on tasks, you are engaged in self-destructive behavior.

Some people deal with such issues on a daily basis, while others experience them as isolated episodes. But regardless of severity or frequency, the physical, emotional, and social consequences are always dangerous.

Debi Silber gave an amazing speech on TedX about self-sabotage:

Self-Destructive Behavior's Mental Health Risks

People dealing with anxiety or depression are more likely to act in a self-destructive manner. People of any age can suffer from this mental health condition, although young adults are more vulnerable to it.

Anxiety is characterized by excessive worry about the future and manifests in debilitating fear and distress. We all suffer from stress or anxiety at some point in our lives, especially nowadays, when modern times demand us to do everything fast and make us feel that resting is a luxury we cannot afford.

But when anxiety becomes unmanageable and takes up most of your time, you are bound to engage in self-destructive behaviors that will only lead you to ruin your overall health and any chance of happiness in your life.

Depression manifests itself in overwhelming sadness and lack of interest in activities that used to bring you pleasure and happiness. 

This condition often goes undiagnosed since people suffering from this condition are often portrayed as lazy, unambitious individuals who don’t want to improve their lives, which is far from the truth.

Depression is a disease affecting 5% of the world's population, an alarming figure that leads those who suffer from it to engage in self-destructive behavior and even commit suicide.

The worst part is that once you get hooked on one self-destructive behavior, it is very likely that you will develop a similar one in a short period of time.

If you identify with any of these symptoms or know someone going through this mental condition, psychotherapy is the solution to get them out of this discouraging state.

How Can Therapy Help With Self-Destructive Behavior?

Self-destructive behavior is usually a coping mechanism that people are unaware of.

For example, if you’ve always lived under the shadow of constant rejection, you probably devalue your talents at work and unknowingly sabotage the possibility of getting the promotion you were hoping for.

This is a self-destructive behavior that you can become aware of and change without the need to be diagnosed with a mental disorder. But when it becomes a pattern, and your physical and emotional health is at serious risk, it's time to seek professional help.

First of all, you must seek professional help to assess your situation and determine if your self-destructive behavior is a disorder of a more severe mental health problem to guide treatment.

Treatment is based on your specific needs and context and the severity of your symptoms.

The different types of therapy include:

Talk therapy

Talk therapy helps you dig into the root source of your self-destructive behavior in order to cope with your daily challenges in a healthier way.

For example, you may have had an invalidating childhood environment where no one attended to your emotional needs, thus developing dysfunctional behavior in your adulthood.

Also known as psychotherapy, talk therapy is what mental health specialists use to communicate effectively with their clients. Talk therapy aims to help people recognize issues that cause emotional and mental distress.

For some people, these problems are complex to elaborate on and might be stemming from mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. 

But for other individuals, talk therapy serves as a safe space to discuss thoughts and emotions triggered by everyday challenges and struggles in relationships, making it an excellent alternative to discuss how to deal with self-destructive behavior.

Once the issues are identified, the professional therapist will help you understand how these stressors take you away from a more enjoyable life and work to develop strategies to decrease the severity of the symptoms.

A talk therapy session usually lasts about an hour. How often you go to your therapy sessions and how long you continue the treatment depends on the severity of symptoms and your therapist's treatment plan.

Most people attend therapy once a week. While this may seem like a huge commitment, weekly sessions offer the chance to develop a positive relationship with your therapist and ensure better results.

The frequency of sessions may change to once every two weeks as you develop coping strategies and show signs of improvement.

This therapy can be done in one-on-one sessions with your therapist, group meetings, or involving a family member to enhance results.

Behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy helps you identify the cycle that leads to your self-destructive behavior so you can finally disengage from it.

Behavioral therapy is based on the discovery that all of our behaviors, whether positive or negative, were learned at some point in our lives.

If we make them conscious and perform specific actions, we can learn how to stop self-destructive behavior and change our actions for others that bring us more happiness.

The most popular behavioral therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy. The treatment is based on how our thoughts and beliefs influence our moods and decisions. 

This therapy aims to modify negative thinking and behavioral patterns to transform your life into one worth living.

This form of therapy can be short or long-term. In this treatment, the therapist helps you identify the triggers for self-destructive behavior and teaches you how to respond to them.

For example, you may not be aware that every time your boss asks you to complete an urgent task, your anxiety levels increase, which triggers a train of thought that says you are not capable of doing it, preventing you from completing the task. 

If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive behavior, the psychologist may refer you to a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication to help with this condition.

About 75% of people who tried psychological therapy experience some benefits after treatment, making it the most effective way to get back in control of your mental and emotional well-being.

Is Online Therapy Effective?

Deciding to do therapy is a challenging decision for most people, so it is important to make the conditions as easy and comfortable as possible to ensure long-term commitment to the treatment.

That is why online therapy is a viable alternative to in-person therapy to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. This approach allows you to discuss your intimacies from the comfort of your home, especially if you don’t live near your therapist.

In addition, online counseling is more affordable than in-person treatment, providing anonymity if you so desire, as well as having more options available for finding the ideal therapist.

Bottom Line

Self-destructive behavior is a harmful habit that consists in repeatedly doing things that harm your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It can range from mild consequences to life-threatening patterns that stem from severe mental health disorders.

If you think you or someone you know is engaging in self-destructive behavior, you can choose to put an end to it and finally stop living this way. You deserve better.

Find qualified mental health professionals online from our DoMental network to help you work through the cause and effects of your self-destructive behavior. You can learn how to stop self-destructive behavior and new coping skills to live a more joyful, less self-destructive life.

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