Why do we engage in self-destructive behaviours?

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They’re patterns of behaviour that can be easy to fall into, but why do we respond in this way, and what can we do to break free from these damaging actions?

Why do we engage in self-destructive behaviours?

When things aren’t going right in our lives, or we’re struggling with the way that we’re feeling, there are many different avenues that we may go down – some conscious, some unconscious, and, occasionally, some that do more harm than good.

You’ve probably heard about ‘self-destructive behaviour’ before, but what does the term actually cover?

“Self-destructive behaviour is behaviour that can have damaging consequences to us, and cause emotional and/or physical harm,” counsellor Danielle Bottone explains. “This type of behaviour often feels as though it provides temporary relief, but ultimately, if it continues, it can have long-term detrimental effects.”

Self-destructive behaviour exists on a scale, and Danielle lists some common examples, including excessive drinking, impulsive behaviour, unsafe sexual practices, substance abuse, gambling, and self-harm.

Why do we engage in self-destructive behaviour?

If this is a question that you have been asking yourself, you’ll likely get the best answers from having a conversation with a counsellor, however, as Danielle explains, there are some common causes, including traumatic experiences, loss and grief, self-destructive behaviours in immediate family, and negative core beliefs.

“Self-destructive behaviour can be a result of experiencing an isolated or repeated distressing event leading to trauma. This level of stress can be detrimental to our emotional functioning, and act as a catalyst for unhealthy habits formed in an attempt to cope,” Danielle continues. “Self-destructive behaviour often feels as though it relieves us from the emotional pain attached to trauma. Chemicals released during this time feel good, but rarely last, hence the behaviours become cyclical and difficult to shift.”

Danielle also explains how these behaviours can stem from core beliefs that we hold about ourselves. She uses the example of experiencing bullying as a child. That bullying might have led us to internalise feelings of rejection, developing a core belief of ‘I am not good enough.’

“If negative core beliefs are left unchallenged, we tend to lean towards choices in our everyday lives that support that belief, in turn perpetuating the cycle and the need to cope,” Danielle says.

“Self-destructive behaviours may feel like they soothe the emotional pain attached to these core beliefs, but often, they assist in masking the pain and avoiding the root cause.

“Lastly, if we were raised in an environment where self-destructive behaviour was commonplace, and healthy conflict resolution was absent, we will inevitably find healthy ways of resolving pain difficult. This does not mean that self-destruction feels good, easy, or pain-free, it is likely quite the opposite. What it does mean, is self-destruction feels familiar. We become experts at knowing how to soothe, avoid, and hide behind destruction. Changing this pattern requires us to challenge that narrative by unpacking the behaviour, and discovering what need it serves.”

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Why I started Pilates (and stopped yoga)

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Pilates is having a ‘moment’ right now, but what is it about this exercise so many people enjoy and could it be right for you?

Why I started Pilates (and stopped yoga)

For most of my adult life, my exercise of choice has been yoga. After that first class, nervously attended with friends, I fell in love with its quiet and intentional nature. I continued to attend classes, eventually making the switch to at-home practice, following videos online that suited my mood.

This all changed last year. After a second bout of covid, I started the year feeling fatigued and achy. Not quite putting two and two together, I figured I was feeling this way because I wasn’t moving enough and embarked on a challenge to move every day for the month of January. As the month went on, the movement became harder, whether it was a walk, a weight session or yoga. I vividly remember one yoga practice ending in tears, everything hurt.

This was a wake-up call, and I promptly made a doctor's appointment. After several months of tests, chasing up and eventually seeing a rheumatologist I was told the fatigue was likely covid related, and the joint pain was due to lack of ‘tone’ because I was, in their words, ‘a bit floppy’. What they meant was that I was a little hypermobile, which can cause joint pain.

I was recommended to try both swimming (as it’s gentle on the joints) and Pilates (to strengthen the joints). I asked about yoga and was told it wasn’t the best choice for me, right now. Yoga encourages stretching, and while this is a good thing, if you’re hypermobile, you need to be cautious. For now, the rheumatologist advised me to stop yoga in favour of Pilates.

To be honest, the very idea of exercising at the time felt laughable, as the fatigue wiped me out every time I tried. Thankfully, whilst on a holiday in Arizona, the fatigue lifted (a combination of enjoying true rest and the desert air perhaps?) and the painkillers prescribed by my rheumatologist were helping.

When I got home, I felt able to start exercising, so I checked out swim times at my local pool and booked some private lessons with a Pilates teacher. I decided to work with a teacher one-on-one to start as I was a beginner, and with my joint pain, I wanted to go slow and have the full attention of my teacher. This worked out really well, I got to know the basics of Pilates, the underlying theory and gained confidence.

Slowly, things started to improve. After about six weeks I felt confident enough to stop private lessons and signed up to a group beginners class. The class was an evening class, and the low lighting and soft mats made me exhale every time I walked in. While Pilates doesn’t have the spiritual associations and history of yoga, it does have the same sense of mindfulness. You are encouraged to notice how the muscles and bones align and move, breathing deeply as you engage your core and build both strength and flexibility.

“Pilates is a mind and body exercise which means that your mind and body have to work together performing a series of exercises,” physiotherapist and Pilates instructor Zoe Rex explains.

“These exercises work on breathing, flexibility and strength while bringing your attention to how you are moving. How we move is really important for pain free, e

Do I need a problem to start therapy?

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We’ve all heard of the benefits of therapy. But do you need to wait for a big, specific problem to start working with a therapist? We answer your most asked questions about therapy, why people work with a counsellor, and what you should know before starting therapy

Do I need a problem to start therapy?

Therapy. Our perception of what therapy is – and who it’s for – has changed drastically over the years. According to the Mental Health Foundation, around one in eight adults (12.1%) in the UK receives some kind of mental health treatment – just 3% of which is some form of psychological therapy. In the US, one in five adults (21.6%) are seeking out treatment for mental health issues. Yet many of us don’t realise that talking therapy isn’t just for when you are experiencing ill mental health.

Talk therapies can be helpful for anyone who is experiencing a tough time or who has emotional problems. Therapy can help you to reach specific goals in your life, reflect on your past, and to better understand who you are, what you want, and where you want to go. But you don’t need to have a specific problem, diagnosis, or even be struggling in order to see real benefits from working with a counsellor, therapist, psychotherapist, or psychologist.

Here, we answer some of your top questions on therapy and how working with a therapist can help you (even when you don’t have a specific problem).

Do you need problems to go to therapy?

You don’t have to have a specific problem, issue, or diagnosable mental health problem to go to (or benefit from) therapy. While many of us will wait until a major life crisis hits or we feel like we are struggling before we seek help, it is never too early to speak with someone.

You can work with a mental health professional like a counsellor or therapist to talk in general. Many people find that this can help them to sort out their feelings, release pent-up emotions, or even to discover underlying issues that they didn’t know were weighing in on their minds or actions. Speaking with a therapist can feel freeing, as you can talk about issues, events, experiences, or thoughts you haven’t felt able to share with anyone before.

We asked people what they think counselling is and why people seek therapy

Can happy people go to therapy?

It’s important to note that not only unhappy people seek therapy. Many people who would classify themselves as ha

How to manage the new year without a loved one

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The new year brings reminders of new beginnings, but how can we navigate this when we are grieving?  

How to manage the new year without a loved one

When we lose someone we love, the passing of time can feel make us feel like we are being forced forward and further away from all that is familiar and from the person we have lost. We may even have a fear that we will forget them, their scent, their touch, as we say goodbye to the year in which our loved one died, and we want to fight with every fibre of our being to press stop.

It is a hugely emotional transition. There are so many reminders of new beginnings at each new year that you can dread the midnight hour. The build-up can be intensely painful because it lasts so long and it isn’t that we feel the loss of our loved one more during this time of year, it just feels worse because there are reminders wherever we look. Everything has changed for us yet the world just carries on as normal as one year makes way for another.

So, how can we manage this transition into the new year without our loved ones?

Understand that it's OK to feel your pain

Grief hurts. A lot. If we didn’t care, it wouldn’t hurt. When we lose someone significant in our lives, we are often left with things we still want to say, need and do with them. Recognise this and sit down with yourself. Imagine you could have one more conversation with them. What would you ask them and what would you like to tell them? Write it down - try writing in the form of a letter.

Take your time and be honest - no one will read this unless you want to share it. Follow your instincts and trust the process but try not to keep your focus on the fact that they are no longer alive as this can cause a blockage. Identifying what it is we are scared of or need can help bring new awareness.

Have a plan and get things in the diary

Sometimes we have to force ourselves to stay in the mainstream of living but the more you do, the more you can. Don’t let others railroad you into things that you really don’t want to do or even to be with people you don’t want to be with. Taking regular walks in nature can be a wonderful way to clear your head. Focus on the rhythm of your feet as they walk the earth. This can be incredibly therapeutic on its own.

By making a commitment to things, you are respecting yourself and the memory of your loved one. If you allow your sadness to prevent you from being able to share all of the joy that they brought to your life, the legacy of that love becomes lost, not only to others but to you too. You have a duty to them and to those you love to continue.

Reach out to family and friends

Tell them how you are feeling and have a go-to person you can talk to when you're struggling.

Create a remembrance garden  

Plant some bulbs, a flower, or a shrub and create a special area in your garden. Take care of your little plot and watch it grow. You can add to this over time - look for stones and pebbles to adorn it with. This will give you a good focus. I’ve recently learned that there are micro-organisms in the soil that react with our skin and release endorphins into our body. Endorphins reduce stress and improve our sense of wellbeing. Surviving in our grief isn’t just emotional, it's physical too.

20 life coach-approved questions to unlock your potential

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Are you ready to take the first step towards becoming the best version of yourself?

20 life coach-approved questions to unlock your potential

Have you ever wondered what you might achieve if there were no limits? What if you could unlock something within you that would propel you towards your dreams and desires, whatever they might be?

Your ‘potential’ is something that, maybe, you haven’t thought about in a while. When we’re young people, in school, college, and university, we’re encouraged to categorise our skills, and look towards the horizon and the things that we might want to achieve. In our adult lives, that same ambitious drive might have fallen by the wayside a bit.

However, truth be told, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Few of us would claim to have the same self-knowledge back then as we do today, and with that experience under our belts, perhaps right now is the perfect time to return to that challenge of unlocking our potential.

“‘Unlocking your potential’ is a phrase that is commonly used, but what does it actually mean? More importantly, what does it mean to you?” asks life coach Adam Craft. “My perception of unlocking your potential is this: we are all capable of achievement, there’s no doubt about that. The question is what is your potential?”

This will look drastically different for each of us. As Adam points out, for some it might be career oriented – rising to the top, leadership roles, financial goals, or influence on the world around us. For others, it might be linked to health, nurturing our physical health, as well as our mental health. It could be tied up with family, creating a life where we put quality time with the ones we love before everything else.

Getting to the point where we feel we’re reaching our potential might involve identifying the roadblocks that we need to clear. It could be our own self-limiting beliefs, and self-esteem issues, both things that can be worked on with the help of wellbeing professionals. Or you might find that there are practical solutions, and that your specific roadblocks could be things like time restraints, missing skills, or other changes to your lifestyle. That isn’t to say that any of those things are easy to sidestep – this is the very start of a long process, but the first step is to make some time for self-reflection.

“Think about it this way: imagine yourself in the senior years of your life. You’re looking back on your life, reflecting on what you have done, achieved, or made,” Adam says. “Is there something that comes up that you ‘wished’ you pursued more? I will often ask my clients this question when they first start working with me. It’s a great way of highlighting your ‘potentials’ or ‘musts’. From here, my client then knows what their potential is, and we work towards unlocking that. Visualisation is one of the most powerful ways to unlock your potential.”

20 life coach-approved questions to unlock your potential

Life goes by so fast, especially when we’re rushed off our feet, jumping from one task to the next without a moment spare to think about the bigger questions that we might come up against. So this is your sign to make time to