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?
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.”